Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
March 26, 2008Commission 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 March, 2008, 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:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Committee Chairman
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, M.D., Rio Grande City, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Carter P. Smith, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. All right. Thank you, Mark. The first order of business is the approval of the previous Committee meeting minutes which have already been distributed —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So move.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Duggins and seconded by Bivins. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries. Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update, Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH: Yes, thank you, Chairman. Just consistent with the other discussions we've had, I want to formally acknowledge that Scott Boruff is going to serve as our official staff liaison to the Regulations Committee, and, again, just in an effort to help coordinate communication on agendas and how we vet regulations in the future; just want to formalize that. So, looking forward to working with you in that regard.
A couple of things I want to highlight. One, I think as everybody knows, a huge area of emphasis for the Department is our work with private landowners around the state, and our Wildlife Division really makes that one of their highest priorities and does a superb job on providing technical assistance to cooperating landowners.
I think now we have close to 6,000 management plans around the state that encompass a little over 21 and a half million acres; we had a big spike in the number, in the amount of acreage enrolled in plans, largely with the new Managed Lands Mule Deer Permit out in West Texas. That's been very, very popular; I think we've had another 4 million acres added to the program. So, great success there.
I saw Nathan Garner earlier, our East Texas Regional Director, and they have been working as you all know for many years on trying to recover the Eastern turkey in East Texas, and we've just had another release and partnership with a number of private landowners. I think we released about 100 birds out in East Texas; the Cook's Branch Conservancy is a real primary partner with us on that. And so we're pleased about those efforts.
On the Coast, every February we work with local communities, law enforcement, coastal fisheries, volunteers, fishing guides, to help pick up all of those abandoned crab traps; as you all know, those are a real sink for catching a lot of species; they'll get left out in the bays. And so that's a real problem, so that's been going on for — that program, for about the last seven years. A lot of pick-up that went on in Galveston Bay and San Antonio Bays. But a very, very successful program and a lot of participation throughout the Coast from a variety of constituent groups.
I'm very pleased to share that in May, our 53rd class of the Texas Game Warden Academy will graduate, and that's significant for a number of reasons. One, it will be the last graduating class that will go through the Academy at our current location, on 51st Street in Austin. We are in the throes of selling that site, and moving our training facility to Hamilton County.
I've had a chance, as have many others, to meet with this class of cadets. It is a remarkable group of young men and women, we're very, very proud of them, and looking forward to them joining our team in May, formally.
We also have applications out right now to solicit applications for our 54th class of Texas Game Wardens, and they will be the inaugural class to go through the Academy at our new site in Hamilton County. And so we're really excited about that new facility. For those of you that have not had a chance to go up and see that site I would strongly encourage you to do so. I think once it is fully built out, it's just going to provide a world-class training opportunity for our law enforcement team, and we're excited about everything that our training team is doing with them.
So with that, I think I'll turn it back to you, so thank you, Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay, in order to accommodate some schedules, we're going to move to Committee Item Number 9, Homeland and Border Security. And then go back to Number 2.
COLONEL FLORES: Mr. Smith, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Colonel Peter Flores, Director of Law Enforcement. It's my pleasure this afternoon to present Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez, one of our partners in law enforcement in Texas. He's the sheriff of Zapata County, and is here to join me today in a discussion about border issues and Homeland Security.
You know, Homeland and Border Security issues are a real issue for law enforcement in Texas, and the Texas Homeland Strategic Plan for 2005 to 2010 requires close coordination among state, local and federal authorities in an effort to build capabilities to prevent and protect against, respond to and recover from all threats to the homeland.
Our Texas Game Wardens have historically had a close relationship with local law enforcement entities, and operations in Zapata are — pretty much showcase that. I think we're going to give you examples today of the close duty roles the game wardens play in our role in local and state and national security.
Texas Game Wardens' duties in conservation law enforcement place us in a unique and important role in the security of citizens of both Texas and of our country.
On September 11th, our world changed, and that was — it changed for all of us as people, as a nation, as a people, but especially for those of us who take a solemn oath to protect and serve. So we secure the nation's borders with the requirement for state and local governments to increase the security of U.S. citizens and their property within the border areas.
The Law Enforcement Division's mission is, Texas Game Wardens are responsible for the enforcement of Parks and Wildlife Code, all TPD regulations and the Texas Penal Code, selected statutes and the regulations that are applicable to the clean air, water, hazardous materials and human health.
As it relates to TPWD mission and Homeland Security, our Texas Game Wardens accomplished the TPWD Law Enforcement mission as conservation as well as Homeland Security, mainly because of the role that we play off the pavement. In the Texas Law Enforcement apparatus, especially at the state level, it's just — we are the ones that are out off the pavement in the ranch land in our waterways, and out in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Law Enforcement Division provides safe boating and recreational water safety on public waters by ensuring compliance with applicable state laws and regulations. So as it pertains to the totality of the mission, whether it be dams, or power plants, or ports along the seacoast, or the Rio Grande, or Amistad or Falcon, it's your Texas Game Wardens who are out there doing the conservation mission,
but at the same time, maintaining our oath as peace officers.
We have — in Homeland Security we have a commitment of resources to demonstrate our presence, and thereby deter illegal activities along the Texas-Mexican border. The Texas-Mexican border is 1,254 miles in length, accounts for over two-thirds of the entire U.S. border with Mexico, borders with the northern Mexican states, terrain variance includes deserts, mountains, brushy plains, pasture land, coastal plain, and of course nine nautical miles of the Gulf of Mexico.
This is an example of the roles that are out there that our wardens do. This is — I put this slide on here to demonstrate a case in West Texas; this is Game Warden Ray Spears, for those of you who have met him, in Brewster County, he just transferred back home to El Paso County, but Ray was out one night doing — working night hunters outside of Alpine, watched a spotlight coming across a pasture and it was pretty bumpy that night, early morning hours, went to intercept them and the chase was on; went through a number of fences, went out on the highway, there outside of Alpine, and if you notice there's, in this particular case you might not see it there but there's one shotgun shell there, there was one shot, and one load of dope.
And he stopped the vehicle, that was — it wasn't a road hunter or a night hunter, it was a doper. And that's what they run out, and our game wardens run across routinely in the course of their duties as conservation officers.
And another one of our missions in homeland and border security in international waters is to reduce violent border crime, and thereby protect its citizens. Texas is pursuing a strategy that calls for stronger law enforcement and presence throughout the Texas border area.
The Law Enforcement Division provides a comprehensive statewide law enforcement program to protect Texas wildlife and other natural resources and environment. To reinforce our message, those are Mexican netters on Falcon Reservoir, where netting is okay on the Mexican side but not on our side. And there's a problem we've been dealing with since the institution of the lake. But so we're out there and we're doing conservation work. But we run across a number of other things.
Of course primarily we're out there to catch some — in the resource protection of our fisheries; there's an example of some of the gill nets and hoop nets we get from the Mexican fishermen. Some of our challenges along this bordering water and the bordering areas is, in the case of Zapata and Falcon Lake is, a Mexican commercial fisherman is illegal to fish in Texas; so they're going to come after the resource, because we've got them.
We've got the resource on our side, so they're going to go after it; there's a market nearby in Monterey, and other areas. And — but we've, working together with the sheriff, our wardens out there have done a good job of apprehending these folks.
Another one of our challenges is, the Mexican commercial fishermen are also involved in smuggling drugs and humans. I guess they're efficient in their criminal enterprises, because not only, while they may drop a net, at the same time they may also drop a load of dope or take a load of aliens, all in one trip. And those that have had, the Commissioners that have had the opportunity, Commissioner Falcon and Martin, of accompanying us on the border and been able to see the challenges that are involved in operations along the border, those of you that have ranches along the border understand how easy it is just to, you know that old saying, "If I can only make it to the Mexican border, it will be all right." Well, we try our best not to let them get across the line when they cross ours.
Mainly we want to deter them from coming in, in the first place. Fishermen who are incarcerated, a lot of times they choose to serve their time out in jail instead of paying fines. Of course we seize their equipment, we get their boats, we get their motors; that's forfeit. But the jail time's not a deterrent; it's primarily a fiscal deterrent at that point.
Zapata County, for example, doesn't have the financial resources to house these type of prisoners, all the time, although the federal system is starting to improve, the Border Patrol is improving in the manner in which they handle these repeat aliens; but generally the financial resources of the counties, especially the border counties, is — it strains them.
Mexican commercial fishermen have — pretty much have total disregard for, you know, U.S. law, Texas Water Safety Act, anything like that, it really doesn't matter. They're in a commercial enterprise.
Here's an example of a load on Falcon Reservoir that our game wardens intercepted and arrested. This is the typical Mexican fishing vessel on — that you'll find down in the Brownsville area or in Falcon or Amistad. But in this case, with contraband seizures that our game wardens routinely run across are gill nets, hoop nets, drugs and boats and motors.
In this particular case, our game wardens intercepted these individuals with a boatload of dope. And you can see, as I pointed out earlier in the course of our conservation work, where you see in the front, in the enterprise of the — you look at, the front of the boat has gill net and the back of the boat has dope, they're just very efficient in their criminal enterprise, and, you know —
COLONEL FLORES: — and there have been times we've run across loads of liquor, I mean, you just never know what you'll run into. But at the same time they're also plundering our resources. And the other boat is a load of dope that is pretty much, our wardens in working with Zapata County intercepted, that was unloaded on the bank.
I understand that Steve McGraw is present. Steve is here, Steve is from the Governor's office, he's the State Director of Homeland Security and we welcome him. Thank you for being here.
MR. McGRAW: You're welcome.
COLONEL FLORES: I included this slide because this is pretty recent. This is at the very end of the hunting season, and this was in Jim Hogg County, at the Webb County line; our wardens were working this ranch in Mirando City, working deer hunters, come across this truck, truck started to take off giving them a good probable cause something was wrong, amiss, and sure enough, it wasn't deer they were hiding from us but a load of marijuana.
Homeland Security and the International Water Patrol on Lake Amistad where, again, wardens are engaged in, because of our role off the pavement and our primary role, we've been referred to by Governor Perry and by President Bush as the Texas Navy. And that's because of our unique role as state law enforcement on the public waters.
Also along the Coast, I'd be remiss not to mention the Coast, the Captain Williams is one of our 65-footers; it patrols Texas coastal waters. As part of our coastal patrol we have the Captain Williams also, and then other vessels like it. In this particular case, we're removing illegal nets, Mexican nets out in the Gulf of Mexico. In this particular case, it was — dolphins were entangled in this net, if you all remember that particular incident.
Patrolling at night along the vast stretches of the lower to upper — the lower Coastal Plain and the Intracoastal Waterway, this particular slide showcases our wardens patrolling the Intracoastal, did a water safety inspection of a vessel that was supposed to be a sportsman, and ended up with a load of dope aboard. Things didn't look right, our — their training kicked in, and the game — their role as conservation officers have evolved in time to be a first line of defense, because of where we operate, against criminal organizations. And this line of defense of course includes interdiction, drugs, human trafficking and smuggling.
Because of these efforts, we were fortunate enough by the grace of the Legislature and help from Governor Perry, general revenue was appropriated to the Division for its law enforcement operations for the first time.
And with general revenue appropriated for 2008, it's $2,250,793, and $1,854,400 for a total of $4,100,000 in general revenue, which is very important to note that the general revenue, as opposed to coming from Fund 9, is an important part because of the role that we do in our peace officer capacities, while doing conservation work.
And more importantly, it also added 15 more game wardens for assignment along the Mexican border and in our ports. And just for clarification, this doesn't mean that they're there to do border patrol work or catch aliens; they're there to be a force multiplier; more boots on the ground; doing work, our conservation work off the pavement but by being Texas peace officers, and providing that extra line of defense which ultimately will serve to protect us all from criminal elements that will prey upon our resources, but most importantly off our public safety.
At this point I'd like to pass the program over to the sheriff, Sheriff Gonzalez's presentation, and, this will not be on your laptops because of its format, but you'll have it, Chair, and, again, I can either click for you, or you click on the right there —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
COLONEL FLORES: — that right button, and when you're — has level come up now?
MS. CLARK: Uh-huh.
COLONEL FLORES: If you press the right —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Colonel Flores, could I ask you to introduce our honored guest.
COLONEL FLORES: This is Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez, Sheriff of Zapata County, a long-term friend and partner, and a president of the Board of Sheriffs Coalition, one of the founding members. Very involved, he's been to Washington, D.C., he's been all over the country speaking on behalf of Texas' issues, and he would like to take the time today to brief the Commission about the role of law enforcement as it pertains to our borders.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: Thank you, Colonel. And thank you, Mr. Chairman —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Thank you for coming.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: — and Commissioners, thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here with you today. The — of course we're always interested in working with every agency, every state agency, local agency, federal agency that we possibly can. The ultimate goal, of course, is protecting the citizens of this great state of ours, this great nation of ours.
And with that I will start by telling you that — well my name's up there, and I am the present vice chairman of the Southwestern Border Sheriffs Coalition, I think term's over in May. I was the founding member, the one in — to blame I guess for the sheriffs getting together along the border and expressing our concerns, and our problems that we have along the border, our mutual problems.
We started the Southwest, the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition in May 2005. And we did that out of frustration from the federal government's inadequacy in protecting our border. And I'm not talking immigration-wise, I'm talking criminal-wise. We were seeing many, many criminals coming into this country. And we still are. A lot of rapists, a lot of murderers, a lot of people that have ill intent and things that they want to do to this country of ours.
We — I started calling the sheriffs along the border and we said, "We need to," or, "What is your, do you think you have the same problems in your counties," and they said, "Yes, we do." So we called for a meeting in Laredo Texas May 2005 and we formed the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition.
Through our coalition we came up with a plan. And it's just like a football team. Different positions in a football team, we have your linebackers, your safeties, your defensive line and things like that. We called our operation, we wanted to do this Operation Linebacker. Basically, it's a second line of defense, assisting Customs and border protection for the protection of this country. Border Patrol being the first line of defense, we being the linebackers; whatever would come past Border Patrol, other than immigration cases, then we were there to hopefully be able to stop them from coming back into — coming into the country.
So our operation, again, is intended really to identify, apprehend and prevent terrorists, and the weapons of mass destruction, from entering this country of ours. We, again, have seen many criminals come into the country, and I'll mention some of them in a little bit, but that is one of our missions in Operation Linebacker.
Another mission is of ours is to identify, apprehend and prevent criminals and aliens from special interest countries from entering our country. I'll talk a little bit about Ebner Anibal Rivera-Paz, who was responsible for a bombing in Honduras in which many people died.
He has come into this country at least four times, and he's been apprehended; and he's coming back again. So we want to stop those people from coming into this country. We also, as part of our operation, also want to seize any type of contraband from entering the United States. By contraband we mean narcotics, humans from special interest countries that have an interest or an ill will against us in this country.
And also of course to protect the United States and its citizens by stopping, with additional patrol, harmful materials, contraband and individuals with no legitimate right, from entering the United States.
What I did when we started this coalition is, I went ahead and took the formal definition I guess you could say of domestic terrorism. So the best definition I could find was the FBI's definition, since they are supposedly the ones in charge of protecting our country against a terrorist attack.
And their definition is very simple: "Unlawful use of force or violence committed by a group of two or more individuals against persons or property, to intimidate or coerce the government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
With the exception of those last seven words there, "in furtherance of political or social objectives," what's happening on the border is in fact domestic terrorism. Many of our citizens are afraid that they're going to get kidnapped and taken back to Mexico, never to be seen again. Many of our citizens, as I'm sure Dr. Falcon can attest, are going to their cars from a mall, and being carjacked, taken to Mexico, and then leaving bodies on the side of the road, leaving people there for dead, just because they want to take that car.
People in fact are living in some areas, are living in fear. People don't want to farm their land anymore because they're afraid that they're going to get robbed. Some people are afraid of opening or closing a gate to their ranch, when they're going in or out of their ranches because they're afraid of also getting assaulted.
Not necessarily by illegal aliens per se, but rather, criminals; criminal aliens that are coming into this country. Again our job is not to be Border Patrol. We don't want to be a Border Patrol agents, if we did, we would have gone to work for the U.S. Government a long time ago; that's not our job. Our job, again, is to prevent terrorists from coming into the country.
Our job is also to talk about border security, the problems along the border. And my thing has always been this: If you don't live on the border, if you live 25 miles or more away from the border you really don't know what's happening on the border.
We've challenged some Congressmen to come to the border; we'll show them what we're talking about. They have indeed come to the border, and they were under the false impression that the border was protected by AWAC planes, by sensors and by F-16s and everything; it's not. Anybody can come across the Rio Grande River, into our country at any time, without detection.
And, again, I'm not talking about people coming to work at restaurants or hotels or ranches or whatever; I'm talking about people that are coming in here armed with automatic weapons, escorting 15 or 20 other individuals. To me, that's not a person coming to look for work in a restaurant or hotel. That's somebody that can afford to pay $15,000 or $20,000 to be brought across the border.
So, again, the border as far as we're concerned is very wide open, very porous, and very unprotected. It's extremely vulnerable. The border, again, has very minimal law enforcement presence. And between ports of entry, the criminal enterprise rules. In Mexico they call that area their turf; they call it their "plazas." You got to pay to be able to smuggle anything across their plazas in Mexico.
So the Mexican side of the river is governed or protected by these cartels. So on our side, between the ports of entry, really the criminal enterprise rules. There's a picture right there of Sheriff Danny Dominguez in Presidio County, in one of the crossings there in his county. That's what it looks like. You can tell, right there to the right of his feet, where there's tire tracks, the vehicles go by there every single day, going back and forth to Mexico; it's not a port of entry, at least not a legal port of entry. That's exactly what is happening.
So we face many problems, we share a lot of problems. The drug and human smuggling; we also have a problem with trash along — that's left on properties. Landowners calling us, as sheriffs, saying, "Sheriff, please do something about these people coming across my land, leaving all this trash, where my cows later eat it and die; it's costing me a lot of money."
What about the gates that are being torn down, the fences that are being cut. These are landowners that come to us. We are the ones that have to respond to what's happening. We're all seeing problems of incursion, whether we want to admit it or not. They may not be military; I don't know. But they are — when there are people coming across in camouflage clothing, very clean cut in very good physical condition, with backpacks on their backs and machine guns slung on their shoulders, as far as I'm concerned that's some type of military or military-trained people.
So we deal with incursions along the border. We deal with what we call the violent narco-terrorist groups, based on the definition I gave you by the FBI. It's the people that cause havoc, they create a lot of problems for a lot of innocent people on the U.S. side of the border.
We also have communication problems with — a lot of these problems that I'm talking about, some of them are, we're seeing hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel, with help from the Governor's Office, with help from the 80th Legislative Session. Some funding was made available to us.
But, again, we see many things along the border also. These here are some pictures, and I was not aware that this was going to be an open meeting, but it's okay; I think everything has been published before anyway. And I was not aware that news media may be in the room also, but, again, that's okay.
These are pictures that were sent to us from Mexico. These are pictures of gang members that control the trains from Southern Mexico all the way to Monterey, and then from Monterey to Laredo, to McAllen, to El Paso, and to other areas across the State of Texas.
On those trains there, as you can see in those pictures, are members of MS-13, and they control those trains. If you want to get on that train, that's no problem, you can get on that train. But it's going to cost you.
You see the picture on the bottom, the middle picture on the bottom, you see one individual there, barely you can see him, he's got the signs, the hand signs. That's MS-13 gang signs.
The picture on the left of the screen with the females there, part of the fee in most cases of getting on that train is, sexual assault. When they get to the border, who has to deal with these people? We do. We're the ones that have to deal with those people.
Now, my reason for being here today is not only to tell you what problems we have along the border, and I say, "we" as law enforcement, the law enforcement community. But some of these problems are also seen by Parks and Wildlife. The danger of Parks and Wildlife being out there on the border, it's there.
It's happened many times where boats have been shot at from Mexico with Border Patrol. Many times it's going to happen to game wardens also.
We're seeing, again, the statistics for OTMs, other than Mexicans. This is for fiscal year, 30,147. A year later, 44,614; a year later, 165,168. This is just other than Mexicans.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What does that mean? I'm sorry.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: Other than Mexicans, coming from other countries, and I've got the figures for what countries they're from, from Middle Eastern countries, from Latin American countries, from the Horn of Africa, from countries that —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that the whole border, or just Texas?
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: That's just the Texas — I'm sorry, the U.S. border.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: U.S.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: The Southwestern border. Southwestern Border. The five sectors, Border Patrol sectors along the Southwestern border.
Again, most of these people coming across are immigrants from countries of special interest, that were apprehended along the southern border of our country. For example, Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and many other countries.
The Rio Grande Valley sector of Border Patrol, for example, saw a 61 percent increase in human smuggling cases, with 76 MS-13 gang members arrested; 55 assaults against U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Since then I think there are assaults that are up like 3,000 percent, against Border Patrol agents. Our information is that a lot of these individuals are being smuggled across, smuggled into Texas or the United States, are being told, "You need to start fighting it out with Border Patrol agents or with Texas officers or whomever, but you need to start fighting them. We need to start showing, in other words, that we're serious about smuggling and we're not going to stop. We need for them to back down," for us to back down.
2005 saw a 3,000 percent increase in Chinese immigrants. Also a tremendous increase in the seizure of Chinese heroin. And this is just in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone. It's my understanding that the Mafia members from the Chinese Mafia have determined that the best place to do smuggling is southern Texas. It's the best place to do it; so this is why they've moved their operations to the southern part of Texas.
Our vulnerabilities along the border, the summer of 2006 we saw 50 persons — or not saw but we have information from 50 persons from the Horn of Africa who were contracting with Mexican gangs to be smuggled into the United States. They were willing to pay $20,000 each for safe passage into this country.
They travel through Spain through the Tri-Border Area, which I'll talk more about in a little bit, then to Mexico. Venezuela was part of the alternate plan. Again, these for people that can afford to pay $20,000 for safe passage. It is very hard for these people to come back into the country, into the United States and work at restaurants and come up with $20,000. They have other intents, as far as we're concerned.
In January 2007, many Iraqis with counterfeit passports, they paid $1200 each, in Spain; once they got to Mexico they were supposed to pay between $6,000 and $8,000 to be smuggled into the United States.
December 2006, Columbus, New Mexico, an individual by the name of Alfonso Salinas was questioned; it was determined that his real name was Ayman Sulman Kamal. He's an Egyptian-born Muslim; he was trying to pass himself off as an Hispanic. He was involved in Hudspeth County, Texas, in the area of Neely's Crossing which you've heard about in January 2007, about a possible incursion there with Sheriff Arvin West; he's a narcotics smuggler, confirm the above narcotics smuggler was apprehended, he said, "Yes, there is an individual by the name of Salinas, that is in fact smuggling Middle Eastern individuals through Neely's Crossing in Hudspeth County."
And he's been told to keep quiet, because he's going to draw a lot of problems into that area, we have federal agencies and state agencies from all over the place, along the border; we cannot afford that. He decided he was going to keep on doing it; his body was discovered later on. Apparently he did not mind the drug smugglers, he kept on doing it, and they stopped him from doing it to prevent more heat into that area.
So again these aliens were being crossed into Hudspeth County were taken to Venezuela, then they were taken to New York to receive legal documentation as Venezuelan citizens. They were smuggled, the smuggler was subsequently killed in Mexico, by possibly the Carrillo Fuentes drug-trafficking organization, because he knew smugglers of this kind were bringing too much heat to the border.
One of the threats we have, those are actual weapons that have been seized from individuals right across the border from — well, right across from the Rio Grande River. This is standard-issued equipment for some cartel members, some — in Mexico, and they're hand grenades, they're grenades that are intended to be fired by — this was the type of weapon, and they are used against law enforcement in Mexico.
We have been told by an individual that provides information to us that we need to be very careful, this was two years ago though, so nothing has happened yet and hopefully nothing does, but we need to be very careful because if we keep putting the pressure along the border, the cartels are supposedly going to start using these weapons against us on the U.S. side also.
We have gotten information that they have requested permission to assassinate some of us along the border, and permission has been denied by higher-ranking cartel members, again because they do not want to draw that heat to the border.
However what is there to prevent one of these individuals, low-ranking cartel members, from getting high on cocaine and doing whatever he wants to do and just killing one of us, it really doesn't care to him what happens along the border.
So it's not just an everyday problem with making traffic stops and things like this, we also have to deal with these other cartel members and drug traffickers and human traffickers. Right now, as far as we know the human trafficking in our area is more lucrative than narcotics traffic. You get more money for it, if someone tries to stop you everybody runs, you don't lose your load, like you would narcotics.
These weapons were seized in Matamoros in February 2007 by the Mexican Army, supposedly or possibly to be used in the — in case there was a trial for [indiscernible] in Brownsville, Texas.
Some border threats also, improvised explosive devices found in Laredo, Texas, January 2006; December 30, 2005, in Cameron County Texas, Border Patrol agents were shot at, their boat was struck several times; it happens often.
In January 2006, El Cenizo, Texas, just south of Laredo, Texas, there was a sniper from Mexico firing for three days at the cameras and at the Border Patrol agents along the riverbank.
In Starr County, Texas, July 13, 2006, there was 300 to 400 shots fired at deputies and Border Patrol agents that had gone to the river to investigate a possible shooting; they were shot at from the east also, so they were being shot at from Mexico, and the eastern side of this country also.
Border Patrol agents and National Guard troops were shot at in Starr County, Texas, also at the same time, because they were in the area just doing investigations.
February 2007, Lovington, New Mexico, a sawed-off shotgun was found, a pistol was found, and some Iraqi currency was found in a residence.
Being drug-trafficking organizations — listed a deputy sheriff's home in Hudspeth County, Texas, told the wife, "Tell your husband not to go to the riverbanks anymore, or we're just going to have to deal with, you know, something's going to happen to him."
So these are some of the things we're seeing. Kidnappings, we see them often. Home invasions in Cameron County, Hidalgo County, Starr Counties happen very often. And pseudo-cops, carjackings in Starr County happen very often where a lady comes out of the grocery store, gets in her car, puts her two-year-old baby in the back seat of the car, starts to go to the front seat on the driver's side to start driving off, somebody hits her from behind, throws her to the ground, she gives them the vehicle or they get in the vehicle, take off towards Mexico.
A lady by the name of Estella Ramirez, a longstanding justice of the peace in Zapata County was with her daughter — she's in her eighties now, or nineties now, and she was in Rio Grande City. She starts getting in her car, and of course very slowly, she gets thrown a way from her car by two individuals; her daughter also gets thrown from the car, she has — she suffers a broken ankle, they take her vehicle to Mexico, at present she is in a very, very serious condition in a nursing home; she's never been able to recover from that incident. She's very close to death now.
So these are things that happen often. We also have of course on January 14, 2005, sorry, 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture Inspector was doing his normal duties, patrolling along the riverbank when he sees 17 individuals come across the river, three of those individuals have military boots on and automatic weapons. I think Ms. — Commissioner Martin was able to hear from that inspector, two weeks ago in Zapata, Texas, when she was there. So she actually heard it for herself, this inspector's testimony or story.
So these things happen. Ebner Anibal Rivera-Paz who I told you about a little while ago, MS-13 gang member, high-ranking member of MS-13, he was arrested in Falfurrias, Texas, Brooks County, Texas. He's responsible for the bus bombing in the U.S. in which 28 people died, including six children, and the wounding of 14 others. He was apprehended in Brooks County, Texas, February 2005.
He has been deported at least four times, he has vowed to shoot down a police officer the next time he is stopped. Since then, and even since April 2006, we have information that he's on his way back. And this time he's not going to be taken alive.
Border threats, July 1, 2006, the Starr County Sheriff's Detention Officer Gilberto Hernandez, Jr., goes to Mexico to visit his girlfriend, and Commissioner Martin also heard from Sheriff Guerra, they were there last week. He goes to visit his girlfriend, there's no problem, this is just a detention officer, he's not a peace officer, he's going to go visit his girlfriend across the river in Roma.
His body was found July 3rd, two days later, in Mexico. He had been shot through the head, his hands had been bound behind his back, his eyes and head had been bandaged with duct tape, and he had been beaten and tortured prior to being shot. He was a law enforcement officer as far as the cartels were concerned.
And perhaps we cannot go to the United States to harm you guys, but you come over here, we're going to show you — we'll teach you what we can do to you. He was alone, in other words.
During his funeral, when his funeral was taking place at a funeral home in Rio Grande City, across the street, one of two kidnappings that day was occurring. The suspect, a Mexican national, was wanted for a homicide he had committed there in that same area a year before. Committed his kidnapping, go back to Mexico, or kidnapped for his murder, go back to Mexico.
In other threats, May 2006, information was received by my office that cartels that we knew of across our border were planning or threatening to kill as many police officers as possible on the United States side of the river again.
Why? They want for us to get away from the border, and basically to them all law enforcement on the border is fair game. You're in our way, we'll just get you out of here. Again, it's just a plan to scare us away from the border.
It's very possible these cartels may form a nexus, which we think they already have, with members of Al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations, since they own the plazas, again, the area in Mexico, their turf. It's owned by them. If you're going to smuggle somebody from the Middle East or a possible cartel member, well, you're going to have to get permission from these cartel members to bring them across.
And as far as we know, it's happening. So that's telling us that these cartel members are aware of what's happening and they don't care, as long as you pay them their fee, pay them their tax.
This incident happened in Three Rivers, Texas, where some individuals, supposedly from Iran, or I'm sorry, from Iraq, purchased a whole bunch of hunting equipment, leased some property there, went hunting, or rather pretended to go hunting, bought a whole bunch of new camping equipment, went hunting there, never pulled their equipment out of the trucks, were there for a little while, burned all their equipment and took off.
I mean, I'm not much of a hunter, I don't have time for hunting anymore, but I'm — perhaps some of you people are hunters and some of you people own property I'm sure; you don't just buy a whole bunch of equipment and just burn it. Most of the time, it's, you know, it's put to use. These people didn't care about these things.
Another border threat that we saw in Jim Hogg County, Texas, these patches were found in a path used by human smugglers. These patches again are something similar to, you know, the red patch there with the lion's head with some wings on it, and some — a parachute on top of the wing's head, and — the lion's head, and some Arabic writing on it.
The news media questioned the FBI about this. "Where are these patches from, who do they belong to?"
"Well, we don't know, we'll get an analysis, okay?" "Well, tell us," and they never did find out where these patches came from.
So at one of these conferences, Border Patrol Chief David Hidalgo, who's a friend of ours, was being questioned by a reporter. He was asked about these patches. He says, "The jackets that were found and patches were not from Al Qaeda but they were from countries where Al Qaeda is known to operate." And as far as I'm concerned, if these patches come from a country where Al Qaeda is known to operate, I would assume that these patches belong to a country that is friends to Al Qaeda.
And why are these patches found 50 miles from the border, or less than 50 miles from the border in an area, in a path used by human smugglers. Why are they hidden there, on a jacket?
Border threats, again, you saw during this — patches, what I did, I never was able to get a good response from anybody about what these patches really meant. So since again, since we started our coalition, I've been getting a lot of anonymous calls from federal agents. I got a lot of copies of reports from federal agencies, things that our government supposedly is doing when in fact, they're not.
And I've been able to develop some friends along the way, and one of — some of these friends come from — well, one of them came from Egypt; one of them is a member of the Israeli military intelligence. So I'll send them an email with copies of these patches or pictures of these patches and I said, "What do these patches mean to you guys there in the Middle East?"
And the individual from Egypt says that this patch, the red one, meant, "Sacrifice is the way to Paradise. Shaheed Jihad, which means, Striving Holy War, or Holy War to the Death." The lion's head, in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the opium Somalia region, Al Qaeda training camps in Somalia, that's where it's used at.
The — an individual from the United States, an expert on terrorism, gave me this information: "These patches belong to defense platoons. 'He who dies in the line of duty to protect the homeland is rewarded with heaven for eternity.'" They are also used by commando platoons, and they use parachutes on their patches; in other words, they're suicide bombers, suicide terrorists.
The Israel, information from Israel, "These patches are special commando units who wear these patches. They were headquartered in France, and they're Islamic mercenaries."
The individual — this individual here from, I think he's from Israel also, says, "Self-sacrifice is, the way for eternal life is by suicide," Islamic terrorists, again, possibly from Iran or Islamics like Al Qaeda are committed to carrying out a suicide bombing attack on a global scale." And he told me to beware. His email, the worded email was just like it is right there. It was capitalized, bolded, with an exclamation mark. He says, "Be careful. Something's getting ready to happen." Fortunately, again, as we know it's been three years, and again fortunately nothing has happened.
Why? I think, based on the information that we get, it's because of the Governor's funding. This is the money that's been given to us by Governor Perry through his — and I'm saying it's because it's here through Mr. McGraw and through the Legislature, that we have been able to show that we can make a difference along the border and prevent these people from coming into the country.
What we've done also because — what we've done through the Governor's office with Texas Intelligence Council, which Governor Perry appointed me to, is that we're trying to get with Mr. McGraw, we're trying to get all local, state and federal agencies together. And tell them, "Let's work together. Let's get things done, let's work as one law enforcement family in protecting this country."
So we sent all our information over to the Governor's Office, or to the State Operations Center, actually the Border Security Operations Center, which was also created by Governor Perry. We send all our information, and then every day it's disseminated back to all of us, on a — you know, on a daily basis to all local agencies, federal agencies, state agencies, so everybody knows what's going on across the border.
And I took just at random, I picked one of these reports up and said, "Let me see what happened in just one 24-hour period along the border, just for the heck of it." And I happened to have picked November 28, 2006. It said, "From 6:30 p.m., November 27, 2006, through November 28, 2006."
In Hidalgo County there was one Somalian immigrant arrested, in Comstock, Texas, at a checkpoint; there was one Iran — arrested in Del Rio, Texas; one Iranian arrested. One Pakistani arrested in Del Rio; the subject was released. One MS-13 gang member in Eagle Pass, two Somalians in Uvalde; one MS-13 gang member from Honduras captured in Cotulla, Texas. Number 8, "U.S. Border Patrol Agents assigned to the El Paso, Texas, station assisted the El Paso Police Department in their search for two unidentified individuals who assaulted a security guard at a water plant near the border. Customs and border protection individuals participated in the search. El Paso Police Department later learned that one of the individuals had wrestled an unloaded gun away from the security guard and attempted to shoot him. The individual then fled to Mexico."
We have been told through September 12th or 13th, 2001, "Watch your water plants. Watch those areas, your airports, your malls and everything else, they could be vulnerable." Well, why would those individuals be in a water plant in El Paso, Texas, in the middle of the night, and they get caught there, instead of just fleeing, jumping the fence where they try to wrestle a handgun away from a security guard and try to kill him? Could it possibly be so there would be no witnesses?
Number 15, "A U.S. Border Patrol agent in McAllen was assaulted while attempted to arrest one male subject from Mexico. The subject resisted arrest, attempted to punch the agent, and also attempted to grab the agent's gun during the struggle."
One individual from Burma was caught in Hidalgo County, Texas. In Kingsville — U.S. Border Patrol agents in Kingsville, a Guatemalan member of the Texas Syndicate was apprehended. U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested one male subject from Mexico near Pharr, Texas. The subject was an aggravated felon with a criminal history that includes accessory to murder.
This was just one 24-hour period. Just one 24-hour period. Incursions, March 3rd, 2005, one of my deputy sheriffs was on a surveillance mission and caught 20, 25 individuals marching in a cadence, two abreast, in BDUs, very clean-cut, good physical condition, carrying duffle bags, backpacks, automatic weapons slung across their shoulders.
And Commissioner Martin also heard from this deputy sheriff or former deputy sheriff of mine last week when she was in Zapata. Are we lying about it? — well, I don't know. That seems to have been that were a lot of other people that saw the same thing, though. Again, all these reported soldiers were getting off of boats.
Hudspeth County, Texas, we all saw this also, where individuals — you try to stop an individual with an SUV, drives back across the river into Hudspeth County, and [indiscernible], I heard this from KFOX and everywhere else when this incident happened. Commissioner Brown, I'm sure, there was a lot of controversy, a lot of debate about it, but it did happen.
Again, there was a video camera on a DPS patrol car that shows you what happened, besides pictures. Sometimes we're told, "We don't believe you guys," Well, here's pictures. What do you have to say now? Here are the pictures.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: One of the things, didn't they, on the other side, they were wearing military-looking uniforms?
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: If you look there, Commissioner Brown and Commissioners, if you look there towards, just off to the right of the center of the screen there, you'll see a Humvee there.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: And behind those bushes there, you'll see what, when we say our soldiers, in BDUs.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: And what we did, and this has not been said yet but I'll say it anyway, we've testified to this, and the media hasn't caught it yet. Well, we sent some of these photographs to a federal agency, to evaluate for us and to do some inspecting and things, and this are — I guess new technology these federal agencies are using, that they determined that the Mexican press and Mexican military were saying, "That's not our vehicle, we don't use those vehicles and those are not our soldiers, you know, they're not dressed that way. I think those were U.S. soldiers dressed as Mexican soldiers to try to make us look bad," and remember when that hit the media?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Right.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: Well, we sent these photographs to be analyzed, and we were told by a very reputable federal agency that those pictures or those — that Humvee and those soldiers were in fact military vehicles from Mexico. So that ended our debate, there.
Also, because of the funding we have seen again from the Governor's Office and, well in this case the Governor's Office back in 2006, 2007, because of what we're doing along the border, in a partnership with Parks and Wildlife, with DPS, with Border Patrol and everybody else, this is something that we have seen along the border.
Drug seizures, and this is in an 11-and-a-half-month period: 407,000 pounds of money, one evaluated at $1,629,000,000. Thirty-two pounds of methamphetamine; this is, again, ending 2007. Since then if you've been reading or keeping up with the media, I don't recall exactly what percentage of increase we've seen in methamphetamine smuggling from Mexico, but there's been a tremendous increase in methamphetamine smuggling.
Heroin, 104 pounds; cocaine, 12,584 pounds; money seizures, over $14 million in money seizures. And because of what we're doing along the border, adding drug seizures, values and cash seizures, interagency coordination, and law enforcement agency efforts, we have — it is as a result depriving the criminal enterprise of nearly $1.8 billion since the establishment of the Texas Border Security Operations Center.
The Texas Border Security Operations Center again was formed, this was when we sheriffs went to work along with everybody else, and Governor Perry listened to us, and Governor Perry ordered the opening of the Border Security Operations Center, and so the results are what's happening along our border.
We have seen many smuggling criminal groups that have been identified, we are — we have seen, through the efforts, again, of working together with gang members out of Houston, gang members out of the Fort Worth area, Dallas area, you know, I mean, it affects everybody; you know, it affects people from, you know, Amarillo and Fort Worth, El Paso and everywhere else. It — if it gets through the border, it's going to affect everybody in Texas.
So we've been able to identify many smuggling groups out of Houston, that are working along the area of the border. Namely in our area, you know, Starr County, Zapata County, Webb County, Jim Hogg County they are picking up aliens, they are picking up human smugglers — or rather, they're human smugglers. And picking up narcotics.
Also because of our effort we've seen many auto theft rings that have been busted in many counties, including Jackson County. Some of our efforts, Jackson County has seen a reduction in auto theft or has seen an increase in the seizure of stolen vehicles from the Houston area. Namely, F-250 pickup trucks, F-350 pickup trucks, and things like that.
Again, through the Governor's initiatives we have formed the Border Security Operations Center; I say, "we." And from the Texas Border Security Operations Center, we have also formed border operations that is law enforcement agencies from sheriffs' offices, police departments, state agencies, are great partners. And I'm not saying this because I'm here today with you, but our great partners in the Texas Navy. These are the Texas state law enforcement off the highways, and the game wardens.
Like we talked about Border Patrol, we don't know what we would do without them. Tremendous help to us. And it formed TDEX, the Governor's Office has formed TDEX, which was some type of controversy at the last Legislative Session but it's a big help to a lot of agencies in Texas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What is it? What's TDEX?
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: What that is, Chairman Holt, is, the Governor's Office has created TDEX in — through a contractor, and all our information that we gather in Texas on our computer systems in our offices, be it the Dallas Police Department, I don't know whether they're online or not but I'm saying this as an example, Zapata County Sheriff's Office, Texas DPS, everything goes into one computer system.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, okay.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: And you can be sitting there in Dallas and say, "Let me punch in this name, here, if Peter Holt is — see if he has any records." Not talking — not a record, but rather, we just found out Peter Holt got a ticket in Dallas last night. What is he doing over there —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: — and now we seize him here in Zapata with a load of narcotics. In other words, we're able to tie everything together and find out — this is hypothetical, Commissioner Martin.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: She wants to talk to you later.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: And I take that back, once we have the San Antonio Express-News —
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: — that's hypothetical.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is it — but, and I understand a lot of this just being brought aboard. Is it starting to work? I mean is it —
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: It's been onboard now for about a year, year and a half. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, and is it more and more —
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: It's working.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: It's working. Border operations are working, they're continuous since September — well, we actually started in November 2006, the sheriffs; and then of course DPS came along, Operation Wrangler, Operation Rio Grande, Operation — well, Wranglers II, III and IV and then Operation Border Stall, which is ongoing now, involves all state agencies, federal agencies, local agencies, again working together with one common goal.
We have the Border Security Operations Center that's also working, LifeScan. When I was invited to join Texas Intelligence Council, Mr. McGraw was going to purchase a whole bunch of LifeScan machines, which is fingerprint machines which you put in, in jails, different parts of the state.
Normally what you do, you grab a fingerprint card, which, you know, we've all seen on television. You go up, you take everybody's fingerprint, send it off to Austin, and they send it off to the FBI and in three or four weeks there, we have a response. "Yes, this guy was caught," or "This guy's name is not this name; it's this other name and he's a terrorist."
And Mr. McGraw's going to put these machines, these LifeScan machines, which you take the fingerprint on the machine itself and you get a response within 15-20 seconds. And he was going to put these machines I think in East Texas, and things. I said, "Wait a minute, Steve. Why don't we start it off at the border, where we have the most need for them," and sure enough, Mr. McGraw, thanks to the efforts of Governor Perry, you know, we placed them, or he placed them all along the border first.
We also of course, license plate readers are still in — they're being used, they're still being studied. You have license plate readers in different areas along the border, where a vehicle is stolen in Houston, the report is made right away, it goes into the system right away, by the time you get to Del Rio or the time you get to El Paso or Rio Grande City, Starr County or whatever, before it crosses Mexico, if they have not removed those license plates, that license plate reader will automatically read it and give you an alert, "Hey. That vehicle's here, watch it. These people are beginning to cross."
In operability I know the Governor's Office is working on an $80 million, I think it was, appropriated by the last Legislative Session, for operability. Right now, we're forcing it to work, to have communications with game wardens in Zapata. Some areas of the State, they don't have communications with the sheriffs' offices, some interoperability. That is going to really change again through the efforts of the Governor's Office into the last Legislative Session.
Texas Intelligence Council, again we have discussed, and we have a lot of communication obviously between federal, state and local agencies. One thing I will tell you: October 2006, Mr. Robert Mueller was in San Antonio, Texas. He was questioned about the terrorism, about possible problems along the border. This is his quote:
"We have indications that leaders of other terrorist groups may be contemplating assuming the identities of others and trying to get across the border. It is intelligence that indicates there have been discussions on that. The FBI previously busted or reorganized by the terrorist group Hezbollah, that had operatives across the Mexican border to carry out possible terrorist attacks inside the United States."
Robert Mueller said that these individuals, from countries with known Al Qaeda connections, have attempted to enter the United States illegally, using alias [indiscernible] names and assuming Hispanic appearances.
A Hezbollah cell has been dismantled after officials discovered that the terrorist organization was smuggling operatives across the United States-Mexico border, trying to carry out terror attacks inside the United States.
Then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, said this; of course he became chairman later on and just last week was dismissed by the Bush Administration. "Hamas has joined Hezbollah and Al Qaeda and the Triple-Frontier Zone in Latin America, where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay convey [sic]. There, the Islamic terror groups train recruits, gather intelligence on targets, launder money, and sell drugs. There is evidence that these terrorists and narco-terrorists will soon migrate north into the United States." As far as we know, that has already happened.
In summary, the sheriffs along the Southwestern border answer 9-1-1 calls from our constituents in rural America. We are the ones they call. And again, not because we're here, but the next people we call when we get complaints about landowners is game wardens; because they're the ones that know that area, better than we do, sometimes.
We are the first responders, at the expense, again, of the local taxpayers. Our federal government does not subsidize us in any way, shape or form. There cannot be Homeland Security without border security; and it doesn't matter what party you're with or anything like that; this is what we understand to be a red, white and blue issue.
It doesn't matter what party affiliation you're from, it doesn't matter who you are, you know, where it is, it's a red, white and blue issue, that we all need to really be very, very concerned with.
Operation Linebacker to us is an initiative that puts law enforcement us, it puts us in the driver's seat instead of the cartels, the smugglers or the border-crossing entrepreneurs. We don't want to give up the driver's seat.
On the Texas border we have no choice; we've had to pick up the fight to save our counties. We didn't ask for the battle on the border, but again we refuse to lose to criminals. We cannot give that land, our area away to criminals. And I'm not talking immigration-wise here; I'm talking criminal-wise.
I want to thank you for everything you do for Texas, for all the work you do for everybody, for Parks and Wildlife, this last Session was something that is unprecedented as far as we're concerned. The Governor asked for $100 million and the Legislature gave him $110 million. Parks and Wildlife, and I'm not here to speak for the Colonel or anybody else, but I know for a fact that Parks and Wildlife does need some funding also. I do know for a fact that working with Governor Perry, working with Mr. McGraw, the Governor wants to give some funding, more funding to Parks and Wildlife since it's needed. We want you to be able to get that — Parks and Wildlife to get more funding.
But as we all know, we can't do it alone. We do go out, I've spent three and a half weeks approximately this last Session here in Austin, testifying, and, I don't call it lobbying, but rather informing our Legislators about certain things. I think that perhaps we need to work a little bit harder next time in making sure that our Texas Navy gets a little bit more funding.
We've seen some great strides, and I thank you again for what you do. There's my information and I'll be happy to try to answer any questions you all may have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, we're the ones who need to thank you, and we appreciate everything you're doing, and your folks who are out there doing it where it's all occurring. And we just want to express our appreciation and thanks for taking the time to make that presentation.
I think it was — we'll all agree it was very enlightening, to say the least, so, thank you.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: I appreciate it.
COLONEL FLORES: At this time, may I ask, Mr. McGraw would you like to say any words to the Commission?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: But Sheriff, don't go yet, because I've got some questions for you.
MR. McGRAW: Would you like me to say something?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Sure.
MR. McGRAW: Well, first, I can start off to say that I can assure you that Colonel Pete Flores is not afraid of asking for things that his agency needs.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I was going to ask you that question.
MR. McGRAW: We've got the invoices to prove it. And I'd also say that, you know, I'll have to confess here, I wasn't always appreciative of the things that Texas Parks and Wildlife and the game wardens did for the State of Texas. And being a Texan, growing up in the Department of Public Safety, starting there as a highway patrolman, later in narcotics, then running off to the rest of the country playing around with the FBI for a number of years, I had no idea, first of all, the varied and vital roles that the game wardens played in Parks and Wildlife. You know, I was up in Palo Duro Canyon, I had some appreciation of what the play of Texas, and ran into a few game wardens, and — enough to behave when I was out hunting.
But I never really understood in terms of that Texas Navy thing, what that meant, you know, to — in Katrina, and their law enforcement skills when they go underground, they know how to operate in a hostile environment. And in fact, with the ones involved in several rescue missions, you know, long before, you know the federal government or anybody else showed up in New Orleans. So I have a great, tremendous respect for them.
Another thing, you know, leadership matters. And it — I reflect back, you know, sitting in the same chair today talking with the Governor, the same chair I was back in November, no it was August 2005, so I was reminiscing, when Sigi was talking, you know. And Sigi's not afraid of asking for things, either, I want to — for the record.
And made it very clear that they had this coalition that's concerned with this threat, and I was sitting in that same chair as I was today talking about the same thing with the Governor, border security. Because he, you know, obviously he's engaged, he's involved in that issue for a number of reasons.
When I briefed him back, initially in July of 2005, when he tasked me to at least try to quantify the most significant threat to Texas, well, it was of course the 1,254-mile border. And he had since said, "You can't have Homeland Security until you have border security," that's absolutely right. I mean, the Triple Threat, public safety, Homeland Security and public health, were threatening Texans who are feeling in fear of their lives.
You know? Feeling that, you know, they ought not to — the ranch foremans and ranch hands ought not to have to worry about their kids out there, would not have to feel like they're being extorted if they don't leave their bunkhouse unlocked and fully stocked with water and food.
And you know, moreover, and I think Sigi did a great job in terms of talking about the organized smuggling activity between the ports of entry. Texas is now the trans-shipment center for drugs and human trafficking, period. You know, violent gangs, trans-national, state-based gangs, Texas, Mexican, Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia, Barrio Aztecas, Hermanos Pistoleros, Latino — they're engaged, and one of the outsourced labor in Texas, and they're spreading like a virus throughout Texas and the rest of the nation.
So they're no longer just in the retail market but they're in child prostitution, et cetera. And you've seen the threat; they did a great job; it relates to the other part, 492 special interest aliens, you know, individuals from known countries of Al Qaeda presence Texas alone arrested, since March 2006 trying to get into Texas.
So we've — you know, I think you've got a good appreciation of what that threat is. Certainly the Governor did. But what do you do? Well, fortunately leaders like Sigi Gonzalez, and his other sheriffs, you know, go back to this old police axiom. You know, if you increase patrols in high crime areas, it doesn't matter whether it's urban, New York City, as Chief Bratton did when he was the chief of police in New York City; or it doesn't matter whether, in Los Angeles, Houston, it doesn't matter.
You increase patrols, you decrease crime. That's organized criminal activity as well, because this is, make no mistake about it, it's about making money. They don't care, there are no jihadists down there, for the — you know, working for the Gulf Cartel or the Sinaloa Cartel; they're profit motivated, plain and simple.
And if you take that place axiom and you apply overwhelming presence, and you own that territory, you deny it from the criminal element, you're going to shut down organized smuggling activities and guess what? I mean, Texans are going to feel safer.
And the rest of the nation and the rest of the State is going to be thankful for it, because what happens on the border doesn't stay at the border. It goes throughout every region in Texas, in the smallest towns, up in Dalhart, Texas, are impacted by Mexican methamphetamine, plain and simple.
So it's a good public policy, but the concern the Governor had is, when you look at, the world's changed so much, how do you organize — you know, we got 2,632 different law enforcement agencies in Texas, local; okay? Add on the state, add on the federal agencies, you know, Border Patrol, they got five different sectors in Texas; ICE has four; FBI's got four. Everyone rearranges it, the State of Texas, in different geographical boundaries. How do you organize and unify those efforts so you can maximize the impact.
And make no mistake about it. This is not a Border Patrol gap; the Border Patrol, brave men of the Border Patrol have been sacrificing, they're out there, this is a Washington, D.C., not investing in border security, for decades. This is a 30-year, 40-year ascent. And they're out there, they're under-equipped, they're understaffed, you know, when they get to 18,000, that magic number, guess what? It doesn't, you know, immediately everything's perfect.
We've got a long ways to go until they're properly staffed and resourced. Until then, you know, what's a Governor to do? You know, what's a Commission to do that oversees, you know, Texas Parks and Wildlife, when you're looking in the face of these things, and you have to look at it in terms of all the missions you have, and how do you prioritize and unify efforts, and that's really what, you know, back in February '06 was about, and working with our colleagues, taking these ideas, teamwork approach, our — working with the Border Patrol, see if we can centralize intelligence or information so we got an idea of what that threat is, number two.
Hey, how about centralizing, you know, not just that but coordination? Makes sense. You got the sheriffs, you know, patrolling here, game wardens over here, you don't want them duplicating that effort. So you require — but to do this is an entire seed change in law enforcement thinking, because it's no longer, move a Border Patrol inspection station 20 miles back and then play catch. You know?
Once they've already crossed the border, you've already lost. Okay? You've already lost, they've already penetrated in that area. They've already, you know, you've already given up a piece of Texas, is what you've done, to the smugglers. And as a result, what we saw is a 17.2 percent increase in violent crime in every border county. I mean, in the average of border counties from El Paso County to Campbell County.
At the same was the Texas — the rest of Texas was dropping by 2 percent. So how do you do that? So we invested money, the State Legislature came through with money, additional resources, and as a result, you know, we all are taxpayers, like us, and who wants to be involved in an initiative that just — you're spending money and there's really no impact.
But I can say that the sheriffs deserve this credit, I can say the game wardens deserve this credit, and Border Patrol deserves this credit; working together, they reduced violent crime by 65 percent. And you can't make that up. It's huge. That's the third quarter of November of — '05 from the third quarter of '07. And we don't have the latest statistics right now.
There was also a 45 percent decrease in that same time period in illegal alien apprehensions. Now, why is that important? We don't care about capturing; we care about preventing. A 45 percent reduction, you saw the numbers that Sheriff Gonzalez had up there, 185,000 Southwest border; Texas had more OTMs than anybody else, more SIAs than anybody else, but guess what? Those numbers, you know when you talk about down, in Texas down to the 80,000s, in Texas, tremendous drop, 45 percent drop and it's even more in different counties. Why? Because they're about profit. They don't want to lose their particular money.
So the message I have is, is that, you know, sometimes it's — when you look at your overseeing organization and you're wondering how things go, leadership matters. And I tell you what. This organization's got excellent leadership, starting right with this Commission right here and the support that you've given it. Because it's really hard for law enforcement to think of, and you heard the Colonel talk about it.
That's why, you know, you just get — you get excited. Prevention. You know, if they don't come across, you don't have to arrest, indict, convict and seize. If you can prevent them, that's the way to go. That's a new law enforcement way of looking at things. We were more about solving the crime than preventing the crime.
And what the game wardens did, or Texas Parks and Wildlife, they adjusted their entire mission. Recognizing they had to steal resources and divert them from every other location, and I know if I found something out, everybody wants a game warden. The only thing every county, everyone wants a game warden in their county.
So yet, you know, the organization willing to take the heat, divert resources, and this is a sacrifice, the troops; they're being deployed down there, you know, hardship assignments, working the 12-hour shifts along those lines. And in hostile territories, on the river, you know, game wardens aren't afraid to get on the river. Get on the lakes.
And so, really the — you know, my only statement is to say that, hey, we clearly made progress; we're not where we need to be, but every dime that the State of Texas invested in the game wardens in Texas Parks and Wildlife has been an investment in Homeland Security. So I'm going to thank you, and thank the Colonel and the rest of his leadership team.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I appreciate it, and I thank you for coming and saying all of that, and obviously one of our worries as a Commission is, we have to worry about Pete and his guys, you know, are they getting the resources, do they have the training, do they have the background, because most of them didn't sign up for border security. And so Pete and I, as we talk, these are things, so I appreciate you two coming in and taking your time this afternoon to help us understand kind of the broader picture.
Because obviously, I have constituents, I — this Commission, Texas Parks and Wildlife, but it's constituents, as you said, that want, you know, they want a game warden to be a game warden, in their county, doing what game wardens normally and traditionally have done.
MR. McGRAW: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And, you know, obviously they'll understand for some period of time, that a game warden needs to be down on the border or be working the river or working the Intracoastal Canal or whatever, but not longer-term. And that's where we've had to, you know, take some time to educate. So you've now helped me, when I talk to my constituents and our constituents. So I appreciate you coming in.
MR. McGRAW: That's helpful. And on behalf of Governor Perry, he wanted me to at least convey his thanks for what they do on a day-to-day basis.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and thank you very much, I appreciate it.
And Sheriff, thank you for taking your time and effort and coming a long way, and any questions for the Sheriff?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Obviously one of the questions I had was, is it getting better?
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: It's getting better. What we have, Mr. Chairman, is that — one thing I'll add to what Mr. McGraw said, and — what you all, your comments also regarding constituents, the Parks and Wildlife, the game wardens are going out there to do their job as game wardens.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: My biggest thing in Zapata and across — is the reduction of crime, deterrence.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: I would much rather try to prevent a burglary than try to catch a burglar.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: And what we're doing, because of high police presence, we are — the information we get from Mexico, from cartels, through informants, is, "Don't go through Zapata County." And it's not just the sheriff's office, but it's again, just Parks and Wildlife, because we had one of our operations that had 12 boats up there.
And it's a deterrence. Unfortunately, we're setting up somewhere else, in Starr County, and in some instances, but then we have other things where Starr County, it's being done also to assist.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: We just — what the game wardens are doing out there also is going out there and doing their job as game wardens. And they do operations at Falcon Lake several times a year, regular operations. And when we do our operations, they go do their operations also at the same time, they're still doing the job of game wardens, but the presence is there where these smugglers are saying, "Wait a minute. We can't afford to lose these loads."
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: So really, like for your constituents, they're just doing their normal duties. One thing that does worry me though, and very briefly touched on it a little while ago, is that, again, the brazenness of these cartel members, it's getting a little bit bad. So again I do have some concerns as to their safety. They've always had problems, but that's their safety also, the game wardens out there on the lake.
I have two boats, one boat actually that's sitting there and it's not being used; it's a county boat.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: And I don't use it because I won't allow my deputies to get out there on the river, or Falcon Lake, because I don't want to let them get hurt by these cartel members.
And that's something that perhaps it's not wise to say, but it's the truth. Mr. McGraw mentioned that also. They have to do it on a daily basis. But we'll do it I think — yes?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Martin?
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I just wanted to thank you. I've known the Sheriff for many years, and you've been a champion in getting the message out and getting — being a part of just getting everyone together in the border coalition.
And it was great last week in Zapata, and I also want to thank Mr. McGraw with the Governor's Office, I think they've heard from me many times on my situations that I've encountered. But last week to be at that meeting, at the Legislative visit, and when I turned around and saw a roomful of agents from so many different agencies all together, working together, I looked back in the room, I thought, "Now truly, this is a force to be reckoned with. And they are a support to each other, that is tremendous." And I want to thank all three gentlemen here for, you know, just all of the partnership. Because it truly was, it was great to look back and see that room, the way it was, and I can say, "You know, that makes a difference," when you see everybody as a team, supporting each other.
And Mr. McGraw, you know, I think you've heard many times I've had many instances on my ranch where I've had personal encounters with drug dealers, MS-13s, illegals, and there is a drop. And there are actually times I can go out to my ranch and not have a confrontation. And that's pretty — that's a good feeling. You've had a good day when you don't have a confrontation out there.
So the Governor's initiatives are definitely working. And I see it firsthand. And Colonel, you know, I used to — I called 9-1-1 once, I don't call 9-1-1 any longer, I call my game warden, and say, "Help," and then from there I'll make calls along the way.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Because like you said, they know where you are; they know the ranches, they know the landowners, and it — and then he knows who to call to get help to me as quick as possible. So from a personal standpoint I can say that it has been effective in working, and, again, thank you, Sheriff, for taking the lead on this, too.
SHERIFF GONZALEZ: Thank you. And you're welcome to go back to Zapata any time you want to come —
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: You know I'll —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Sheriff.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Just have fuel in the boat and I'll be there.
COLONEL FLORES: Okay, if I may, just in closing, I'd like to thank you both for being here, and certainly I do appreciate and so do our men and women out in the field, the support from this Commission, and support from our executive office, we take our operations and our security extremely seriously, and we have been able to improve our equipment in the field, both personal protection and as far as personal weaponry, I think we're pretty much almost second to none in those categories.
We have a very — I'm very proud of our leadership, our captains and our majors in the field, who take a front line approach in leadership, and want to make sure that our operations run without a hitch. And work very closely with our sheriffs and the Border Patrol and the Highway Patrol.
We — the bottom line here is, we always have to remember that law enforcement profession, whether it's on the border or whether it's in Texarkana, is an inherently dangerous business. And it could happen on the border or it could happen walking into a 7-Eleven to buy a cup of coffee. If we — all of us take a solemn oath, Serve and Protect. Our mission is conservation law enforcement; we chose to do that instead of enforcing the traffic laws.
That's our — first of all our passion; we chose, we're also our oath as peace officers working together, that's what I hope this presentation relayed. But game warden is what, as the Sheriff said, that's what we're doing in the field, and helping in this totality of the mission. If I can answer any further questions, if not, thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you all very much, appreciate it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you. Thank everybody —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. We're on to Item Number 2, Public Lands Proclamation, Hunter Recruitment Events, permission to publish. Linda Campbell.
MS. CAMPBELL: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, I'm Linda Campbell, and I'm Wildlife Division Program Director for Private Lands and Public Hunting.
Today I will brief you on the proposed changes to regulations governing public hunting for 2008-2009. Our first item that I'd like to discuss creates a mentored hunting permit for participants attending hunter recruitment workshops on our Wildlife Management Areas.
This is something that our folks in the field have wanted to do for some time, and so we are seeking rule changes to allow this. This permit will allow public access to our Wildlife Management Areas, to participate — for participants to attend a workshop and subsequent mentored hunt, associated with that workshop. It establishes a $25 permit fee for that purpose.
We have pilot events planned for the upcoming hunting season, five WMAs have indicated interest in hosting these events, so the events will occur on the Chaparral, Daughtry, Justin Hurst, and Nanny Stringfellow, Caddo Lake and Alazan Bayou. And these are the staff people that have indicated interest in holding these events.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Now, I'm going to stop you right there, Linda, because I —
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — made a comment, I lost — now you're talking about the mentored hunts?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Sorry, I just —
MS. CAMPBELL: No problem. These mentored hunts, following — the mentored hunts are part of the educational event —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right, right.
MS. CAMPBELL: — okay? So they will follow the event for those that participate in these events. So the hunts that are proposed right now include hunts for dove, squirrel, other small game and feral hog. Just to let you know, I have submitted a grant to the Hunting Heritage Partnership Program, of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in the amount of $13,000. We don't know if we've been awarded this grant or not, but hopefully if we are fortunate enough to be granted that, this funding will help offset the cost of putting on these events as well.
We anticipate 20 to 30 people perhaps attending these, that the — idea is to also look for local sponsors to also offset event costs. We intend to evaluate these pilot events and document our success with these to create a model for future events, on other WMAs in the future.
The workshops are specifically targeting new and lapsed hunters, and we feel like these events will integrate well with the ongoing educational activities that our WMAs now provide.
We are focusing on this target audience because it is a high priority, for TPW, i.e., hunter recruitment and retention is a very high priority for the Agency. As is outreach to urban audiences.
The second item has to do with waiving the access fee — access requirement for persons entering a Wildlife Management Area as a spectator for hunting dog field trials. Under the current rule, a field trial permit serves as a WMA access permit for dog handlers, officials, and judges for these events, but the spectators are required to possess a limited use permit or an annual hunting — public hunting permit. The field trial groups have requested that the rules be changed to allow spectators to be covered under the field trial permit.
Just to let you know the extent of this, the Department issues an average of about two field trial permits per year, on our WMAs. And they're attended by approximately 80 spectators or so.
So the cost, just so you know, of the field trial permit varies from $100 to $500 per day, depending on the number of participants. So at this point, we feel like we're proposing this because we feel like it is more cost-effective, really, for the Department to include spectators, in the overall event permit, than it would be to require them to obtain a separate access permit, so that's the reasoning behind it.
So with that, I'd like to answer any questions and request permission to publish.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions or any discussion?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Question.
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Parker?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What hunting dog group — are you talking about all hunting dog groups? For field trial purposes?
MS. CAMPBELL: Yes, sir. Field trials, and we do have Len Polasek I think is in the room, he is our regional director in South Texas and can answer specific questions on this.
Len, do you want to — he's more familiar with the on-the-ground operation of the field trial, so I'll ask him to —
MR. POLASEK: All right. Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Len Polasek, I'm Region IV Wildlife Director for the Coast and South Texas. With these field trials, the — we have two of them usually in our region on the Justin Hurst WMA, and they're going to be Labrador Hunt Trials, Retriever Trials —
MR. POLASEK: — yes. And they have to bring their own domestic-raised birds to use for the trials, they cannot pursue or harm any native wildlife.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Just for the record, Mr. Chairman, I hear from the bird dog community, field trial community, constantly, the fact that they have to hold their Texas Open Championships and their Texas Derby Championships, in Lawton, Oklahoma, because they have — you know, they have approached some of our Wildlife Management Areas, about using them, and have not received, you know, encouragement. And there may be something —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We need to look at why we're losing people, I guess.
MS. CAMPBELL: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MS. CAMPBELL: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
MS. CAMPBELL: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No further questions or discussion, I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Moving right along, Item Number 3, ITQs in Commercial Marine Fisheries. Robin Riechers.
MR. RIECHERS: Good afternoon, Commissioners, Chairman. I'm going to be here to give you a short briefing today regarding individual fishing quotas in commercial marine fisheries.
Some of you may have read something or seen something about individual fishing quotas; you may have heard them called IFQs, ITQs, IQs, community fishing quotas. But all of those are basically under the umbrella of a quota-based system, where an allocated share is given to a particular individual or that privilege to harvest is given to a particular individual, and I'm just going to refer to them as IFQs here today.
As you all know, traditionally we manage using what we call traditional regulatory measures, and those include trip limits, area closures, time and season closures, gear restrictions such as net size, mesh size, and those kinds of things.
And basically what those all do is, to work to restrain the efficiency of the harvesters to keep us within a certain level of catch that we want to maintain.
But it directly works at the efficiency of those people who are going out on the water to do that harvest.
Quota-based systems are basically designed to remove the tragedy of commons, which is of course what our limited-entry programs were designed to do as well. It basically keeps — it limits the entries so that you're not competing against the ideal that if I don't catch that fish, or if I don't harvest that resource, someone else will be out there tomorrow to harvest that resource; I've got a privilege, I've got a right, I've got a long-term interest.
And of course, when you get these kinds of systems where you see this kind of scarcity and this capital build-up you can really see these race for fishes where you've probably seen some pictures of shotgun starts, fishery starts and it may be cut off in just a matter of hours or days.
When you get that kind of thing going on, obviously you got a lot of user conflict, you end up with a lot of crowding; you end up with various safety issues because people are willing to risk their own lives and go out in periods of time when they normally wouldn't, because they want to be out there trying to — they may only have a week to get their catch, and so they're out there trying to get their share.
And certainly what you have in those kinds of situations is what we refer to as overcapitalization, whereby you put as much capital into your vessels, that in reality there's a lot more capital invested in the whole fishery, that you could basically catch that in just a shorter and shorter period of time; because I'm trying to compete against the other individual to get as much of my share as I can in a very short period of time.
Obviously as we've talked about, the problems with the other types of fisheries, one of the things that the IFQ brings to the table is greater economic efficiency. With greater economic efficiency you certainly get more industries to build these for the long term. You've got people looking further ahead and their planning horizon is further ahead.
And then ultimately and what we're here about is, the ecological health that you can get, the gains in resource that you can gain by having people in these kinds of systems.
I'm going to just highlight a couple of — a few systems here, we're not going to talk about all these today, you all will probably breathe a sigh of relief about that. But we're just — I'm just showing you.
New Zealand has had some programs in since 1986, Gulf of St. Lawrence has had a deep water prawn fishery in since 1991, the Alaskan halibut fishery which I am going to highlight just in a moment, started in 1995, and then the red snapper fishery here in the Gulf went into an ITQ program in 2007.
In looking at Alaskan halibut, it's kind of the poster child in many respects for IFQ or ITQ fisheries. Basically it went from a season length that in the Gulf of Alaska which harvested somewhat over 50 percent of the Halibut in that region, particular location; went from a three-day fishing season to a 245-day fishing season after you went into an IFQ program. So it really extended that season out, where before they were truly in one of those race to fish situations.
When you look at product price, product price increased to the point basically 56 cents per pound, averaging that out over vessels and basically putting it in real dollars, discounting the inflation that might have built in through the years, and any change in poundage that occurred, it's actually $18,000 more per vessel that is fishing in that fishery today as compared to what it was before the IFQ went into place.
Product quality, you can only imagine. If you have a three-day fishing season, the race for fish, you're not taking care of your product, you're basically just trying to get it aboard and get it to the docks as fast as you can.
Nowadays, anecdotally they talk a whole lot about, now almost all the halibut is a fresh product halibut; it basically goes to the dock and gets flown out of Alaska and ends up on a restaurant or table very quickly after that.
Catch per unit effort really hasn't changed in this fishery through time. One of the key, we talked about the ecological goals, the over-harvest frequency. Before IFQs you had a 64 percent of the years you went over the total allowable catch or the target catch; after the IFQ, zero percent.
That's fish in the bank; that's fish in the bank for ecology reasons, that's fish in the bank for those fishermen later on. Lost gear, mortality. Again, fish in the bank. Basically this was mortality of halibut and other things that might be caught in this gear, 554 metric tons, it's reduced to 125 metric tons.
I can't give you all of those kinds of specifics for red snapper, but I can give you a couple things. In 2000, the season for red snapper was diminished to 66 days, and we were into this, a spring season, a fall season, spring season had two-thirds of the quota, the fall season had one-third of the quota, we would open for ten days and close, and we would do that until the spring season quota was met, and then there was a little bit allocated in the fall, and we would do the same thing. Season ran for 66 days.
Well, we got smarter and we added trip limits to extend that season out 2,000 pound-trip limits, Class A and Class B licenses, and 200-pound trip limits and we were able to extend that season to 130 days. Well, today after the first year of the program there was about, roughly the first — January had 3 percent of the landings, and all the other months had 6 to 7 percent on average.
So it averaged out nicely, we've had landings of red snapper 12 months of the year in this last thing. Price per pound on red snapper went up by 25 percent, it went from 2.90 to 3.60.
When we talk about some of the key concepts, obviously what you're doing here is you're managing the output of the fishery, where you're not longer managing the inputs, gear, capital and so forth, we're managing the output; we're managing the total allowable catch.
When you express that then, basically the share that you will be trying to allocate whether it's to a community or an individual, that's when we talk about it being an IFQ, and it's expressed as some proportion of the TAC; it's the privilege to harvest some proportion of the TAC whatever that TAC may be set at.
Obviously one of the hardest things to do, and one of the things you must consider in putting in one of these systems is being able to set the total allowable catch; being able to set it in a timely manner, being able to predict it with enough precision so that you're not leaving a lot of the fish on the table every year, or else you'll have to set very conservative goals and obviously if you have a fishery that's been being fished, that may be difficult to build consensus around.
And on top of that you may have to consider the life cycle and seasonality of some of these fisheries, especially if you're dealing with a multi-species fishery. For instance if you were dealing with the in-shore shrimp fishery where you have a brown shrimp fishery in the spring, and in the fall you would have a white shrimp fishery.
If you're dealing with the red grouper fishery in the Gulf, the grouper fishery in the Gulf, you might be catching several different species of grouper throughout the year and you have to deal with those issues of how you deal with those multi-species interactions.
The big questions, just like they were in limited entry, is who gets to participate. Who gets the ticket in, because we've already gone through limited entry here in Texas and moratoriums on our key fisheries. That may not be as big a question. So then what we would have to deal with is actually, who gets what sort of catch rights,
and how we would set those.
Now, we do have trip tickets in place in the last year which would give us some historical records of those, but if you were going to go back any longer period of time, there would be issues surrounding that; how far back you could go, and have adequate catch records.
Another option is to divide it up equally amongst all the participants and then let the transferability — let the market work it out. That would be another option.
When we talk about putting in IFQs or the concepts of IFQs and many people want to talk about these issues as achieving that greater economic efficiency. And certainly we believe those systems will do that. The systems can be put in place, complementary to all the current regulations you have, or you can actually look at options to basically remove some of the regulations you've put in place that decrease efficiency.
Now, you may have some of those that are in place that you would not want to remove, and I'll give a for instance, I'm not saying it's one we wouldn't want to remove; but we may never want to remove nursery areas from the shrimp fishery, if we were to use an IFQ.
I say, if we were, because we certainly aren't down that road, but if we were to use, you may not want to give away that option. That may be too important, too critical to you. But another option that we could look at, and using that same example, might be an earlier start time in the morning, possibly.
Now, all that is depending on the ability to monitor and enforce. And so we might be looking at additional enforcement tools. We might look at vessel-monitoring systems, which are basically a transponder on the boat that tells you when that boat leaves the dock. And so that might be a tool that would help you monitor some of those regulatory relief items you could consider.
In addition to that monitoring aspect, obviously with our trip ticket system, it's in place, it would give us the ability to monitor quotas, but it's probably not quite as timely as we would need it; we would probably have to look at some efficiency gains we can make. I think they're really doable, in that respect but it's just, from a reporting perspective, we don't have all our dealers on a daily or a weekly reporting schedule right now; they're on a monthly reporting schedule. And those are things we could look at internally if we were to ever look at one of these programs.
Obviously what we're trying to do here is get the incentives right. I think that used to be Chairman Fitzsimons' favorite discussion point, and using that in managed land deer permits programs, many of the managed land programs.
You know, these systems in an open access or in a closed access fishery terms, get the incentives right. They basically give that long-term horizon to that individual so that they can really plan for their futures, and start to think about the future of the fishery long-term.
Obviously, long-run we put economic efficiencies back in the system and we allow people to trade shares back and forth so that if you're a bigger operator and you want to fish more shares you can go obtain them. You basically buy them in the open market.
When we talk about some of the reasons why we see price increases, and profit increases has to do with this individual flexibility. You're able to go harvest the fish when you want to go harvest them, at the price and time that you think is the best price you can receive. So it allows you to create that flexibility in your own business horizon or planning horizon within that context.
And obviously the bottom goal, bottom line goal to the people who would enter into such a program is the increase, what we call rents in the fishery, which is excess profits. But it's basically the profits in the fishery. And in some of these fisheries when they put these in, they go ahead and build the incentives in, that as the rents or profits increase to a certain level, a portion of that is paid back to the state or to the country, in the case of New Zealand, to help fund any additional monitoring programs you may have to do or any additional enforcement you may have to do and so forth.
With that, that concludes my presentation. It was a very brief presentation, certainly there's a lot of things and conferences that have been held about this, but I'd certainly like to answer any questions that I could at this time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robin, thanks. And in addition to the examples that you cited, what — are there other agencies or Gulf agencies that are using it, or — ITQs. Or Florida?
MR. RIECHERS: Within the context of the Gulf, the red snapper is the only one that I know of; there's a — in Gulf Council now, we're working on a grouper IFQ, it's really mostly dealing in — well, hopefully it's going to be a multi-species complex. We're not far enough along to know that yet.
There's also a similar program with quota shares regarding traps, crab traps, in Florida. And it's kind of ran similarly to our limit; it's kind of a hybrid between a limited-entry system and a quota system.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And what allocation methodology are they using?
MR. RIECHERS: They used — they use some sort of hysterical — sorry.
MR. RIECHERS: Historical number of traps that those fishermen had in previous times.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's traps?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it, thank you.
MR. RIECHERS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's interesting. Thanks, Robin. All right, Item Number 4, Proposed Offshore Aquaculture Rules.
DR. McKINNEY: Sometime it can be pretty hysterical, but sometimes not.
DR. McKINNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members. For the record, I'm Dr. Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries. Just to kind of introduce this topic, I think one of the things, you know, we normally come before you talking mostly about recreational fishing and sport fishing, that's the big issue here.
But what you're going to get in the next, today and tomorrow is a pretty good look at how we are trying to deal with commercial fisheries, and how we're going forward on it; so I think that's a good perspective, good opportunity to do so, and that's what I'm going to talk about now, is asking permission to publish for public comment some rule changes in our offshore aquaculture program.
This Commission adopted rules for offshore aquaculture back in November 2006, and we use a model and it seems to work for these types of situations, where you have interest, perhaps conflict of various diverted views on how you manage these types of things, and how do you make progress.
And what we have done for example in managing the shrimp aquaculture, and shrimp diseases and those types of things, is to basically come up with the best approach we can and put something on the table, and put it there as, here's what we're going to do.
But also have the flexibility on both sides of that issue to say, "Look, if we can come up with something better we'll move, and we'll take action to do so." But we need to start from someplace, and we need to have some incentive to move, and that's what we've done here.
When we put the rules into place back in 2006, we really had very few comments on those rules instead of what would work or not, and I would tell you that in this case Texas is leading the country, pretty much, in addressing this issue. And we try to be proactive in all these issues to put something out, so that it can provide guidance to those folks that are wanting to move forward, with the idea, so we'll have a good perspective of what they want to do, with the understanding that we know that they can be improved and probably will be in the future.
And that's what we're talking about here. We finally have an applicant that's interested in perhaps pursuing this; they came in to look at our rules, and at this time and had some concerns about them. We've been in discussion with them, very cooperative discussions, and basically our approach with them is that we have certain issues of which we're not going to be flexible on, and those are conservation issues, and primarily in this case, dealing with protecting the genetic integrity of our native stocks, disease issues and those types of things.
We have quite a bit of experience with that in dealing with shrimp, and so we put those rules into place, and so they understand that. And they're going to work with them. But on the other hand, there are some operational and procedural type of rules that could make their life easier as far as getting finance and meeting our requirements, and so we've been talking with them about that, and I'm just going to give you a quick run-through of some of those that are the main ones that we would propose to go out for public comment to consider.
For example, our original regulations require the permit to be issued to an individual; that's what we've done on shrimp warrants, for example, and it worked fine. But in this case, this is a corporation, and they — it would help them, they'd feel better if it was — they could also have these permits issued to corporations and other Texas-approved business models, and that's fine with us, looking at legal and otherwise.
And our goal is to make sure we have someone that if we've got a problem, we can go to that person and get it dealt with, not just a corporation. And so we would address that.
One of our requirements in the initial rules was that we would not issue our permit until all other permits had been issued, and the facility had been constructed. Again, that was our shrimp model, had worked there well. But there's some concerns, that — and understandably, that if you're trying to get finances in the millions of dollars, that those entities that might loan you that money would want to make sure that you have those permits, you can actually proceed.
And so we worked out a proposed process that would allow them to put everything — you know, to get those permits in place before construction, with the understanding if they don't follow those permits we're going to be right on them, but that's fine, it seems to be no problem.
Our original proposal, our original regulations required that if there was some need to remove infrastructure, for example, a company was closing business or something like that, they had to remove that within ten days. The groups have come back and said, "Well, ten days is a short period of time when you're working offshore with the potential weather conditions and so forth." We don't have a problem with that, so we reached an agreement that, well, 60 days seems to be a reasonable approach, and so that's what we would propose for consideration.
We've not had an appeals process, for example, in a situation where we would, say, deny a permit or revoke a permit if some problem is going on. We have not had that in place, and they certainly have some concern about that. They want to be able to present their side of arguments, in case they disagree with why we took those actions. Certainly we can — we have models in the agency and other regulations in which we do that, so we're going to put that into place, to give them an appeals process.
There were some simple updates of languages, things that — new terms that have come about, that different agencies have used, that we're going to update to make sure they now match new rules; that's what this GLO language is about. They've made some changes in their regulations, we want to match those to make it work better.
In our original regulations we defined a potential disease condition as if they had 5 percent of mortality within a single cage; they've come back and made a point that, "Well, you know, when you're handling fish on this scale, you can have 5 percent mortality just from handling impacts, just from the pure physical contact." And we understand that; our concern about disease remains, and so our approach would be, "Fine, you don't have to remove those fish, you don't have to call them diseased, but you need to get — you will have to get a sample of that tissue or the fish into an approved veterinarian facility within that 48 hours, to tell us for sure that it's the physical, or rather than a disease, issue."
And that seems to be an acceptable way to operate, and we do some things like that with shrimp as well.
We want to have some options, that — at one point our only option if there was a problem was that they would have to remove their fish resources. There are situations where you can treat and work with issues in other ways, and so we wanted to give us a little flexibility there to work with them in that situation, so we would add to our regulations the fact that we would have other options to look at as well, and that's what this would do.
So with that, Mr. Chairman, that should give you a flavor of the types of things that we're recommending to go out for public comment, and so we'll have everyone make comment on that, and see what comes out, come back to you in May for your consideration.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Thank you. If there are no further questions or discussion, I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Item 5, Commercial Non-Game Species Regulations, permission to publish. Dr. Matt Wagner.
DR. WAGNER: Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and Commission, my name is Matt Wagner. I'm Program Director for Wildlife Diversity. We're coming to you today with permission to publish and propose rules, some changes to our non-game permit program. Some of you will recall in April '07 we amended our current regulations to create a white list of non-game species legal for commercial collection. At that time, existing collections of non-game not on the white list were grandfathered temporarily.
The Commission instructed staff at that time to look into procedures for folks to keep those collections with proper documentation. And based on our current information, most individuals that we know of keep box turtles for personal use, as well as the sale of the offspring.
Box turtles are on the prohibited list now; they are not legal for commercial collection out of the wild. So we want to find a way to allow people to retain those current collections with proper documentation.
We know of at least, there's probably at least 1,000 individuals that have box turtle collections. What we're proposing is a PIT-tagging system, to tag all the known box turtles in captivity. A "PIT" is a Passive Integrative Transponder"; these are microchips about the size of a grain of rice, with a unique number that is activated by a hand-held scanner.
These are actually implanted into the body cavity or just below the skin of various animals, and today people are actually PIT-tagging their pets, or cats and dogs, but they're typically used in research. And I have some samples of PITS for you if you'd like to look at them.
What this would do would be to create a system to distinguish captive box turtles from wild populations. The instructions for tagging would be provided by Parks and Wildlife in partnership with various conservation organizations that we have relationships with. Various zoos, herpetological societies around the state.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So vets — Matt, sorry to jump in.
DR. WAGNER: Go ahead.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Vets, veterinarians —
DR. WAGNER: Veterinarians associated mostly with zoos —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — yes.
DR. WAGNER: We also have a user group formed, there is at least one veterinarian on that user group that's working with us. In addition to the PIT-tagging proposal, what we want to do is take care of some housekeeping. We want to make corrections to the list of non-game species that are prohibited for commercial use. We want to remove three species, the corn snake, house mouse, the rough-footed or Chihuahuan mud turtle. These animals are either non-native, so we don't get engaged in regulating non-native species, the mud turtle is actually a protected species under our Threatened Species List.
So that would be a housekeeping matter that we would try to do at the same time. We're seeking your permission to publish in the Texas Register, and I'd be happy to answer any other questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What's the source of the 1,000 collectors number?
DR. WAGNER: That's an estimate based on the user group that we're working with. We've actually had about 20 or 30 individuals call us and let us know that they have box turtles, how many they have, what they're doing; they're either possessing them for their own use or they're breeding them and selling them.
But in talking to the various herpetological groups, there are many, many more people that have these animals, we're just not — we don't know about. We intend to send out press releases, get in touch with all the people that are permitted to have non-game, and make sure we get the word out; we would have to give them a period of time to get this work done, possibly a year.
MR. SMITH: Matt, did you bring a sample PIT tag, and would you just show the Commission that, and let them see how that works.
DR. WAGNER: Yes, let met just — let me pass this around. There's actually 1,000 or 100 of those PIT tags in that vial. Our herpetologist, Andy Price, Dr. Andy Price is with us as well today, he's been doing some of this work with the Houston toad. We actually have a supply of PIT tags on hand, they're around $3 or $4 apiece, we would think about providing them at cost, at our cost, to the people that would actually be doing the work.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: You could be talking about a whole lot of turtles.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
DR. WAGNER: Possibly. Now, Ohio and Indiana both are doing this, and Ohio, Andy tells me there may be several thousand box turtles that have been PIT-tagged so far.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Other questions? Yes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm confused about the corn snake. You said, remove it from the list that may not be used in commercial, so you're suggesting that people who breed corn snakes and sell them can do it without any prohibition or restriction?
DR. WAGNER: In Texas, that is the case since it is not native to our state.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So why would that snake be any different from a cobra, or any other non-native snake?
DR. WAGNER: Well, we have rules now in place for exotic snakes, as a matter of fact. But you know, our rules specify that non-game are indigenous to the State of Texas. So we do not have the authority to regulate non-indigenous species.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But I thought there were regulations on cobras and pythons.
DR. WAGNER: The Legislature actually gave us that authority.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Oh, it was by statute.
DR. WAGNER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: By species.
DR. WAGNER: There are five constrictors that are named in that rule, along with the non-native venomous snakes. So it specifies which snakes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Thanks, Matt.
DR. WAGNER: Okay, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Item Number 6, Amendments to the Harmful or Potentially Harmful Exotic Fish, Shellfish or Aquatic Plants Rules. Phil.
MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, I'm Phil Durocher, the Director of Inland Fisheries. At the last Commission meeting we got permission from the Commission to publish some proposed amendments to the potentially — for the harmful or potentially harmful exotic fish, shellfish and aquatic plant rules. Those amendments were to prohibit the possession, sale and culture of live silver and black carp. That was recommended to put us in line with the federal rules, the Feds just prohibited all those on those two species.
Also included was to prohibit the possession, sale and culture of all live soft Southern Hemisphere crayfish. The one we're really dealing with was the red-claw crawfish, it was the only that was allowed to be possessed and grown by permit from this agency.
And last, we were — made an amendment to prohibit the taking of triploid grass carp from public waters where stocking was permitted by this Agency. Those animals are very expensive and if we issue a permit and have a management plan with someone to help control aquatic vegetation, we feel like that they ought to have the right to keep those fish in that lake.
We took these rules to public comments and we got 19 in favor of the proposed amendments and three opposed. Now, I know the Commission received some information from a fish farm, the Cotulla Fish Hatchery near Cotulla, Texas, who opposed it; he is at the current time culturing some red-claw crayfish. Our understanding is, it's not a profitable business, but he wanted to be able to continue to do that.
We reviewed the information that he sent us, I sent this information to the staff, and I'd like to introduce Dr. Dan Daugherty. He's with the staff at the Heart of the Hills, and he did the evaluation of this information, and he's the gentleman that prepared the risk assessment that I provided for you at the last meeting. And our findings are, we believe that the red-claw crayfish can escape from aquaculture facilities, if it escapes it will survive, and establish feral populations in Texas.
And we believe that it can negatively affect endemic Texas crayfishes. Our primary concern is with 13 species, endemic species of crayfish that occur only in Texas in small geographical areas, including the Nueces crayfish; it's known from a single location near Jourdanton, within the Nueces River watershed.
So because of those findings, the staff is going to make a recommendation tomorrow that the Commission approve this motion which will prohibit — which will approve all those prohibitions we propose.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Phil. Questions? Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And what happens to the crayfish that is on this farm —
MR. DUROCHER: He's going to have to — we're going to work with him to help him destroy those. Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thanks, Phil. All right. I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 7, 2008-2009 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation, Inland Fisheries, up.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you, Commissioners. My name is Ken Kurzawski with the Inland Fisheries Division. And today we're going to go over our proposed fishing regulations and relate the public input that we've collected on those. The first one was here on Lady Bird Lake, currently there's no regulation for common carp on that reservoir. Our proposal was to put a limit to the number of carp you could harvest over 33 inches to one per day, so that means all carp below 33 inches could be harvested unlimited, and that would only be one over, could be harvested.
We'd like to protect some of those carp from potential harvest, promote bank angling in that area and also carp angling, we don't see that there will be any major increase in the abundance of carp.
Some of the comments, we did receive a number of comments on this, and I might note that almost all the comments that we'll be relating for all our proposals came in over our website, both — the majority of the comments for this particular one were in favor.
Next, we had a proposal on community fishing lakes. That's proposed, our smaller reservoirs within city limits and within state parks; our change there would be to limit the number of poles anglers could use in those reservoirs to only two. We wouldn't put that regulation on state park lakes at this time. Our goal there was to alleviate some of the crowding concerns that have been raised by our staff, especially when we're stocking catfish or trout in those areas where people can monopolize limited-access areas; and this would help give more people an opportunity to catch those fish that we're stocking in there. Most of the comments were in favor of that one.
On Lake Nacogdoches we have a proposal concerning largemouth bass; currently we have a 14-21 slot limit there, our proposed change would be a 16-inch maximum length limit, and maintaining that five-fish bag. And I might note here that in your agenda, I've — the Register item notes this as a minimum-length limit; that was incorrect and we'll have to change that for the final one to the maximum length limit.
And this would, although we would prohibit anglers from harvesting bass over 16 inches, this would allow anglers to temporarily retain one of those fish, and they would contact us if they had a scale on board, and we would accept that into the ShareLunker program if it was over 13 inches. Most of the comments were in favor of that particular proposal.
Next, we have on a couple state park lakes, Purtis Creek and Lake Raven, we have a catch and release regulation on those two reservoirs, but we had a similar exception there that you could retain a fish if it was — a bass of a certain size, and weigh it at a lakeside weigh station. We've had some problems with those lakeside weigh stations, and we're going to implement a change similar to what we have on Nacogdoches, maintain that 24-inch size limit, and allow anglers to temporarily retain them, and donate them to the ShareLunker Program, and we would eliminate references to the lakeside weigh stations. Those are the comments received on that particular proposal.
Our next set, a change on Lake Texoma, our current regulation on that reservoir was a 14-inch minimum, five-fish bag, our proposal was to remove that minimum length limit and retain the five-fish bag, and that would be the same as our statewide regulation. So this was an exception up there to our statewide bag, and that was to get our regulations the same as we have on the Oklahoma side.
Oklahoma is proposing a similar change, removing the size limit, so we're proposing that so we can keep the regulations the same on both sides of the reservoir, and also have them — have our limit there the same as our statewide limit. And those are some of the comments we received on that.
Now, we have some regulations on red drum. We have a handful of reservoirs in freshwater that we stock with red drum and there were some particular requirements that need to be met for those reservoirs. One of them is, they have a heated water source from a power plant, we had two reservoirs that we had been stocking, Lake Nasworthy and Colorado City, there's been some changes to the operation of the power plants there, we had some special regulations on, with the stocking of the red drum; because the power plants have changed we will no longer have those warm water inputs, we're going to discontinue stocking in those reservoirs, and we're proposing to have those special regulations revert back to the statewide limits, which are actually the limits that we have on — that most people are familiar with on the coast. Most of the comments were in favor of that particular regulation.
Next, I'd like to have Phil go over our proposal for —
MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, again, I'm Phil Durocher, the Director of Inland Fisheries. The last proposal we had that went to the Register and for public comment was to extend the bowfishing for catfish season until August 31st of 2001, which would have added three additional years to this proposal, to this regulation.
The reason for submitting this proposal was to allow for more public input, to allow the Commission to get more public input on this issue, and what it does, as it was published, was gives the Commission three different options that they can look at, when considering this regulation.
The first option they have is to, don't approve the extension. If we don't approve this extension, bowfishing regulation would expire on August 31st of this year.
The second option the Commission has, of course, is to approve the three-year extension and to allow this activity to take place for three more years. Sorry, let me catch up, here. And the third option the Commission has is to make the rule permanent. We can remove the expiration date, and just make bowfishing for catfish a permanent rule in the state.
Now, for — since we have some new Commissioners here, I'd like to briefly go over a little historical perspective of how we got here. In 2005, the Texas Bowfishing Association petitioned the Commission for change, asking that this — that they be allowed to harvest catfish by bowfishing. The proposal to allow this was presented at our public hearings in 2006, at that time the staff recommended against the proposal.
The staff's reasoning: first of all, I want to say, we had no indication that this would have been or would be, at this point in time, a resource issue because it's such a small-scale activity. But we recommended against it for several reasons. First, catfish are the second-most popular game fish in freshwater; we felt like this would have been de-valuing one of our most popular sport fish.
The second, this would be a break with a longstanding management approach of selective harvest that we practice both in freshwater and saltwater, because that approach is dependent upon catch and release which you can't do with bowfishing.
And second — and thirdly, it would set a precedent; catfish would become the only game fish allowed in the state, allowed to be taken by bowfishing.
Now, the Commission directed the staff to go ahead and take an experimental look at this regulation and they allowed the taking of catfish for two one-year periods, beginning September 2006. They directed the staff to focus on looking at the increase in opportunity, any increase in activity, and they asked us to monitor this activity.
The results of our monitoring, since there's no special permits required for bowfishing for any fish, we went to the game wardens, and we'd like to thank Colonel Flores and his staff for helping us go out and look at this activity and see what was actually going on. The game wardens, we looked at about 4,600 monthly logs that the game wardens keep as they go out on the lake, and encounter people doing certain activities on the lake.
Looking at those logs, in a 14-month period they encountered 1792 bow anglers; that's not separate bow anglers, that's statewide and that may be the same people they saw numerous times. And what we found out, that this is mostly a spring and summer activity, and we observed no change in activity by the bow fishermen from prior to the passage of this rule to this past summer.
And here's the chart showing kind of the activity, what you have to look at is the June '06, the beginning of the chart, the first three bars there. This was actually the year before — the summer before the regulation went into effect. And you compare that to the other comparable data we have, which is June, July and August of '07, and we have no indication there that we've had an increase in activity, by —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Phil, sorry. Is this — sorry to interrupt you, but is this related to any type of bowfishing, or is this —
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — okay.
MR. DUROCHER: This, I mean all we —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Pre, pre-reg —
MR. DUROCHER: — yes. And what we found, is, most of the bow fishermen were going after catfish after the rule was changed, which is what we expected.
Okay, the public comments, as you can see it's about 50-50, we had a split in the public comments, we took the — we took all of our recommendations to our Freshwater Fishery Advisory Board; they met on March 4th, and the members present voted unanimously to support all the proposals for inland fisheries except the extension of allowing the use of bowfishing equipment for taking catfish, and the board, I must say the board took a similar stance against this practice when first proposed in 2006.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Phil, can I ask you, you've got for and against. What were they voting for or against? You showed three options to us —
MR. DUROCHER: I'm sorry. Four was, extending it, three more years —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Extending it three years? That's what I — okay. But that's — that was the only option presented to the public.
MR. DUROCHER: Right. That was the only option presented to the public at the time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And the opposition by the Freshwater Fishery Advisory Board, can you just brief us on the main points?
MR. DUROCHER: I think the Commission all received the letter, and I can read this for you if you want me —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No, I just —
MR. DUROCHER: It basically —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — the denigration of the fish as a game fish. Right?
MR. DUROCHER: Right. Primarily. And it says, it's just against the philosophy of catch and release.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But I did a little checking on this, and looked into the history or practice of bowfishing. From what I could tell, Native American Indians bowfished for trout, and a number of other game fish, and was that taken into account when people had a problem with this, on denigrating catfish as a game fish, or do you know?
MR. DUROCHER: We haven't heard anything from any Native Americans. I mean, I just — we haven't heard any comments from that group.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What about — on catch and release, I don't profess to be a skilled catfisherman but when I've done it, most of the time they swallow the treble hook, and so I don't know how there's much catch and release, because they're not really — my experience is, not a lip biter. Is that —
MR. DUROCHER: You know, we —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — do you disagree with that, or —
MR. DUROCHER: — I don't think that's a general rule. I mean, I don't think they're any worse than any of the other game fish in terms of their ability to survive, being caught. We, you know, I haven't seen any data to make me believe that. That they're any worse than a bass. I mean, you know, a bass gets deep-hooked pretty frequently too; and almost anything that's caught with a hook.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anything that's gut-hooked though just has a higher mortality rate. Wouldn't you agree with that?
MR. DUROCHER: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And that's what I'm saying. I think that most catfish are caught, at least in my practice, maybe I'm slow on the draw, but they're —
MR. DUROCHER: I haven't seen anything to indicate that. That it would be any worse than any other game fish.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Phil, how many people are out doing this? I mean, is there any way to get our hands around the community of people who are bowfishing for catfish?
MR. DUROCHER: I would say, you know, we have no way of knowing because there's no special tag or anything required of bowfishing. I would look at the number of people here who voted for it, I would say it's probably somewhere between there and 400, maybe at the most. Again we looked at the number of people that belong to the bowfishing organization, and it's anywhere from 150 to 250, maybe at the most that we know of.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Falcon?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Who wrote citations on the logs —
MR. DUROCHER: None, that we know of.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: None?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: If I can — I talked to several game wardens about this, and this is not an actual scenario, but if they pull up to a bow fisherman at night, he's running big lights, what's the legal inch limit on a —
MR. DUROCHER: Twelve inch.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Twelve inches? And if he pulls up there and there's a 10" and an 11" floating belly up in the water because you don't want them stinking, he's dead. I'm talking about the deep-hooked, well, that arrow is deep-hooked too. "You all know anything about these fish floating?" "No, they were here when we got here." A game warden says, go on. What can they say?
It's an impossible management, law enforcement issue, unless they're setting out there with night vision goggles and they're seeing them, they see them throw the fish back. Which is going to be highly, highly improbable. A law enforcement nightmare.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions or discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, thank you. And now, Dr. Berger.
DR. BERGER: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, members. For the record, I'm Mike Berger, Director of the Wildlife Division. And we're here this afternoon to discuss proposed changes to the Wildlife Statewide Regulations. The first is with regard to mule deer. And in the Panhandle you'll note that we have three different seasons, two in the Panhandle, one is for 16 days, and one is for nine days; our proposal, that we would propose adding Sherman and Hansford Counties, the two counties in the very north of the Panhandle, and Gaines, Martin and the eastern half of Andrews County, to the southwest Panhandle season.
These counties we believe have mule deer populations sufficient to allow the harvest of a few buck mule deer, and such buck-only harvest would not have any effect on the overall population of deer in those counties, and it would result in increased hunter opportunity. Regarding comments, some folks expressed some concerns about the possibility of poaching, trespassing or taking too many bucks, but overall the comments were extremely supportive of the — of those proposals.
Under Parks and Wildlife Service regulations, proof of sex, which generally means the head, must accompany a harvested deer until it reaches its final destination or has been finally processed, unless the hunter has obtained a signed statement from the landowner or from a taxidermist.
And to simplify, the proof-of-sex requirements for deer we've proposed the department permits listed here would function as proof of sex in lieu of the head or other signed statements. I think these changes would simplify hunters; transporting harvested deer to their final destination, and these permits do have on them a place to indicate the sex of the animal harvested.
And again, although a few comments expressed concerns about making it too easy for crooks, or that hunters might be untrustworthy in doing this, the great majority again supported this proposal.
Currently, we have a requirement for a minimum 40-pound peak draw weight for archery hunting of turkeys, and all game animals other than squirrels. Twenty or so states still have this kind of requirement, but many others have shifted to a 30- or a 35-pound requirement as the evolution of archery equipment has progressed, and bows become more efficient at lower weights.
And in fact, eleven other states have no draw weight requirement whatsoever. And we believe that a reduction in the minimum draw weight requirement would increase the opportunity for younger hunters, or folks of smaller stature, to allow them to bow-hunt, when they would have difficulty pulling a 40-pound draw weight bow.
Most commenters supported eliminating the minimum draw weight. However some did express concerns about the possibility of increasing wounding loss, and some recommended lowering the draw weight to 30 pounds instead of removing it altogether. And others wanted to require mandatory archery education. Again, the support for this was about 5 to 3 in favor, and our recommendation is to eliminate the minimum peak draw weight, and encourage all bow hunters to practice and become very familiar with the capabilities of their equipment that they use, regardless of its draw weight.
With regard to quail, under the current rule, the quail season, which is a statewide season, opens on the Saturday closest to October 28th, and closes on the last Sunday in February. The proposal was to extend the closing of quail season until the last day of February, to coincide with the close of deer season, on managed land permit Level 1 and 2 properties.
This proposal was published in the Texas Register, it generated a great deal of comment and discussion, some of it quite strong, and some of the discussion also appearing in the print media. Although the comments generally supported the proposed extension, some commenters suggested shortening the season, others said, reduce the daily bag limit, move the closing back to the — move the MLD closing back to the end of the quail season. And I really believe that most of the commenters and writers agreed that the few days that the proposal would extend the season, agreed that it was of little consequence, but it sent a wrong message regarding the status of quail, not only in Texas but throughout its range.
So hearing this comment and concern, the staff recommends that the Commission not adopt this extension of quail season, and allow the Upland Game Bird Advisory Council to — an opportunity to discuss and consider this issue, at its upcoming meeting in April so that it can return with a recommendation, if needed, during the next regulatory cycle next year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can you say that again, Mike? Sorry I lost that in the translation.
DR. BERGER: Okay. Our recommendation and based on all the comment that we've heard and the variety of comment for solutions, is that the Commission not adopt the regulation as published. And allow the Upland Game Bird Council an opportunity to review all the comment and the recommendations, and if they feel necessary, to come back with a proposal in the next regulatory cycle next year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Fair enough.
DR. BERGER: With regard to the Panhandle pheasant season, this map shows where we have — the Panhandle counties that currently have an open season for pheasants. And six of these counties, the northwest six-most counties, Dalham, Hartley, Moore, Oldham, Potter and Sherman, the seasons for white tail deer and mule deer run from the Saturday before Thanksgiving for 16 days, meaning that the close of deer season and the opening of pheasant season coincide, and overlap on one single weekend.
The proposal would have delayed the opening of pheasant season until the second Saturday in December, and had the option to extend the season length to 37 days, which would carry it through the Christmas-New Year period. Again, this proposal was supported by a majority of commenters, but it generated highly variable, more variable than quail, comments, to keep the season the same as current, to open it later as we proposed, to open it a week earlier or even two weeks earlier, some supported seven days, some said 30 days was enough, some hunters as well as guides expressed concern that hunting plans and reservations for the coming season had already been made for 2008, and a change would represent a hardship. For these reasons, we believe the Commission, again, should not adopt this proposal at this time, and to give the Upland Game Bird Council an opportunity to review all these comments, and consider the issue at its upcoming meetings, and come back in the next cycle with a recommendation if necessary.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So the bird people are kind of like the deer people, aren't they?
DR. BERGER: Sometimes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They care passionately.
DR. BERGER: They care passionately. These are —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm glad. No, I —
DR. BERGER: These people, the quail and pheasant — we are passionate, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's great. It's wonderful and that's why we have these advisory committees —
DR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and you know, it gets lots of people to give input, and then we can make whatever the right decision is.
DR. BERGER: That's correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay, good.
DR. BERGER: And I think this is the opportunity to put a little more focus and discussion —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Based on staff recommendation, I'd suggest that we authorize staff to amend the proclamation to remove the proposed extension of the quail season and the extension of the — or the change in calendar dates of the pheasant season.
Any discussion on that, or comment?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
DR. BERGER: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay, I'll place this item — well, let's go, we've got Dr. McKinney still, sorry.
DR. McKINNEY: Mr. Chairman, for the record, Dr. Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries, and Robin Riechers, Director of Science and Policy, we're going to tag-team you on this presentation I think, and Robin is going to start, dealing with the coastal fisheries issues, or the issue.
MR. RIECHERS: The question we're dealing with, the statewide hunting and fishing proclamation proposals for 2008 and 2009. To remind everyone, the coastal fisheries' statewide proposal is to set a total allowable catch for the Texas Territorial Sea, using an approximate average of landings from 2002 to 2006, we rounded that up a little bit, and that would establish the TAC at 31,500,000 pounds.
In reviewing many of the public comments I've chosen these five specific items to try to highlight here, to you today; you've seen a lot of those comments as well. But we'll discuss the item and the claim about science in the public comments; we'll discuss Gulf-wide management, we'll discuss limited entry, observers, and tracking of the quota.
Just briefly, again, reminding you basically we proposed this is as a proactive, not a reactive precautionary ecosystem-based approach to management of this fishery. We discussed last time the magnitude of the bycatch in both number and pounds. We discussed the number of spills and the interaction, and how that occurs as they're prosecuting the fishery out in the near shore Gulf area.
When we go on to the science though, beyond the Register and the proposal as we've talked about it today, we want to talk to you just a little bit about some of the things that was in the science that we didn't present to you, but maybe — and we're remiss in that respect, but also in view of how some other folks are viewing the current situation in regards to things like this.
Enclosed in the packet that you've received is a letter from 91 marine scientists, requesting the National Marine Fishery Service to recommend basically following four general principles. And these recommendations of the National Marine Service come on the heels of the findings from the National Research Council's Committee on Ecosystem Effects of Fishing, Phase II, that basically it's entitled "Dynamic Changes in Marine Ecosystems, Fishing, Food Webs, and Future Options."
The two first recommendations there basically just talk about the critical role that forage fish play, and the uncertainty in measuring those forage fish. But the last two are the ones that are of key importance here in this discussion, in that MSY is not really an appropriate basis for setting catch levels. In fact, the last item goes on to say that forage fish are far more conservative standards than setting the MSY approach, and that should be accounted for when you're setting those target levels, in regards to —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And MSY is?
DR. McKINNEY: That's right, MSY is the Maximum Sustained Yield.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I just want to make sure everybody understands.
DR. McKINNEY: Right, and I wanted to follow through.
MR. RIECHERS: In addition, the stock assessment that we referred to last time, that basically did say that we're not overfished or undergoing overfishing in this fishery at this time also went on to point out several very important things. It went on to say that the stock is below the ideal level; it went on to say that the hypoxic zone may be increasing the susceptibility of harvest for menhaden, as we are prosecuting that fishery today.
It talks about recent rises in fishing mortality. Basically then it goes on to conclude that rise in fishing mortality, and the decrease in landings is consistent with the decrease in the overall abundance in the fishery at this time.
So those are some key other science points that we thought, given the comments that we had seen, we needed to bring out to you today.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: In the Gulf, primarily, Robin? Help me —
MR. RIECHERS: Okay, well, this would be in the Gulf, and — because these are based on a stock assessment that comes from the landings associated with the overall Gulf fishery. And of course, again, we make up just a small percentage share of that overall Gulf fishery, we make up about 3 percent of that fishery; Louisiana makes up about 95 percent and then the other two states, Mississippi and Alabama get the rest.
DR. McKINNEY: And the point that Robin's making is that, this is from the stock assessment from a scientist named Vaughan — his paper, Mike Vaughan, which I don't know if we've included in their package, but it's often cited, this thing, that that fishery is in good shape, it's — and that type of thing.
But if you take that paper and read their conclusions, don't just take part of what they say, these are the issues, the cautions that they raise, and these are the kinds of things we look at in fisheries; we look at them in other fisheries, well, these are things that begin to raise concern, did raise concern in our view of what we need to do, future-wise, for this type of fishery.
MR. RIECHERS: With that I'll go on to some of those other key issues, and the first one we'll talk about is the Gulf-wide total allowable catch. You may have seen in the comments and you may hear some tomorrow about that we really should be managing this with the Gulf-wide total allowable catch. We really don't disagree with that. We think that would be a good way to manage this fishery, and we certainly would work with our partners in the other states, with industry and other folks to look at managing this in a Gulf-wide basis.
One of the key discussion points about managing this in a Gulf-wide basis is, what are those appropriate catch targets, going back to that question of, is it MSY, is it a more conservative approach, how do we get that exact target, and how can we really come to grips of what that should be.
Then even under this case of, we're talking about a Gulf-wide total allowable catch. Because this fishery is prosecuted a lot within state waters, there's still going to be a state allocation, similar to what we're asking you to do here, basically, because if you didn't manage for a Gulf-wide catch, assuming that we're managing — let's assume we're managing close to the target at this point in time, then you would be taking some sort of average of those past historical periods, and setting a total allowable catch in Texas state waters, so that we of course could manage that catch within our waters, unless any of those states would be willing to have all of the share of the catch come out of their waters in a particular given year.
If you're going to manage it within all those states, and you're going to have prosecution in all those states, you're still going to have some sort of shared total coming out of those particular states. So that it can be managed on a — and enforced on a state-by-state basis to some degree.
Another option you may hear is a discussion about limited entry. And we view limited entry as a complementary tool to the proposal that we have in the statewide hunting and fishing proclamation today. The reason we view it as a complementary tool is, certainly given the current level of harvest that we've seen on average in that five years, we've had on average 12 boats during that five years, and we've had catches from 9 to 65 million pounds. Tremendous range of catches for each one of those individual vessels.
So we view it as a complementary tool; it will protect the historical participants. If we went and established a limited entry program, it would protect those historical participants who have been in the fishery in the past, much as we've done with many of our other commercial fisheries, and certainly we'd promote that as one of our management tools, in the right situation.
DR. McKINNEY: I want to make a comment on that too. And I think — you'll hear that tomorrow, and I want to emphasize one of the points that Robin made. And it really goes back even to the discussion I was having earlier on the offshore aquaculture approach. And that is, the tool that we have available to us today to manage this fishery and to address the concerns that we have, is what's being proposed by staff.
But in fact, under the new Magnuson-Stevens Act at some time in the future, or at some point, the menhaden fishery will be managed in the same way as other fisheries will be. There will be an effort, we think, to manage this species Gulf-wide. That's a positive thing; we would support that and go forward with it.
Same with limited entry. I think it will offer some opportunities. And so what we see as taking the step, if you were to adopt that step that we're saying, it really, I think it drives that process, I think it puts us in a position to say, Look, this is what we have available, but if we can come up with something better, one that achieves those ends that we're concerned with, we'll go to — we'll go there. And we will work in that method and go forward with it. That's what I want to get the point across to these folks.
But this I would hope would move that process more quickly than it might otherwise happen, and still give us some — cover some of the concerns that we have at present.
MR. RIECHERS: The third bullet there, "Onboard Observation" basically deals with the idea of having an onboard observer upon either a set of randomly chosen vessels, possibly, or a census of the entire fleet, having them on every vessel. Certainly we believe that, depending on how you structured your program, it would provide a more accurate reading of the overall landings, it would be a verification onsite of an independent party to verify the landings records right at that point in time.
It would aid in tracking a quota or a total allowable catch if you were to do that. You know, obviously in that case it would probably be considered to be on every vessel. As far as bycatch characterization goes, it would also aid in that. Now, it may only be random sample of trips. If you were just trying to characterize your overall bycatch, both in magnitude and in, you know, what is there, and how much of it is there.
It would give us some additional more current data in regards to bycatch. So you know, again, those are certainly things we would like to discuss and continue to discuss, look at opportunities to work with our partners both industry and other partners, in looking at ways that we can fund some of that research. It might be that we do it Gulf-wide, it might be that we only do it here in Texas, but at this point we don't believe that it should be necessarily part of this rulemaking, but we would certainly like to continue that discussion and obtain better opportunity for that data collection down the road if we could.
DR. McKINNEY: And another comment on that if you don't mind at this time, Robin, is that we tried to either meet or talk with in any way we could with interested parties on all sides of this, but there are some very strong views on both sides, to try to make sure we understand those concerns. And I think that tomorrow, if the folks testify that I'm assuming will, but — you will hear a strong desire, a strong wish for an observer-type program from some of those groups.
And as Robin said, we have not put that on the table as our staff recommendation at this time. If — and in talking with Ann Bright, our general counsel, one of the — just to give you a head's up that if this was something that was of interest to the Commission, it would be a significant change from staff recommendation, and we would have to take a look at reconsidering the entire proposal, pulling it back off, because it's just too much of a change to go forward with it at the time, because it's not in our original staff recommendation. But I just wanted to make sure you're aware of that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Which change? What —
DR. McKINNEY: Oh, for now, our staff recommendation only looks at the total allowable catch. We have not talked about an observer program, and that would be, if that were something to be added, it would be a significant change from staff, and required re-notice and public input and that type of thing.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: The number that you're recommending is the highest that's been caught previously, is that correct? That 31 million pounds?
DR. McKINNEY: I think we're going to get to that in just a second. But no, it's not.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Okay. Well, my question is, you are recommending a number in spite of the science basis chart that you showed up there that showed all of the decrease in the stock, and the susceptibility, fishing mortality, are you still recommending a higher — or maybe you'll answer that question —
MR. RIECHERS: And quickly to answer it, we're recommending the average of the last five years, and landings have been declining in this fishery. So this is kind of a capping or averaging of the most recent time period. So in some respects I think maybe your question would be, Why wouldn't we go further? At this point in time, I think we're just, you know, establish the cap, and continue to monitor this fishery closely, we do have, you know, a good database we're looking at here; we do have a good modeling we would like to, you know, have a chance to basically establish the cap and continue to work on some of these other issues, the accuracy of the landings, bycatch characterization, as well as, we may be back here at another — next year or the year after that, either indicating that we should reduce the cap, or indicating that we might should raise the cap depending on what we see in the current — the stock assessment at that time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And you think we can gather that data in a year?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, the data comes in, in a year. The question is what one year's worth of data would make in the overall trend picture in this fishery. And typically when we look at abundance trends here, we really do try to look at more than just one year, because one additional year, even if it's a little tick up, doesn't signal that it's in a lot better shape, and it also, if it's a little tick down doesn't necessarily signal that it's in a lot worse shape. It's just — it's one more point in the trend line, at that point in time.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: You also mentioned that Louisiana has 95 percent of the stock. And what do they — what is it that they do? Do they have any limits, or —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, not stock; of the catch.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Of the catch, I'm sorry. Of the total catch, they have 95 percent of it.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And can I just add, because you've mentioned Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana — is Florida not allowing fishing on the Gulf side —
DR. McKINNEY: That's correct. Florida has no — does not allow purse seine in their waters. And Alabama, which we were trying to get that straight, it was an aerial type closure I think, isn't that —
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. They still allow fishing on the western side, which I think we corrected on the record last time when we were scoping the stock assessment and said they were totally closed in Alabama waters, but they weren't totally closed, they — there's a portion on the western side that's still open.
With that, kind of the last question of the items that I wanted to hit was the total allowable catch tracking, or how we would go about this. Currently, the fishery basically provides to National Marine Fishery Service captain daily fishing reports. Those are provided every Friday during the fishing season, and basically what we would do is, we would look to obtain those from National Marine Fishery Service or from the industry directly, we would be able to total those up based on last week's catches and basically create a running total of what the percentage catch is to that point in the season.
You know, upon looking at this, most of the week's worth of catches falls within a 10 percent of what a Total Allowable, if the total allowable catch is 31,500,000 pounds. It would fall within that kind of range. So we basically would start notifying the company of an impending closure at about 80 percent, 75 or 80 percent; that would give them a couple weeks' notice even if we're in the lab week and they have boats out fishing, you still got some buffer there.
And then on top of that, we would even — and we're going to suggest that we create a rollover provision that allows a 10 percent rollover of both, if you catch too much, you can roll that over into next year and it goes off of next year's quota; and if you don't catch up to the quota, you can roll that into next year's quota, and it increases next year's quota by just that amount. Up to 10 percent. Now, that rollover provision would only apply to one year; you couldn't stack quota for multiple years, it would just go over one year.
When you look at the public comments, of course the numbers here and in your packet, we kind of tried to give you a flavor of the comments and some of the email comments and the totals and so forth. We basically had 2,788 people supporting the proposal; we had 278 people opposing the proposal as of yesterday afternoon, fairly late in the day.
Of those, when you look at your Web comments, you'll notice I believe that there's 60 in the Web comments that actually say, "disagree" there, out of those, those have been — 39 of those who wrote something in their disagreement, and they wrote something basically wanting a stricter proposal, or a total closure in Texas Territorial Sea; we moved them up into the support category; we assume that they would support the proposal since they really wanted a more stricter rule than that.
But that's your totals as far as public summary comments go at this point in time.
DR. McKINNEY: Mr. Chairman, I wanted to provide a comment and perhaps Commissioner Falcon would address the issue that you raised, and that is to talk very briefly about how we approach managing these types of issues and have. Our approach has been historically in coastal fisheries to take a look at these issues out ahead, and try to be proactive on them.
One of the reasons being, that certainly gives us more options, both — all affected parties have more options to deal with it, other than waiting until situations that we have seen on the East Coast where there have been fishery collapses and whole industries have closed, and that's not where we want to go at all, and not where we have gone.
And so when we looked at this particular issue, and looked at the sort of warning signs or concerns that were raised, we wanted to look at some way to address those concerns in a way that did not harm the industry any more than possible. And so in doing that, looking at a total allowable catch based on some average over that period of time that basically said that we would not increase the catch above this, at this time, and would protect those fish above that number for the sport fishing industry and for supporting the ecosystem issues that are of concern.
And in talking with the industry, they have assured us, you know, many times that they have no plans to expand, to bring more ships in, to expand their fishery at all; they're at capacity. So this seemed to be an approach that allowed them to proceed and continue under the business that they're doing now, but obviously make the point that expanding this industry, until we have better assurances on how — and better management tools, it would not be something that we'd want to do.
This approach with menhaden is entirely consistent with the approaches that we have taken with managing the shrimp farms, with offshore aquaculture. Back in the year 2000 when we put regulations into place for the shrimp industry as a whole, again this is the same approach we've used there.
When we — when you all adopted the ruler to protect sea grass in Redfish Bay, again, this was precautionary approach that we looked at. And last year, when we tackled the very difficult problem of the spotted sea trout in the Lower Laguna Madre, you know, again taking action at that time.
And so that's the basis on which we move forward, and it was fortunate that in the last few weeks, we've had some data that's come forward that really, I think illustrates the effectiveness of that approach that we've taken over the years. And this the, every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys the hunting and fishing across the U.S., and takes a look at the changes and the participants and the economic impacts and that type of thing.
And so I thought it would be — if you don't mind, we'll just, we'll talk about that. For example, what we've seen in Texas from 2001 until 2006, we've seen a net gain of 286,000 saltwater anglers, an increase in saltwater anglers of some 25 percent. Now, that's not a particularly appropriate way to look at it, but it's a fun way to look at it; that means — or just a scary way to look at it, that in fact every month we've added 4,777 saltwater anglers for the last 60 months, to Texas.
And it's just not numbers. The numbers not only are the new anglers fishing a lot, the old anglers are fishing more; we've seen an increase of 50 percent in the fishing pressure.
Well, what does this translate as? Well, I've taken a look at all the other states and I would tell you that Texas is alone in its class. The other two large recreational fishing states have seen declines of 18 percent, every other state in the Gulf, and you can see the drop there. In fact, of all 23 coastal fishing states in this country, only five other states have shown a positive increase in saltwater anglers; one of those was barely up half a percent; the other two — other four were states that have anglers in the 100,000 number. So it's basically insignificant.
There is nobody, no one, who has touched what we've been able to do in this very difficult time. Okay, that's numbers, but what does that translate — in other words, what are the contributions of that management philosophy that we have pursued over these years, to Texas?
Well, basically what we've seen is a $319 million increase in retail sales; a 32 percent increase. That basically has translated into four-tenths — almost a half a billion dollars in economic impact to this state. We've seen taxes paid, increased by 62 percent, almost $63 million, and also an increase of 5,221 jobs, that's basically every year for the last five years, an increase in 1,000 new jobs related to recreational fishing.
This is a big impact. This is why we watch this so closely, why we take that — recommend the actions that we have and you have taken those actions that has put us in this situation where no one else is. And we appreciate that support, and that's really the basis of how we've gone forward in trying to make sure this happens.
So with that, I think Robin — all right, we have one more slide, I'm sorry. I kind of got on my soapbox there, but —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go ahead and finish —
DR. McKINNEY: If you don't mind, if Robin would go ahead and finish it.
MR. RIECHERS: I'll just wrap up real quickly. With that, you know, I just want to make it official that we're proposing, our staff proposes that we adopt the current proposal with the amendments; we're going to — we lost a title as we were merging things within our proclamation, and it was a purse seine title, and we want to get that back into place that this is only applying to the purse seine fishery, as was the original intent.
We're including or recommending that we include a rollover provision, again any underage or overage up to 10 percent to allow the total allowable catch can be carried over to the next year. And then the provisions for tracking will be established, and we will basically put in there that it's the CDFR, or other reporting mechanism specified by the Department, in case for some reason this captain daily fishing reports goes away or we can't get it from National Marine Fishery Service, we do want the flexibility to ask them to fill out another type of log that would allow us to keep track of this quota.
DR. McKINNEY: With that, Mr. Chairman, appreciate the time, any questions, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Mr. Parker.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: First of all, Dr. McKinney, I want to tell you that I personally compliment you on your approach to this issue, that has many facets to it. You have made a marvelous presentation here, and the — seeing your approach to the science, seeing your approach to the collection of data, seeing your approach to the economic benefits, to the State of Texas in approaching this resolution, makes chills run up and down my back, I really do compliment you.
You and Robin and the entire saltwater division has done a marvelous job.
DR. McKINNEY: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: It's a tough issue, but you've done a great job.
DR. McKINNEY: Appreciate that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Ralph?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: As I understand it, this proposal would apply only to a company that engages in purse seining. Is that right?
DR. McKINNEY: There's only — well, there's two companies that pursue this, but really one in Texas waters, correct.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And we'll come back to that. Are there any other catch methods besides purse seining?
MR. RIECHERS: There's a very small amount. We looked for menhaden specifically in our trip ticket program; we couldn't find any catches of menhaden but we do have a lump catch that would include menhaden and some other bait fish, and there were 18,000 pounds of that caught last year.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So insignificant —
MR. RIECHERS: Very insignificant. Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: This would protect the bait dealers, along the entire coast of Texas.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And you say you have only two users? Or one —
DR. McKINNEY: On in Texas waters, really. There are two participants in this industry, based out of Louisiana, and I don't know the size of that. But in Texas, the only company that purchases our permits for the boats is the one.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So this would be a proposed cap on the number of fish, but it — what happens if there are — additional users enter the market? What do you foresee in that case?
DR. McKINNEY: If there were, if we had a total allowable catch, they would all have to share that type of thing, it would be —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But how would the sharing work, is what I'm asking.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, under the current provision it would work the same way, basically. We would have a counting mechanism; when the total allowable catch is reached, we would basically close the season down.
If there were a limited entry or some sort of other quota-based system that were put into place, then those shares could be divided up amongst those vessels, or in this case, the company's vessels. So it may not make a lot of honest sense to have that kind of thing in the current situation, but certainly new entrants could enter the fishery right now, we don't really anticipate, given the capital nature of this fishery, but you know, there are other participants here in the Gulf as well, or other participants.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And if you have this rollover provision, would that — do you envision that being a private property right, or would that just be — apply to whoever, first come, first served?
MR. RIECHERS: The rollover is only what isn't caught — and maybe I'm not understanding your question exactly. But the rollover is only —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, let me see if I can —
MR. RIECHERS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — clarify it. If you only have one participant in 2009, and they are — they catch one million pounds under the total allowable catch, and the next season if there's still just that one user, you're saying they can fish an additional million pounds. But suppose in that next season there are now three entrants. How do you propose that that one million pounds be allocated, or is it grandfathered to the user that didn't take it in the year before.
MR. RIECHERS: No, the way we would envision that is, because there isn't any sort of individual privilege or right to that quota established right now, or there is no limited entry program, it would just go to add to the total allowable catch for the next year, and it would basically be first come, first serve.
The additional million pounds would go to whoever caught it, if there were new entrants in that next year.
DR. McKINNEY: What it would do is set up basically derby fishing which would be first come, first serve. That was an interest, in limited entry, I think, was one of the concerns, that would be a way to address that issue. But under our existing rules and statutes, which would take legislation to establish limited entry, it would be whoever got it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So the total allowable catch for the next year would just be increased by that amount?
DR. McKINNEY: Yes.
MR. RIECHERS: That's correct.
DR. McKINNEY: Or if it went over, decreased by that amount.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Decreased, right.
DR. McKINNEY: Again, it's just a plus or minus — whatever that number would be.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I don't mean to be dense, but what is the point of the rollover provision?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, one of the points was, exactly how would we enforce it, and how — I mean, given the capacity of some of these vessels, if they're out fishing and we notify them on Tuesday, because we got their records on Friday, that, you know, we're at that point; you know, how would they handle that violation at that point?
They've already got it in the hull —
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, we don't want to penalize anyone, for pursuing —
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Yes, I just didn't understand —
DR. McKINNEY: — or trying to do business, and this is just a way of making it work.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: — okay. Thank you, okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions, discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. So I suggest we authorize staff to amend the proclamation to apply only to purse seine fishery, include a rollover provision and to provide for provisions for tracking. Any other comments on that, or questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
DR. McKINNEY: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I will now place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And Committee Item Number 8, Hunter Education Regulations, Steve Hall.
MR. HALL: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, my name is Steve Hall, Education Director. I oversee the Mandatory Hunter Education Program. And I'm here today to present an action item for your consideration tomorrow.
In accordance with the Hunter Education statute, the Commission may establish a minimum age for participation in the Hunter Education Program. That current minimum age is 12 years of age, and that was set in 1988 by the Commission.
Hunter Ed staff recommends lowering the minimum age to nine years of age, to better align ourselves with the policies of the Texas Youth Hunting program, out of our Wildlife Partnership with the Texas Wildlife Association, and also with a few of the other laws in other states, particularly New Mexico and Colorado, where we send a significant amount of our Texas hunters to those states, and those states do require proof of hunter education of those under 12 years of age.
Hunter education instructors already accept students under 12 years of age in their courses, and we currently have about — over 500 students that complete the course each year that are under 12 years of age.
Public comment on the issue was 85 percent in favor, or 304, and 15 percent not in favor, and that was about 54 individuals. The recommendation that we'll be bringing forth tomorrow is in front of you, and I could accept any questions at this time.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions, discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Steve.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Did any of the commenters who were negative base it on, my personal situation which was, when my sons were nine, they couldn't begin to comprehend this?
MR. HALL: Yes, that — there was two main reasons for opposal. One was this essential of understanding and comprehension; the other is, I don't want these kids out there hunting under the age of 12. And some of that was, you know, they don't want them hunting and — you know, they don't want them hunting, period, or the sense of, Geez, now you're going to let these kids hunt by themselves.
The fact of the matter is, most hunters under the age of 12 will be supervised, whether they have hunter education or not; hunter ed is only a tool for safe and responsible hunting. To address your question, though, the — in terms of, well, it gets to that in terms of the safety of the individual. They would be supervised, even though technically they could hunt alone at that point, you know, if — a 10 year old. And in terms of the comprehension level, they simply fail the test and they'd have to take that test — or that course over again.
And there's — I mean, that's a situation that we deal with now. We probably have, you know, not very many but hundreds of folks that fail the test, so they simply have to go back through the process.
We'll have more of those occasions with under-12-year-olds, because of that comprehension level. There's also a skill and aptitude situation there as well. But again as a tool for the parent, that's still your — the parental responsibility to try to upgrade their knowledge and their skills and their aptitude to be able to responsibly take either a deer in this case, or an animal.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Steve.
MR. HALL: All right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. And we're finally done.
Okay, Advisory Committee Rule Amendments, Ann Bright.
MS. BRIGHT: Good afternoon, Commissioners, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. Very quickly I will present the proposed rule amendments regarding advisory committees. As some very brief background, the Parks and Wildlife Code authorizes the Commission chairman to appoint advisory committees. And then the Government Code has some specific requirements for advisory committees.
For example, we have to have a rule for each advisory committee; there has to be an annual evaluation; the presiding officer is selected by the members of the advisory committee; there's a limit of 24 members; and there's a four-year life unless the committee is extended by rule.
In 2005, the Commission adopted rules regarding a number of advisory committees including the Game Bird Advisory Committee, the Texas Quail Council, and the Operation Game Thief Committee. The proposal recommends the repeal of the advisory committee regarding OGT, the Operation Game Thief Committee. This committee is a statutorily created committee; they have their own authority. It doesn't really meet the Government Code definition of an advisory committee. Also there are some other more specific rules regarding the operation of Operation Game Thief.
The proposal also recommends that the Game Bird Advisory Board be replaced with the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee, and that the Texas Quail Council be replaced with the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee. And this is the recommended motion that you will see tomorrow. We only received 17 comments over the Internet, 14 agreed, three disagreed, and the only substantive comment we got, just said that advisory committee members should not be reimbursed for their expenses.
Under another section of these rules, one that is not being proposed for amendment, it clearly states that advisory committee members are not reimbursed for their out of pocket expenses; this is a purely voluntary endeavor. And I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Ann. Any questions, discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks. Okay, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action. I'm getting used to saying that.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, there will be plenty of it tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And this committee has completed its business.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. This meeting is adjourned.
(Whereupon, at 4:50 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: March 26, 2008
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 145, 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.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731