Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee

Jan. 26, 2011

Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 26th day of January 2011, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:

APPEARANCES:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:

THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:

P R O C E E D I N G S

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Okay.  Well, thank you.  We will now move into Regs.  And Commissioner Friedkin is jumping out of airplanes and is unable to attend this particular meeting as Regs Chairman.  So I will Chair this.

The first order of business is the approval of the previous committee meeting minutes for the November 3, 2010, meeting, which have already been distributed.  Do I have a motion to approve?

COMMISSIONER BIVINS:  So moved.

COMMISSIONER HIXON:  Second.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Moved by Commissioner Bivins and Hixon seconds.  All in favor, please say aye.

(A chorus of ayes.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Any opposed?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Hearing none, the motion carries.  Thank you all.  Now, before we get started, I wanted to mention, the following items have been withdrawn.  And I am going to ask Carter to explain a little bit of why we are withdrawing this.  Because there has been a lot of work put into it.

It has to do with Committee Item Number 4, revisions to exotic aquatic species rules and fees.  Recommended adoption of proposed changes.  We were going to vote on that tomorrow.  This item that was planned for public comment and action tomorrow has been withdrawn.  Okay.

We are also withdrawing the next one.

MR. SMITH:  Yes, we are.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Okay.  Committee Item Number 5, which was amendments to exotic species rules.  In that case, we were just going to request permission to publish proposed changes.  And we also are going to withdraw that at this time.

Carter, why don’t you talk about that a little bit.  Because so much work went into that.  Kind of going back to the last Legislature and Sunset and why it all got started.

MR. SMITH:  Sure.  Absolutely.  I think most of you know, you know, in the last session, and during the Sunset Review of the agency, a recommendation came out that the agency prepare a white list as a framework for trying to proactively arrest the spread and dissemination of exotic invasive aquatic species.

And really, over the period of the last year, colleagues from Inland Fisheries and Law Enforcement and Wildlife, Executive Office, and Coastal Fisheries have been working with stakeholders on trying to develop a white list framework that met the intent of the statute, which was clearly designed to try to do everything we could to proactively arrest the importation and spread of these species, but also to be as permissive as possible, with respect to industry and so forth.  We have got a lot of input.  It has been an ever-moving target.

Really, up until day before yesterday, and yesterday really, our team was making adjustments in modifications to the proposed rules to submit to you all.  They have done an extraordinary job of being responsive to the input that we have received from constituents.  I still think there is a lot of confusion out there about what a white list is, and what it would actually say and do.  And perhaps, more importantly, not do.

And so really, at the behest of Senator Hegar yesterday, who chairs the Sunset Committee, sponsored the legislation on this.  Has been a strong proponent of combating the spread of aquatic invasive species.  He asked if we would take a pause, and suspend our work on this, until we had a chance really, to sit down with him and go on through where we are on this.  And make sure this is still the approach that we want to take.

He has been very sick over the last week, and so we have not been able to sit down with him.  But he asked just, if we would respectfully do that.  And, I think, in accordance with that request from him, that is a prudent thing to do.  And we look forward to sitting back down with him and talking about where we go from here.  And so we will report back to the Commission on that at the next meeting.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  There has been thousands of hours of work put into this from the last Legislature.  And but Senator Hegar has been involved in that at a certain level.  Of course, over a natural level.  But is very supportive of ‑‑ and there is so much involved in it.  You can’t first get into it.  You use folks on the science, folks on the white list, folks on those kinds of things.

And then we realized and started understanding.  And of course, so did our constituency for everything from the very large energy companies who are out there trying to figure out how to turn algae into energy all the way to the nurserymen who were afraid that we were going to be jumping over their back fences, you know, making sure they weren’t growing water lilies.

And all of those people, as they realized what we were getting involved in, with this white list might entail, as they have a right to, decided that they wanted to be involved, and get involved.  And so there is a lot ‑‑ we have learned a lot, and there is probably a lot more to this.  We need to be very careful on how we approach this going forward.  And so we wanted to honor Senator Hegar’s and others for this session.

MR. SMITH:  And please note, you all have our commitment just to continue working with all of the stakeholders on this.  As Chairman Holt said, from nurserymen to growers to industry, et cetera.  Make sure that we devise something that everybody thinks is inherently workable, operational, enforceable, and accomplish the goals.  So we are absolutely and unequivocally committed to that.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS:  Is the decision to go from a black list to a white list because of the abundance of different types of exotic aquatic life.  Both sides, both types of lists seem formidable in enforcement.  And I guess I am just trying to go through the process of why the Sunset determined that it was best to go where we were with what they recommended.

MR. SMITH:  I think there are pros and cons of both approaches, just to be fair.  The black list is a situation in which those species that the department has identified which would cause danger to humans’ health, the environment, the economy.  Those species couldn’t be imported, possessed or sold.  Under that approach then, you know, you have species that would come in to the state that you didn’t know about.

And then once they got out and started to cause problems, you were then compelled to react, after the fact.  And so that has been an issue with a number of the species that you all are very familiar with, that are plaguing Texas waters right now.  The concept behind the white list was, is there a way to do this more proactively, where you identify based on good science, here are the species that we know don’t have invasive propensities, and could be safety brought in, and used in the state without causing damage to the State’s economy or health or environment.

And then if there were new species, that folks wanted to bring in, it was incumbent upon them to show through science that they wouldn’t cause harm.  So that kind of put the onus on the individuals that wanted to bring it in.  Again, there are pros and cons to both approaches.  And we will certainly work with you all and the Legislature to make sure that we have a framework that does address it.

I think that everybody agrees that invasive species are a major problem for the state, we need to have some ability to help address them.  How we do it has just been the subject of a lot of debate.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  That is one part of the debate.  No doubt about it.  And some of the members of the Sunset and others look back, you know, which way to go.  Black list, white list.  Do some combination of ‑‑ law enforcement is obviously a big part of the issue.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS:  It puts a lot of responsibility on us, and our department to be able to determine the danger of the various species.  I mean, we have got to really have a very vast knowledge.  It is amazing to me just in the reading of what we have got so far, is just the sheer numbers of species.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Yes.  Well, that is in the question.  And theoretically, there is even genetic work going on to try to create even more.  I know that is one of the issues.  And of course, the white list, at least there, if you can argue it is, that either the individual or the industry or whatever that was trying to bring this in, or use it for some reason or whatever, or genetically change or create; prove to us that it was not going to be a species that would create harm.

And of course, that has created some set of issues with certain constituents.  But we thought it was a legitimate request and Senator Hegar has been a good friend of Texas Parks and Wildlife.  And very strongly.  Remember, he comes from ‑‑ I don’t know if you are aware, but his background also, a farming family, rice farming.

And so invasive species is something that they all take seriously down there.  No doubt about it.  Need to see that we get this right maybe the first time.  So we are certainly not going to put this one off.  And they are not walking away from it.  Is that it ‑‑ I think people want to spend a little more time on trying to figure out what is the right way to do it.  Okay.  Any other questions or comments on that?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Moving on, then.  Update.

MR. SMITH:  Mr. Chairman, thank you.  And I am not going to report on any specific Land and Water Action Plan, since you have the report card that I distributed earlier.  I will mention one particular issue that I want to make sure you notice.  There was a lot of news about the agency in December.

And one of those bits of news was an extraordinary resolution or hopefully, leading to a resolution of a case that had been dormant for over eight years.  And it involved just a horrific hit-and-run boating accident on Lake Buchanan in which three teenagers from Lampasas were out fishing for catfish in the early hours of the morning when someone hit their boat and threw those three teenagers into the waters.  One teenager was killed; two others survived.  And the individual left the scene.

And despite extraordinary work over the years by Law Enforcement Division, particularly locally, Jim Linderman, who is our game warden there in Lampasas County, knows those families that were impacted.  We just haven’t been able to catch who was responsible.

The good news is, thanks to a tip to Operation Game Thief, we received a tip about where the boat that was used in the accident was.  And through some extraordinary law enforcement work done by the Division and Internal Affairs and other local and state law enforcement authorities were able to apprehend the suspect, who is now being charged with manslaughter.  And so really, a great outcome.

Great, we are very proud of our law enforcement officers that have worked on this.  I think you will be very interested to know that one of the young men that was in that accident that survived is now a game warden serving this agency up in I guess, Knox County, or up there and just a wonderful individual, a recent graduate of the Academy in the last couple of years.

And that incident, and his interactions with our law enforcement team inspired him to take that career path.  So we are real proud to have him on our team.  And obviously, he is bittersweet to see this happening after he lost such a close friend.

But I want to compliment our law enforcement team and our internal affairs team did an extraordinary job on working on this.  Really great police work.  Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Has this person been indicted yet?

MR. SMITH:  He has.  Yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  How old a person is he?

MR. SMITH:  Colonel, do you want to ‑‑

MR. FLORES:  Pete Flores, Director of Law Enforcement.  It hasn’t gone to the grand jury yet.  But we expect ‑‑

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Has not?

MR. FLORES:  Has not, but will be going soon.  They did a great job on it.  I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention our Communications Division did a great job of handling the media on this.  It got a lot of attention.  And it was very well handled, and very professionally done.  The boat was found buried.  It had been buried for all these years.

And of course, there is a statute of limitation when you have to do with leaving the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence.  There is going to be ‑‑ I believe there have been a couple of bills that have been filed by Representative Fletcher out of Tomball in this session to remedy that when it involves a death.  But certainly, that prosecution is going forward.

And the wardens, especially Warden Lindeman did a very good job.  Put his heart and soul into the case, and is a credit to the profession and to the agency.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  How many years ago was the accident?

MR. FLORES:  Eight years.  Eight years, Mr. Chairman.  So it is a very good case.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  It just seems crazy that there is a statute of limitation on concealing evidence.

MR. FLORES:  Yes.  But there is.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  If you are concealing evidence, why doesn’t that toll the statute?

MR. FLORES:  Well, that hopefully will be remedied this session, Commissioner.  And we will see what happens.  I believe it will be a positive outcome on that.  Yes.  Sam Oatman is a district attorney in Llano.  And he is also working with Representative Fletcher.

He is a lead contact with Representative Fletcher on the filling of those statutes.  So far as the prosecution, Sam Oatman is the lead District Attorney in Llano.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  He is trying to pursue the case?

MR. FLORES:  He is pursuing the manslaughter case.  Yes, sir.  And see that justice is done.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Great.

MR. FLORES:  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Thank you.

MR. SMITH:  Mr. Chairman, that is all I have.  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Okay.  Great.  Committee

Item Number 2, 2011-2012 Statewide Hunting Proclamation, permission to publish those changes in the Texas Register.  Mr. Jason Hardin, please.  Jason.

MR. HARDIN:  Thank you, Chairman Holt, Commissioners.  My name is Jason Hardin, Upland Game Bird specialist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.  I am here today to present the proposed regulation changes impacting the wild turkey season structure and the mule deer Managed Land Deer program.

I would like to start out by discussing three proposed regulation changes that, if accepted, would take effect during the 2011-2012 turkey season.  These proposals were developed through our Upland Game Bird Technical Committee, consisting of Texas Parks and Wildlife staff.

And these proposals were presented to the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee during a briefing this past August, and again in November.  The advisory committee viewed the opinions of the Upland Game Bird Technical Committee favorably.

The first proposal is to close 15 of the current 43 counties open for a spring Eastern turkey season.  The Eastern turkey season is unique in Texas.  And that is the only game animal in the state that is required to be reported following harvest.  All harvested birds must be reported to one of our 90 plus mandatory check stations within 24 hours of harvest.

The harvest data collected helps us to implement management strategies.  The counties recommended for closure are delineated here in black and listed to the left of the map.  Closures are recommended due to less than one bird on average being harvested, being reported for a minimum period of three years.  Several of these counties have not reported a harvest for a much longer period.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Not a single bird?

MR. HARDIN:  Not a single bird for many of the counties.  But on average, one bird for the last three years is our minimum period.  Based on hunter, landowner, and Parks and Wildlife biologist observations, there appears to be a lack of brood stock in these counties to support a season.  Closing these counties provides Parks and Wildlife the opportunity to move forward with a new super stocking strategy.

As requested by the Commission in November, Parks and Wildlife staff held several scoping meetings.  These meetings were only lightly attended.  However, the folks who did attend these meetings 100 percent supported closing these 15 counties.  The Wildlife Division also provided our constituents with an opportunity to take an internet scoping survey.

The results of that survey found over 86 percent of respondents supported the closure of those 15 counties.  During this process, I also received several emails from some of our constituents that were in support of closing these counties.

The Commission requested that I provide information on future stocking strategies.  The following information is simply an FYI of our new super stocking strategy.  Parks and Wildlife stocked over 7,000 Eastern wild turkeys into the former range in East Texas between 1979 and 2002, using a block stocking strategy that had worked in other Southeastern states.  Fifteen to 20 birds were stocked in locations throughout a county.

The goal was to have the individual flocks establish themselves, reproduce, and eventually join up with other flocks stocked in that particular county.  Although this strategy was successful in some parts of East Texas, many areas in East Texas were less successful.  This slide shows an example of the block stocking strategy.  There were seven release sites in Anderson County from 1990 to 1997.

Most of the release sites received a 15 bird stocking position consisting 12 females and three males.  Today, there are no sustainable populations remaining in these historic releases.  In 2007, Parks and Wildlife focused research on a new stocking strategy.  This strategy, referred to as super stocking focuses on stocking 80 Eastern turkeys per lease site, 60 hens and 20 gobblers.  The results of this new method to date have been outstanding, with survival and production being reported as similar to that of other Southeastern states that have established Eastern turkey populations.

The next step for staff is to identify the best available sites for future stockings.  To accomplish this, staff are developing a new habitat suitability index.  The index will utilize new technologies and research findings to identify those key variables that are needed to support a sustainable wild turkey population.  The habitat suitability index will continue to be modified as we monitor our future stocking efforts.

The second proposal is to delay the opening of the spring Eastern turkey season by two weeks.  The current season begins April 1st, and runs through April 30th.  Staff is proposing to delay the opening of the season by two weeks.  The new season will open April 15th and run through May 14th.

Research conducted in East Texas has identified a median nesting initiation date falling in the middle of April.  Research conducted in 2007 through 2008 looked at nesting initiation data for 98 nesting attempts.  The median nesting initiation fell on April 16th.  This change will ensure that the majority of hens have been bred by the available gobblers before the season opens, and reduce the risk of accidental hen harvest.  Because the majority of hens will be sitting on a nest and incubating eggs for up to 23 hours a day.

Scoping meetings identified greater than 85 percent of attendants supported the season day shift.  Internet scoping found 89 percent of respondents supported the season day shift.  I did receive two emails from constituents that did not support the season day shift.

The third proposal is to change the spring Rio Grande turkey season in the north and south zones from a gobbler only season to an any bearded bird season.  This change reflects the spring bag of most states for the spring turkey season.  Currently, all but five of the counties in the north and south zones have a fall season that allows for the harvest of up to four hens.

Bearded hens make up a small fraction of the hen population.  Many hunters rely on a beard as an indicator of a gobbler.  Due to the low number of bearded hens available for harvest, this change will have little to no impact on the Texas Rio Grande turkey population.

Internet scoping found over 78 percent of respondents supported the change in the spring bag from a gobbler only season to an any bearded bird season.  The Texas Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has provided me with a letter of support for all three of these proposed regulation changes.

A proposal under consideration at the November Commission meeting, to add Austin County to the current one-gobbler-only spring Rio Grande turkey season is being withdrawn.  After further discussion with regional staff, the Wildlife Division believes it is prudent to hold off on the establishment of a turkey season in Austin County.

At this time, we do not have sufficient information to support opening the season.  We will continue to investigate the possibility and may present this during the next regulatory cycle for turkeys.

The last item impacting the current turkey season pertains to a request from the Commission in November to investigate the possibility of expanding the current special fall season in the south zone to include additional counties.  During the November 3, 2010, Commission meeting, I was asked if it was time to consider expanding the special fall season in South Texas.

Following that meeting, Upland Game Bird program staff met with members of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Upland Game Bird Technical Committee to discuss the proposal.  Several key points were presented by the Committee during these meetings.  The staff feel that turkey population in the Coastal Sand Plains, where the extended season currently exists is much more evenly distributed across the landscape, leading to greater densities than what is found outside of the current regulation area.

Populations outside of the current regulation area are much more restricted to their range due to the linear nature of their existing turkey habitat.  In other words, the turkeys in the Coastal Sand Plains are everywhere due to the wide distribution of available roosting habitat.  And turkeys in the rest of the South Zone are only found along riparian corridors.

This slide depicts a typical turkey roost in the Coastal Sand Plains.  These oak mods and oak woodlands are distributed throughout the Coastal Sand Plains.  Height is a real critical factor on roosting habitat.  This slide is here to demonstrate the variation in habitat inside and outside of the Coastal Sand Plains.

As you can see by the areas delineated in yellow, the available roosting habitat in the Coastal Sand Plains is much more expansive across the ecoregion, when compared to the limited linear habitats, such as are found in Duval County.  Duval County is much more representative of the area outside of the current regulation area.

Turkey roosts outside of the Coastal Sand Plains are found almost exclusively along riparian corridors.  Many of the historic roosts along these riparian systems have disappeared.  Some managers have resorted to replacing historic roost sites with artificial roosts to preserve their turkey populations.  Due to the lack of population data and hen harvest data, it is difficult to determine the potential impacts of an expanded season outside of the Coastal Sand Plains Region of South Texas.

Therefore, considering the information provided by our biologists in the Upland Game Bird Technical Committee, it is the recommendation of the Wildlife Division that the fall either-sex season, ending the last Sunday in February not be expanded at this time.  The last proposal ‑‑

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Before you move on.

MR. HARDIN:  Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Do these, on that last slide, these artificial roosts, work?

MR. HARDIN:  They are used.  They are not used to the extent that natural roost sites would be used.  And that is not really, in my opinion, a landscape approach to restoring a roosting habitat.  We need to provide natural vegetation.

But certainly, in a year like this where you have good reproduction, we do find birds using these artificial roost sites.  And power lines across the range have been used in the past.  So there are artificial roosts that are being used.

The last proposal is modification to the current mule deer Managed Land Deer Program.  We are proposing a minor change to the mule deer MLDP as primarily a housekeeping measure.  We would like to clarify the rules to state that MLD permits for mule deer are valid during the archery only season for the taking of mule deer with legal archery equipment.

This modification will help clear up any confusion with respect to when tags can be used.  At the conclusion of my presentation during the November Commission meeting, this Committee inquired about the potential of expanding the mule deer MLDP season.  Staff has since developed a plan to serve MLDP cooperators as well as an equal number of randomly selected non-MLDP cooperators in an attempt to solicit input on this idea.

This opinion survey will be conducted in the spring of 2012, and results will be discussed among the mule deer technical committee during the summer of 2012.  Staff will be prepared to brief the Commission on survey results and staff discussions in November of 2012.  And determine if such a rule change should be proposed the following January.  This time line fits within the four-year mule deer regulation cycle.  At this time, staff requests permission to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES:  I have a question.

MR. HARDIN:  Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES:  How on the MLDP or the archery of mule deer prior to now, that we are not ‑‑ if you had an MLDP that these tags were not being used on the deer.  Is that right?  They were using a tag off a license, or how is that?

MR. HARDIN:  I am going to ask Mitch to cover that.

MR. LOCKWOOD:  Good morning, Commissioners.  My name is Mitch Lockwood, Big Game Program Director.  Currently, the way the regulation states, an MLD permit is not valid during archery season.  However, by MLDP regulations, once one is issued MLDP permits, they would be in violation of not tagging a deer that was harvested with an MLDP permit.  So we have a conflict there.

So if one were to be issued MLD permits during archery season, and takes a deer legally by archery means, the regulations state that he must attach that permit to the deer.  But then we have this conflict which says that permit is not even valid to be used during that time period.

So this would simply state that this regulation change, this proposed change would simply allow one to continue harvesting mule deer with archery equipment during archery season, but would allow him to follow the law, to tag that deer with an MLD permit.  It is really just a conflict between two rules that we have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  I’ve got one other question for you.  Is there no way to accelerate this evaluation that you are now talking about putting in place in the 2012 season.  We can’t do that for this spring for next January?

MR. HARDIN:  For the turkey season?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  No.  For the mule deer.

MR. HARDIN:  The mule deer.  I am going to ask Clayton Wolf to come up and visit with you about the regulation cycle that we have in place.

MR. WOLF:  Commissioners, Clayton Wolf, the Wildlife Division Director.  In response to the question, Commissioner Duggins, probably during the last session, when we came with our white-tailed deer regulations package in, and I guess, didn’t anticipate that stacked on top of regulatory changes from the session, we actually stumbled into an immense workload.

And at that point, we decided, we made the recommendation to our leadership that we needed to come up with a plan to distribute our workload, not only in and of itself, but also to stagger it with regulatory sessions, I mean, with our sessions downtown, simply because of the workload issue.  The other concept that we are looking at, or asking for regulatory changes, and then having enough time to collect enough points through time in data to be able to measure if there is any impact.

And so as a result of that, it is in draft form now, we actually have a proposed regulatory cycle that staggers white-tailed deer with other big game with our game birds, and even our non-game to try to address that.  Obviously, that is at the discretion of this Commission, if there is a recommendation to stray from that.  But it is primarily driven from a workload standpoint, and also having enough time to be able to measure any changes.

And we understand that housekeeping measures, such as this one that Jason presented are obviously going to come and go.  So that is our staff’s preference on that, is to deal with these one at a time.  One other thing that we did find ourselves in a situation where we were continually changing deer regulations, for instance.  And it was mean annual changes to our Outdoor Annual for deer, causing confusion among our hunters out there as well.

And so we felt that if we could adopt a regulations package and stick with it, for a minimum of three or four years, there would be some consistency.  And then we would attack those at one time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Well, you can only do what you can do.  I understand that.  But I sure think we ought to at least make a good faith effort to try to accelerate that, if it is possible, without compromising prior commitments and obviously, to exceed your reasonable workload.

MR. WOLF:  I can’t tell you that our next cycle that is coming up is our white-tailed deer cycle.  And that can be a pretty heavy workload.  Probably our biggest.  Of course, I am not predicting that we are going to have a lot of changes yet.  But typically, a lot of folks are interested in white-tailed deer.

And one thing we have attempted to do is just focus on white-tailed deer in a non-legislative year, and only focus on white-tailed deer.  But we will take direction from this Commission, if we need to accelerate that for mule deer MLDP permits.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Well, as I say, it is not a directive.  I am just requesting one, to be certain if it is feasible and practical, that we try to move it up, because I think it is important.  And we do spend an enormous amount of time on white-tailed deer.  And I realize that frustrates many, including me.

MR. WOLF:  We will take that into consideration and go back and visit with staff.  And obviously, a lot of that would be dependent upon what our anticipated workload is during this next cycle for white-tailed deer regulations.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Okay.

MR. WOLF:  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  I guess with that, then, I will ‑‑ Jason, thank you.  I will authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.  Committee Item Number 3, 2011-2012 Fishing Proclamation.  Request permission to publish proposed changes in the Texas Register.  Robin and Ken, please make your presentation.

MR. RIECHERS:  Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries.  And I am here to present to you the 2011-2012 Coastal Fisheries statewide proposals.

Obviously, when we visited in November about this, we discussed spotted seatrout and various conservation measures that we would scope in regards to spotted seatrout, including a five-fish limit, a seven-fish limit and 16-inch-minimum kind of size limit notion.  Since that November meeting, we have ran across a few corrections and clarifications I want to bring to you.  And we would like to forward those as proposals.

And that is corrections to the minimum length limits on gag, grouper and snook, which were just inadvertently in one of the revisions, as we split the recreational and commercial proclamation, we had some issues with those minimum length limits.  A clarification to our circle hook rule, where we required circle hooks when fishing for red snapper.

There has been some question as to whether that applies to natural baits only, or whether it applies to natural baits in something you might buy off the shelf as an artificial.  The intent in compliance with the federal rule, we want that to apply to only those natural baits, or used with natural baits.  And then lastly, a clarification of our rule regarding bycatch retention on shrimp boats.

We are matching our proclamation now to more closely mirror the language in the statute, and reduce any confusion associated with that, whereby anyone aboard a shrimp vessel who would like to retain a recreational bag limit, they may actually ‑‑ they actually have to be the person with a license, whether it is the shrimp boat license itself, the owner of the boat, or whether it is someone on board who has a captain’s license.  Other dockhands on board that boat can be exempted from the license with someone else having a shrimp boat captain’s license on board.

But if they want to possess a recreational limit, they are going to have to go get that captain’s license as well.  So just a point of clarification and corrections in regard to those few items.

Next we will switch and talk about our scoping in regards to spotted seatrout.  To kind of remind everyone, when we talk about spotted seatrout, we hear a lot of discussions about what is happening to the overall fishing effort on the Texas coast.  And I showed this slide to you last time, indicating that actually, overall fishing efforts, since about the time frame in 2000 had basically remained relatively flat.  The green line there.

Fortunately, our license sales have continued to grow a little bit.  It just means they are not being as efficient out there.  So that is okay for the resource, and it is okay for us as well.

When we go back to the status of spotted seatrout, I showed you kind of the overall coastwide status last time, which indicated that we weren’t in any overfished state.  Relatively flat as far as our overall gill nets go, our overall abundance.  And particularly, in the areas of San Antonio Bay, Aransas Bay and Matagorda Bay systems where we have had most of the concern.

I indicated to you that we are actually having some tremendous bag seine recruitment years.  In fact, Aransas Bay had the last three have been record high levels.  And we have also experienced some record highs in San Antonio Bay, as well as East Matagorda Bay also.  The other thing I pointed to, was an increasing abundance of what we will call sub-legal fish.

Those fish, in our gill nets that we start to see prior to them entering into the fishery, where they are actually within the legal limit.  And in those systems, we were starting to see those rise.  And in fact, last year, we started to see that come into, especially, the fishery in Aransas Bay.

Certainly, I think that if you just polled it, based on phone calls to you, or letters to us, we have probably had fewer complaints last summer as compared to the summer before.  And that is because we were seeing those sub-legal fish start to move into that fishery.  When we look at our overall angler satisfaction rates, this is a coastwide rate, this is a satisfaction rating from zero to ten, that we collect at our accrual surveys, at our public boat ramp surveys that we do.  And you can see here that during this downward time frame, an overall abundance, at least in those three systems.

Coastwide, we are still doing quite well.  Continue to see our satisfaction level go up.  Obviously, it is not only associated with spotted seatrout, but it is also associated with red drum.  But red drum and spotted seatrout, if you are an angler on the Texas coast, you are typically fishing for one of those two fish a lot of the time.

When we looked at our scoping meetings, we did hold seven different scoping meetings.  As is the case, anytime we talk about spotted seatrout or red drum, we get a lot of attention.  I had over 1,240 comments.  That was through last Friday afternoon.  As you can see, when we talk about favorable to a change, we are talking about favorable to a change of some sort.  We didn’t say five or seven or what it may be.

But those people who were favorable to some sort of change indicated, about 50 percent of those, 49 percent actually, and 51 percent weren’t favorable to any change at all at the current time.  We had about 400 people show up at our hearings, and the rest came via email or web comments.

This basically leads us to the staff recommendation.  And as indicated, we certainly would like to go forward with those clarifications and corrections.  But staff would recommend that we remove spotted seatrout from the proposal or consideration for rule proposal at this time, in the 2011-2012 statewide process.

Obviously, this fishery is very important to the state of Texas.  It is very important to Parks and Wildlife, and what we do on the coast.  So we want to continue to monitor very closely.  We want to see if those gains that we expect to see moving through the system as far as those increases in those sub-legal fish.

We want to see if they show up in our legal fish catches, and our gill nets, and our abundance estimates as we move forward.  So we are going to be watching this very closely.  Last week, we also presented this to our Coastal Resources Advisory Committee.  They unanimously supported the position of staff, and recommend that to you as well.  But they too were very careful in crafting their motion, and suggested that they want to see this again at the earliest time possible.

So obviously, as we collect our spring gill nets, we will be going back to them with the information.  And we are all going to be watching this very closely as we move forward, and hope to see those continued gains that we expect to see, just based on our bag seines, and our early gill net catches that we have seen so far.  With that, that concludes my presentation.  I would be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES:  I have a question for Robin.  When you are scoping, are you scoping just on the three bay systems that you talked about, or are you scoping on that entire Texas coast?

MR. RIECHERS:  No.  We went ahead and held scoping over the entire Texas coast.  We did go to Sabine.  We went and had one meeting in Dickinson.  We also went to the Lower Laguna Madre, because we were presenting the results from the five-fish bag limit down there as well.  Certainly, that question has come up.

One of our issues is, we have a very mobile fleet.  And so, you may be in the Galveston area.  Or you may be in kind of in Southwest Houston.  But you may fish in Galveston or you may also fish further down the coast.  So the other part to that is, if we draw, or if we have rule changes, and it is not coastwide, those other areas can be impacted by shifts in angling effort there as well.  So you know, we did go further abroad as far as scoping this, from a coast wide perspective.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES:  In the scoping meetings, you held in the areas that there has been a concern, was there a difference?  Was there a higher, or a different from the 50-50 or the 49-51 that you showed?  I am just asking.  I am kind of curious.

MR. RIECHERS:  Well, and I can see as, in Port Arthur and Galveston of course, they are kind of at a record high with some of their fisheries.  Pretty much, it was adamantly opposed, or at least, no one willing to stand up in the room and say, they wanted to consider conservation measures.  I can’t say there weren’t some there, but they weren’t willing to speak.

As we move down the coast, you certainly saw more of the willingness to have that discussion.  I will say, though, that one of the hearts of the area, Port Lavaca, I was at that meeting and there wasn’t a lot of support in the room for changes there.

Amazingly enough, as you get to Corpus Christi, where we have packed the room with over 100 people, not necessarily in one of those areas of concern, but there was more willingness to change there, probably, than any other places that we held meetings.  So it is a little bit of a mixed bag.  But generally as a rule, as you move further down, you have got more willingness to have a discussion about those conservation measures.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  And to follow up on his question.  Would you say the majority of those who attended the meetings were private anglers, or were they captains, or ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS:  It is always hard to get a complete read on that.  But you know, I would say that they probably mostly were private anglers.  But we did have a good guide contingency show up at several of the meetings, you know, typically.  So more private, but there was good guide folks there, or people with guide licenses there.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Any other questions?  There have been some changes south of course.

MR. RIECHERS:  Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Fisheries are doing pretty well.  I mean, can you give us kind of ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS:  Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Of course, I am asking you obviously the science, but also anecdotally.  I mean, it is just ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS:  Well, the fishery is doing well, although that is not to minimize those overall gill net reductions that we saw in those three systems.  And that is overall abundance.  That is once they recruit to that gear that we sample with.  And that is ‑‑ you know, they start at about 12 inches and they go on up in range.

So it includes those sub-legals as well as those legals.  I mean, we definitely did see a real decline in those systems.  And so we are not minimizing that.  It is just that we have been watching it very closely.  And it looks as if we have a lot of fish coming up through the system.

It has kind of arrested itself, if you will.  And we think we are going to reap those benefits of those strong year classes as we move forward.  But we want to watch that very closely.  But as a whole, yes.  I think the fishery last year, anecdotally, did better than it did the summer before.  And you know, I think we will continue to see that, just because of those year classes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Didn’t we have a freeze last year?

MR. RIECHERS:  We did have a small freeze last year.  It did affect parts of San Antonio Bay.  That is where we had the most kill as far as spotted seatrout goes.  It wasn’t real large in number as compared to the past freezes.  But there was some impact there in that system last year.  I want to say it was around 1,200 fish, is what I am remembering our count being.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  And then you had a drought.  You had freshwater inflow issues a couple of years.  Okay.

MR. RIECHERS:  Yes.  We have certainly had, and it may be fishing mortality, or it is a combination of fishing mortality and environmental impacts.  All of those things.  I had a question last week about could we have predicted these real high recruitment.

And I said, well, if we could, we could have been real famous at doing that.  But you know, we tell you what conditions need to be there and what all conditions impact that.  But we can’t tell you how they all have to line up exactly to get those super high recruitment years that we have had in the last three years in Aransas Bay.  It has just been very fortunate for us.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Okay.  Any other questions?  Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN:  The commercial shrimp boat, what was the issue there exactly?  That limited the bay catch fin fish ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS:  On board a shrimp vessel now, a person who is licensed can keep a recreational bag limit of fish.  And because there are deck hands, who, if they or someone on board the vessel, has a captain’s license, the other deck hands can be exempt from having any license.  And so there has been ‑‑

COMMISSIONER MORIAN:  Any license?

MR. RIECHERS:  Any license.  And so there has been some confusion.  And Robert, if I get this wrong, please come and help me out here.  But there has been some confusion as to whether or not those individuals could keep a recreational bag limit as well.  And the answer is, no they can’t.

And we are just going in and making it express, and the intent very clear that you have to be the holder of that captain’s license, or hold a captain’s license, or be the owner of the vessel on board to have that recreational bag limit.  You have to be a license holder.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN:  So they can have the recreational license, you can’t keep ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS:  No.  He can’t, with the recreational license, he can’t.  Because they are on a commercial venture at that time.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN:  On a commercial boat, so it doesn’t apply.

MR. RIECHERS:  Yes.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN:  I see.  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES:  Let me ask one more question.  Are we talking about head boats going offshore.  Are we talking about bay boats?  Are we talking about shrimping boats?

MR. RIECHERS:  No.  This would mostly apply to Gulf or bay shrimping vessels.  And that is all it applies to, actually.  I shouldn’t say mostly.  That is what it applies to, shrimp vessels.

COMMISSIONER HUGHES:  Okay.  Maybe you said that.  Thanks.

MR. RIECHERS:  Yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Any other questions or comments?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Ken?  Thank you, Robin.

MR. KURZAWSKI:  Good morning, Commissioners.  My name is Ken Kurzawski in the Inland Fisheries Division.  And I am here today to go over our Freshwater Fishing proposal, proposed regulation changes for the coming year.

These are the ones that I outlined for you back in November.  We are bringing forward all of those that we talked about at that time, and also, adding some more details to the regulations on our border waters, with Louisiana.

First off, on the Wheeler Branch, this is a new 180-acre reservoir near Glen Rose that is opening this September.  And our goals are to protect and enhance that new fishery we having developing there.  Our proposed regulations are going to 14 to 21-inch slot limit for a largemouth bass and 18-inch minimum for our smallmouth.

And then have the gear restriction to pole and line angling only to help protect that fishery when it is opened and continue the quality of fishing into the coming year.

On Lake Kyle, another lake that will soon be opening to the public, it is a 12-acre lake south of Austin here, near Kyle.  It currently has an excellent largemouth bass population.  And we are hoping to protect that quality population by the use of regulations.

So we are proposing a 14 to 21-slot limit for the bass there also.  And this reservoir will also fall under community fishing lake regulations which has some gear restrictions and some reduced bag limits for channel and blue catfish.

Next, Lake Alan Henry.  That is a reservoir near Lubbock.  He has produced 25 sharelunkers, which is second to Fork.  And I was thinking I needed to check that, with all of those fish coming out of O.H. Ivie.  I need to see if their second place is in competition there.  But I will check on that.  And our goal there is to allow anglers to harvest some of the smaller spotted bass in there, and reduce some of the identification problems we had between the spotted bass and the largemouth bass.

So our proposed change is there to remove the 18-inch minimum for spotted bass, which that is what it was opened with, and combine the spotted and largemouth bass limits to a five-fish bag, with just two fish less than 18 inches.  And we propose to remove the 18-inch minimum on smallmouth that we had in place there since opening.  We did stock smallmouth in there, they haven’t developed a population.

And some anglers seeing that 18 inch think that kind of denotes that there might be a quality population there.  But in fact, the population hasn’t developed at all.  So we will remove that 18 inch and go back to the statewide 14-inch minimum.

And I might note that just recently, we had a spotted bass caught out of Alan Henry that tentatively has broken the existing state record there.  And we are in the process of certifying that.  So in addition, we have some small spotted bass, some good size fish developing there also.

Next on two reservoirs, Kirby and Lake Palestine, catfish here, they are a very popular game fish in both reservoirs.  But both reservoirs have similar population structure.  They have abundant slow-growing channel catfish, but the blue catfish there are also abundant.  But grow quite well.

So our proposed changes there are, the goals of those is to sort of restructure those populations using angler harvest by reducing some of the competition among the catfish by additional harvest of some of those smaller channel catfish, and the goal there also would be to, by the increased harvest of those smaller fish, to continue to enhance production of the larger catfish.

So we are proposing a regulation there of removing the minimum length limit.  Allowing a 50-fish daily bag, but limiting the number of fish over 20 inches to five fish, to protect some of those larger blue catfish, and develop that fishery.

Next, as I discussed last time, we have been in discussions with Louisiana on trying to get standardization of our border waters.  As a proposal go there standardized.  It is easier enforcement, easier for anglers, easier for everybody to understand there.  And both states at this time have agreed upon some proposed changes on Toledo Bend, the Sabine River below Toledo Bend and Caddo Lake.  I will try and step through some of these changes here.

Some changes that are common to Toledo Bend, the Sabine River and Caddo Lake, for channel catfish, we are going from, this is ‑‑ currently, we have our statewide limits on there, the 12-inch, 25-fish bag.  And we are going to a no-minimum.

And the 50 fish which you remember is the regulation that we have for proposing for Kirby and Palestine, so that is kind of a nice byproduct here.  When we do make exceptions, we are cognizant of making too many different exceptions to statewide.  Here we can make an exemption that we are having on a couple of reservoirs, so a little more understanding among anglers.  And it also gives us a couple of other spots we can see what those regulation change will produce.

A minor change on the flathead.  We are going from an 18-inch, keeping the 18-inch and just increasing the bag there.  The one that has been a sticking point for a number of years between us was the crappie regs there.  On Toledo Bend, we currently have a 10-inch with a 50-fish bag.  And that is specific to Toledo Bend.  The other spots Sabine and Caddo have a 25 bag.

But what we are going to there as a compromise is, no minimum length on it.  They are going back down to 25-fish bag.  So we are hoping that will produce some good fish, continue to produce good fishing in those areas.  And then on Sabine River, we decided to try and make regulations on the stretch of the Sabine River below Toledo Bend that were similar to Toledo Bend Reservoir.

So these following changes that you see here, the proposals are the regulations that we have in place on the reservoir.  So we will have the same regulations in place from the reservoir down through the river there.

And then finally, on Caddo Lake, we have some changes specific to that.  On largemouth bass, we currently have a 14 to 18-inch slot limit there, with a five-fish bag.  And we are going to, the proposal there to get a standardized regulation with Louisiana is to go to an eight-fish bag and combine that with spotted bass.  But only allow a harvest of four fish over 18 inches.

Spotted bass, we are just making a minor change there, going to an eight-fish bag.  And on white bass, we are just removing the size limit and leaving the 25-fish bag in place.

And finally, we have to make a couple of changes.  We have an existing definition of Toledo Bend Reservoir.  We are going to change that upper limit, currently at Highway 84 to the Texas/Louisiana state line.  There is a sign that marks that.  And then we will also publish GPS coordinates to that, to give a little more certainty to that.  And also the boundaries that this will encompass for Sabine River will be from Toledo Bend dam downstream to the I-10 Bridge, which is the boundary between the coastal and freshwater boundaries.

So those are our suggested changes on the freshwater side.  And we would request your permission to publish those proposed changes in the Texas Register for public comment.  And attendant with this, we will be scheduling public meetings to gather public input on this in March.  So if you have any questions, I would be ‑‑

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Ken?

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Could we turn to page 33 of the blue folder in our notebook.  There is Section 57.973, Devices, Means and Methods.

MR. KURZAWSKI:  Number is 57 point, yes, right there.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  I was confused by what this intended to do.  First of all, on Item A, what does that mean, it is unlawful to fish with more than 100 hooks on all devices.  Is that intended to refer to a trot line, jugs, a rim line?

MR. KURZAWSKI:  Just the combination of any of the legal devices can’t exceed 100 hooks.  So you can have, I think on trot lines, you could have two 50-foot, 50-hook trot lines.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Okay.

MR. KURZAWSKI:  Or you know, however many combination of jug lines.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Then in Item B, where you say B(1), that no person may employ more than two devices, i.e., poles or lines at the same time but that seems to be limited only to community fishing lakes that are not within or part of the state park.  Why wouldn’t we have that on all of the ‑‑

MR. KURZAWSKI:  Well, this was specific to community fishing lakes.  We were trying to limit the harvest.  There were a lot of those lakes were stocking catfish.  We want to have as many anglers be able to catch those fish as possible, and kind of spread out the harvest.  So we have just chosen to do that on the smaller reservoirs at this time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  So we are saying that if you are in a what is defined as a community fishing lake ‑‑

MR. KURZAWSKI:  As a community fishing lake.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  They have no more than two poles.  At Fork, you can have 100 poles.

MR. KURZAWSKI:  Correct.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS:  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  You would be a working man.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Any other questions for Ken?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  Okay, Ken.  Thank you.  If there is no further discussion, I will authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.  This is number 4, and now where are we at?  Number 4 was withdrawn.  Number 5 was withdrawn.

Okay.  So this Committee has completed its business.  Normally, we would move on to the Conservation Committee.  But what we will do is, I think, because of the timing, we will move to Finance.  And with Commissioner Falcon.

COMMISSIONER FALCON:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

COMMISSIONER HOLT:  After you.

COMMISSIONER FALCON:  Yes, sir.

(Whereupon, at 11:10 a.m., the meeting was concluded.)

C E R T I F I C A T E

MEETING OF:    Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Regulations Committee

LOCATION:      Austin, Texas

DATE:          January 26, 2011

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 47, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

                    2/02/11
(Transcriber)         (Date)

On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731


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