Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee

August 20, 2008

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Houston Zoo
Brown Education Center
6200 Golf Course Drive
Houston, Harris County, Texas

BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 20th day of August, 2008, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in the Brown Education Center of the Houston Zoo, to wit:





COMMISSIONER HOLT: Hello, everybody. I am glad to be here, and the Commission is glad to be here in Houston, Texas. And I want to thank particularly the Houston Zoo and all the staff, and Texas Parks and Wildlife staff because I know this has been an added burden.

But I just think it's a wonderful opportunity for us as the Commission to come out to where our constituents are. You know, I laughingly say we don't all live in Austin.

And Houston obviously is a great place and has been a great and a wonderful municipality and a group of people that have supported our mission for many, many years.

So we're very, very glad to be in Houston, Harris County, and the surrounding area.

We're going to have our normal meeting this morning, and ‑‑ going through the various committees. And then this afternoon is our public meeting starting at 2:00. And so it will be a long and busy day, but certainly very glad to be here in Houston, and in Vice-Chairman Friedkin's back yard, so thank you, Dan. We appreciate that very much.


COMMISSIONER HOLT: So with that, we'll get started. This meeting is called to order, but before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.

MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Chairman.

A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda has been filed in the Office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act. I would like for this fact to be noted in the official minutes of the record.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you, Mr. Smith. We'll begin right away with Regulations Committee.

Commissioner Friedkin, please call your committee to order.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Okay, first order of business is approval of the previous committee meeting minutes, which have already been distributed. Motion for approval?


COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Been moved by Commissioner Brown.


COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Second by Commissioner Hixon. All in favor?

(A chorus of ayes.)


(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries.

Committee Item Number 1, Land and Water Plan Update. Mr. Smith.

MR. SMITH: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman, appreciate it. Couple things I want to talk about. Obviously September 1st is a big day for us, opening day of dove season for much of the state. A key part of our Land and Water Plan is to help promote more outdoor recreational opportunities, particularly hunting.

As I think you all are aware, there was a proposal to modify the dove season in the south zone, to take the last week of the first split, and move it to the end of the second split.

We went out to get extensive comment on that, and Vernon Bevill is going to talk more about that later on in the day. We opted not to make any changes, but suffice to say we heard a lot from hunters during the course of that public outreach about issues and ideas they had with respect to the timing of the opening, bag limits, the effect of fuel prices on their hunting patterns.

And so we think it's probably appropriate to go out with some more extensive attitudinal surveys of our dove hunters around the state, and so we're going to work with Texas State, probably starting in January, to really look at some comprehensive attitudes and get some feedback.

And so we're excited about that process coming up.

The second matter that I want to bring up, I think all of you are aware is that we have had some, you know, I think some healthy differences of opinion with the National Marine Fisheries Service on kind of the best way to help recover our red snapper stocks.

And I think we're all very much in concurrence that we want to get that species of reef fish recovered; we want it to help support a very viable commercial and recreational industry. We just had some differences of opinion about the best way to make that happen.

When the agency made the decision back in January not to comport with the federal catch guidelines for recreational fishing on red snapper, the National Marine Fisheries imposed a fairly draconian restriction on recreational fisheries inside federal waters.

So we have expressed, you know, our concern about that, our desire to work with them. We just learned at the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Council last week that the Council has approved a recommendation to take to the Secretary of Commerce that would cause all federally permitted charter and head boats to comply with federal restrictions with respect to red snapper while fishing in state waters.

So that will mean that that element of the recreational fishery is going to have to comply with stricter federal standards, and so that is again a source of some consternation to us; again, we share a goal of wanting to recover this species; we think it's in good shape, it's improving but we have some differences about how best to handle that.

So that may be something that we're going to want to talk more to the Commission about in the future.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Okay, thanks, Carter.

Committee Item Number 2, Request Permission to Review Rules, Ms. Ann Bright?

MS. BRIGHT: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Ann Bright, General Counsel. Once every four years, the Department is statutorily required to go through a rule review process.

We review all of our rules; the review has to include an assessment of whether we still need the rules. We have to publish notice of the review in the Texas Register, and then after we've completed the review we come back to the Commission and request that they either be re-adopted, adopted with changes, or repealed, based on the review.

This is usually a three-meeting process. If you'll recall, back in May we talked about sort of the first round of these. Usually the first meeting, we seek permission to review the rules, the second meeting, after we've completed the review we ask the Commission for permission to make changes to these rules, and the third meeting we adopt the changes, and we request that the Commission adopt the completed review, basically sort of deeming it to be complete.

This is a schedule, and I realize this is kind of a busy slide, but this kind of shows you the schedule; we do it by chapter. The three chapters that we're looking to start reviewing right now are Chapter 53, Finance; Chapter 59, Parks; and Chapter 69, Resource Protection.

So staff is now here today to request permission to begin the review process for these three chapters. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions on the schedule?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, thank you. If there are no further questions or discussion, I'll authorize staff to begin rule review. Thanks, Ann.

And Committee Item Number 3, Rule Review, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes, Ann Bright.

MS. BRIGHT: All right. Good morning, again for the record I'm still Ann Bright, General Counsel. And as I mentioned, in May we came and we asked the Commission for permission to begin the rule review process for a few of our chapters: Chapter 51, Executive; 52, Wildlife and Fisheries; 55, Law Enforcement; and 61, Design and Construction.

We've completed that review, and now we're here to request permission to propose changes. On Chapter 51, that contains the provisions for petitions for rulemaking. As you know, a member of the public is authorized under the Administrative Procedures Act to request that the Commission adopt a rule, or make a rule change.

And we've got a rule, in Parks and Wildlife rules, that address the process for that. One of the things that ‑‑ there have been actually a couple of things that have come up in recent years that they're recommending we change. One is, occasionally, we will receive a petition for rulemaking that is almost identical to a petition that the Commission has already decided, or at least not decided to take action on.

And what we are requesting is that staff be authorized to go ahead and reject a petition for rulemaking if it's identical to one that was received within the last six months ‑‑ rejected within the last six months.

The other situation, a lot of times the public, often they have some very, very good ideas that they give to us and staff wants to pursue rulemaking and bring that to the Commission. We would like to alter the process so that it's clearer that if there is a petition and staff is recommending that the agency proceed with rulemaking, staff will go ahead and work with the executive director to put it on the agenda for the next commission meeting.

We also would like to revise subchapter (c) on fundraising. I think when Mary does her financial presentation today and tomorrow she's going to talk a little bit about changing the handling of donations and the investment policy, and we just want to make sure that we're consistent. It's kind of a ‑‑ basically has to do with being able to use donated funds more quickly.

And in the hunter education rules, the passing grade, there's a little ‑‑ basically just an error that we need to correct having to do with live courses versus online courses.

There's a Chapter 52 which is the stocking policy. And we just want to change the name of that to be more accurate. We aren't requesting any changes to Law Enforcement Chapter.

Chapter 61 has to do with design and construction, and this really has to do with the regional park grant program. Back in May ‑‑ actually back in January the Commission made a number of changes to the rules regarding regional parks ‑‑ or state park grants. Regional parks were not included in that for several reasons, and we would like to go back and make conforming changes to that section or that chapter.

So now staff is requesting permission to publish changes in the Texas Register for comment, for 51, 52, 55 and 61. I'd be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions for Ann?

(No response.)


If there are no further questions or discussion, I'll authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Item Number 4, Southern Flounder Update. Robin Riechers.

MR. RIECHERS: For the record, Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Robin Riechers of the Coastal Fisheries Division. I'm here to present you a brief overview of the southern flounder stocks in Texas and a description of the fishery here in Texas.

To begin with, and I'm going to start with the flounder that's right under the title, "Flounder Life Cycle," and I know you may not be able to read this, but basically adults, which are anywhere from 1.75 to two years old start to migrate offshore in October to December.

Basically they're seeking water that's 50 to 100 feet where they'll lay their eggs; they lay a buoyant, pelagic egg that's fertilized by the males. It will basically move back and drift back into the bays with the currents throughout the winter and spring period, and then the adults return gradually in the spring. The larvae basically move to the back bays, our nursery areas, they settle down there, while your juveniles from the previous year will start to move out into the open bay areas, and then the process starts all over again in the fall.

To give you a little bit of that life history again, of course sexual maturity is reached at about 1.75 years, the males reach sexual maturity at an earlier length, at 250 to 300 millimeters, which for you is about a ten- to 12-inch fish. Females reach that maturity at about 14 to 16 inches.

The life span of the fishery or the flounder is about six years, and when I say these animals recruit to the fishery, what I mean is, they reach the 14-inch minimum size limit for the recreational commercial fishery; they reach that for males at about three to four years, and for females at about one to two years.

Want to just give you a brief management chronology of this fishery, because we have taken actions through time on this fishery; and the first one of note in fact is in 1981 when we had the ban on sale of red drum and spotted sea trout. And of course what that actually probably did was shift fishing pressure over to flounder, as we removed red drum and spotted sea trout from the opportunity to catch that as a commercial species.

Followed that up in 1988 with the trammel and gill net ban, which basically took away effort in that fishery. We increased the recreational minimum size limit to 12 inches at that point and created a 20-fish bag limit.

In 1990 we put a 50 percent bycatch by weight rule for shrimp boats, basically saying they could only have 50 percent in weight of bycatches compared to shrimp on board the vessel.

In 1996 we increased the minimum size limit again to 14 inches, we decreased the bag limits to ten fish recreational, with a 20-fish possession and a 60-fish commercial bag limit; and we also made that recreational limit apply aboard shrimping vessels.

In 1999, one of the most significant recent actions that we took was, a limited entry program in the inshore finfish fishery, and of course, much like the shrimp program and the crab limited entry program, it has a buy-back element to it as well.

In 2000 we had some significant shrimping rules that included a bycatch reduction device requirement, a BRD requirement as I refer to it here, and a ‑‑ and greater protection of our nursery areas, which would have been a significant action possibly for flounder as well.

And then in 2006, because we felt like we were getting some abuse of that possession limit, we reduced the possession limit to equal the recreational bag limit of ten fish.

The next few slides that I'm going to show you is, actually show you some of the current trends in the fishery, and I'm going to start with our fishery independent information. What you see there is both fall and spring gill nets, and you can see that through time since those actions first started taking we basically have been in a downward catch per unit effort trend within our fishery independent information, and of course as we kind of indicated at the last meeting to you, we're seeing some low points in time, lowest point ever recorded in our spring gill nets of last year.

When you look at the bag seine catch rates and other fishery independent, one of our other sampling gears, you see less of a trend than you might see in that previous slide, and of course this basically is targeting those animals that are back up in that nursery area, younger animals, and it ‑‑ basically we thought we were in a pretty steady recruitment phase, but then when you actually look at that '94 and '95 time period and you look to 2006, you can see a downward trend there.

We have had a really good recruitment year in 2007, and we've seen some evidence of that in catches this year, we believe. The recreational information, at least anecdotally, we're seeing some significant catches this year.

Next, I'm going to turn to the fishery independent information. This basically is our recreational landings and our commercial landings; and I overlaid these together, and you can basically see that after the trammel nets were removed, those trends are fairly consistent with one another, and certainly as you get to that point from about 1999 we're showing a significant downward trend in both the recreational and commercial fisheries.

I created this slide because oftentimes when we look at fishery independent and fishery dependent data, and in this case I did the fall gill net catch rates and the private boat landings, sometimes that gets confusing because with that fishery dependent data you'll actually get targeted effort at particular size species and so forth, and you can ‑‑ it can create some confusion or some confounding information.

But in this case, you can actually see that the both fisheries independent and the fisheries dependent data track very well together and are showing very similar trends.

Another measure of health in fisheries typically is the average or the mean length that we might see in our fisheries independent sampling gear, and here I show you the gill net lengths; and you can see that basically since we started taking action in that 1981-82 time period we have been increasing the overall mean length that we're seeing in our samples.

And this actually is a very positive result of some of the actions we've taken; it's basically indicating that we are moving fish through those age classes, and we're getting some older fish out there, and so we have a better population structure than we had in that previous time frame, as we've basically gotten fish to those older size classes.

This next slide is a combination of all of our information as we feed it into a virtual population assessment model. This is a projection of what our spawning stock biomass is, basically it's taking the females that are greater than age 2, and what you will see is, part of what is concerning us, which is, since 1999 we certainly see the projection of that spawning to stock biomass or that reproductive potential going downwards.

Next slide, I ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Robin, if you ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: I'm sorry?

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — I'm sorry. But if you go back to the previous slide, before the biomass, maybe I didn't understand it. Isn't that indicating the fish are getting ‑‑ more fish that are older fish?

MR. RIECHERS: This is the one confounding thing that ‑‑ and I'm glad you picked up on that point. It ‑‑ this is indicating we're getting older fish, and this would indicate that our overall biomass of older fish is in fact going down.


MR. RIECHERS: And I'm going to provide some explanation for that a little bit later here, when we get to ‑‑ I'm going to discuss temperature in a little bit, and I think that will help explain this.


MR. RIECHERS: The next few slides are just trying to indicate to you where this fishery is prosecuted, where the fishery takes place. And when you look at the recreational fishery, you see that Sabine-Galveston and Matagorda make up for 85 percent of the recreational fishery, and then the rest of it's spread out over the other few bay systems.

When you look at the commercial landings, you'll notice the shift, more to the mid-coast area, where San Antonio, Aransas and Corpus Christi make up about 60 percent of the overall commercial landings, and then you've got Galveston with about 10 percent, and lower Laguna Madre with about 15 percent.

So as compared to the recreational fishery, the recreational fishery occurs on the upper coast, and the mid-coast basically has more of the commercial fishery.

When you look at the percent of commercial landings by month, what you see is that 85 percent of all of our take ‑‑ I'm sorry, about 60 percent of all the take occurs in October and November and December. And of course that coincides with that fall migration from the bays to the Gulf.

When we've talked about this fishery in the past, we've always discussed the bycatch component in shrimp trawls; that component in our previous estimates made up about 80 percent of the fishing mortality in this fishery, with estimates of the overall individuals being caught ranging from about a million to nine million in a particular year.

The age group of that ‑‑ they're basically age zeroes and ones, they're in that seven ‑‑ five to seven-inch range, but what I can tell you is, since 1994, '92, when we had both peaks and brown shrimp effort and white shrimp effort, we've decreased that overall effort by greater than 90 percent for both of those species in the bays.

Of course in that time frame we've also had the buyback program, the limited entry program, so that we've been able to take advantage of some of those decreases in effort. We've retired over 57 percent of the bay and bay licenses, and we decreased the overall bycatch in the bays by at least 80 percent.

So we ‑‑ you know, we believe why it's been a big component in the past, and we do believe that's in check at this point in time.

As we look to the actual commercial finfish licenses, of course we put the limited entry program in, in 1999, you can see just a little bump up from '98, a little speculation, probably going on as we put that license management program into place. We've been decreasing since that period of time, we've bought back 29 percent of the licenses that we had available at that point in time, and that's a total of 161 licenses that have been purchased, and we're just at a little over 400 licenses in this fishery.

And I might add, in this fishery it's both a flounder fishery and a black drum gill net fishery, and only with the landings data can we parse out who's doing what. But they basically get a finfish license, and they can do either thing.

Next, in kind of looking at this from a standpoint of what other impacts could be going on, what other habitat or environment influences could we be having in this fishery, recently for the summer flounder fishery, which is prosecuted on the Atlantic coast, they have seen some indication that higher winter temperatures were having an effect on their fishery.

And we basically have followed that up, and they basically ‑‑ their discussion suggests that it's either due to decreasing egg hatching, or it's increased predation on larvae and early juveniles, and of course my next couple slides are going to help to explain what we've been able to find in that respect.

When you look at our data in regard to temperature, the temperature is the green line; the bag seine catch rates is the yellow line here, and just to give you a frame of reference for those who don't calculate Centigrade very well, 16 degrees Centigrade is 61 degrees Fahrenheit, 18 degrees Centigrade, which is about halfway up the scale, on the temperature scale, is about 64 degrees Centigrade.

And as you can see, as we've moved through time and especially since about 1993, we certainly have seen an increasing, a warmer water temperature in our bay systems, and if you mark that same kind of point in time about '96 or so, you know, right after that '93 period, you can certainly see a decrease in the bag seines over that same period of time.

To further illustrate that point, we basically took our fisheries independent data, our catch-per-unit effort of our bay trawls, and we lagged that against our January water temperatures, and you can see as temperature goes up, we've seen a significant decline in the overall bay trawl catches, which of course would be those young of the year, age zero, one, six-inch-or-so kind of fish; they would have moved out of the larval stage and into the middle of the bay, basically.

In summary, what that leads us to, and this presentation leads us to is, as we discussed at the fishing forecast in the last meeting when I visited with you all about that, was that we are seeing decreases in the overall southern flounder population.

We do believe that part of those decreases are due to the high fishing pressure that we had in the past, as well as we believe those recent water temperatures may have further decreased the overall population. We believe that those temperatures have actually, in answer to your question, Commissioner Holt, they've actually probably shrunk in the overall biomass that we can have right now.

We probably don't have as much carrying capacity right now given the current warmer water temperatures, in the winter as we had at one time. Now, if that trend changes, you know, we expect that we would see those ‑‑ you know, those bag seines to start going back up along with that temperature change, if that in fact occurs over the next few years, and some weather prognosticators indicate that that may in fact happen; others don't necessarily buy into that theory.

Basically though when you look at the mean length and the other things that we did, you know, it does indicate we've had some success with this fishery, we leveled off some of the real negative trends that we saw in the early '90s, but we've not reversed the overall trend.

So with that in mind, obviously what we talked with you about was ‑‑ the last time was, we were going to be looking at our traditional measures, such as bag limits, size limits, and probably some more non-traditional measures such as seasonal closures, reduced bag limits for certain periods and times of the year, especially during that fall run, that escapement period; and we're going to be working with a work group ‑‑ we're going to create two work groups actually, one, a recreational, and a commercial group, we're going to be calling those folks together in mid-September, we're going to kind of vet this information and other information through them.

We would hope that that would prepare us for coast-wide scoping meetings. We anticipate holding those meetings in Port Arthur, Dickinson, Port Lavaca, Rockport and Port Isabel and we hope to do that in late September to early October.

All of that pointing us at our November meeting, so that we can narrow the window of options that we would bring to you in November, and then obviously we then go out for a further scoping process before we come back to you in January with our recommendation of what we would like to do.

And we certainly hope, by that point in time, we have a lot of stakeholder buyoff on the proposal that we come to you with. With that, that concludes my presentation ‑‑


MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir?

COMMISSIONER BROWN: In this process, will you consider looking, you know, specifically at certain regions ‑‑ are we talking about a statewide rules, or are we talking about maybe by area, or by the region?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, unlike where we did regionalization for spotted sea trout, really this trend is borne out up and down the coast. You know, we don't have ‑‑ we had a couple bay systems within the report I gave to you a couple weeks ago that actually showed a slight uptick for this year or last year, for flounder.

But overall, the trend's the same up and down the coast, so we really ‑‑ I'm not anticipating that we will come to you with regional management, because I don't really see this as a regional management issue at this point in time.


COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Robin, can you go back one, please.


COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just back one more?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No, it's not that. Anyway, the ‑‑ I understand the correlation obviously with the, you know, the higher temperatures but are we certain that offtake through, you know, recreational opportunity is a contributor?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, when you go back to the slide where we had recreational and commercial landings on there together, basically they're making up 50 percent of the catch in this fishery, and they were doing that prior.

Now, before that we had a considerable amount of bycatch mortality going on, and I think what we've done is basically traded bycatch mortality for this temperature effect that we're seeing, basically.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So we've definitively established a correlation between recreational and commercial offtake and the reduction? We know that it's a component of it; it's not other factors ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: We certainly ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — or to what extent. Is that right?

MR. RIECHERS: — well, we certainly know the fishing mortality is a component of it, and of course, while temperature may be having this effect, if we had been keeping up with the overall temperature effect, you would expect within our gears that our catch per unit effort would have stabilized itself, and of course we haven't seen that in our fishery independent information.

So, you know, we do believe there's certainly a fishing effect here, as well as there may be this reduced kind of carrying capacity effect, and that's probably not a bad term, because that kind of alludes to habitat more than temperature, but it kind of has the same depressing effect on the stock.


COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and Robin, getting back to kind of what Commissioner Brown asked about, I was looking at your two charts, one, let's see, commercial landings seem to be farther south, Aransas, Corpus Christi and San Antonio bays, and the recreational's more north, Galveston Bay being the largest.

But we're not measuring, I mean, I don't know how to say this: When you come back to us, are we going to talk about those regional areas, maybe help me, if we're not, why not, I guess.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, you know, I think the problem as we discussed it is coast-wide and certainly any savings we can get from any portions of the coast would be useful to this fishery.

But certainly I understand what you're saying is that, the commercial impacts we might could regionally do something a little different for them in one location, and do something a little different for the rest.


MR. RIECHERS: I would suspect that our committees will want to strongly look at that, or our working groups would want to strongly look at those kinds of options, and certainly, you know, we're open to whatever good, palatable options that we can create that will turn this fishery around, you know, we're going to be looking at all those different options.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: But ‑‑ and I don't know where your baseline is, but have the fisheries dropped, then, pretty much, the whole Texas coast, no matter ‑‑ more commercial, less commercial, more recreational?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes. No, we're seeing the same abundance trends basically ‑‑ like I said, there's, you know, from year to year there's variation but overall the trend that we've seen is really coast-wide at this point in time.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Is that true of other states then also, that you visit with, as ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: I ‑‑ of course we have different fisheries independent ‑‑


MR. RIECHERS: — and we're very lucky in that we have a very good fisheries independent program, so we can't model that in other states as well as we can.

There's been some concern in Louisiana over their southern flounder stocks as well. Like I said, I can't model it exactly the same way, but they have taken some recent actions in recent years.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: So anecdotally, you're hearing that they're having some problems too ‑‑

MR. RIECHERS: Yes, yes.




COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How consistent is the water temperature throughout the coast?

MR. RIECHERS: It's certainly, as you move to South Texas, is warmer in the South Texas region as compared to the upper coast. And that's one of the things that, if we ‑‑ you know, we certainly recognize that fact, and in fact, I think when ‑‑ I may have put it in the fishing forecast with you the last meeting.

Last year in our bag seines in the lower Laguna Madre, I believe we didn't have any catch of flounder in that location last year. Now, that's ‑‑ we never caught a whole lot down there, so that's ‑‑ it's not totally abnormal that you wouldn't have any. But, you know, that certainly is part of the cause for concern.

But certainly as you move up the coast, the water becomes cooler, and so that may be what has actually happened, is it have kind of pulled its range back up into that Galveston-Sabine range where you're going to have those cooler water temperatures.


MR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman?


MR. SMITH: Robin, we've been monitoring water temperatures on the coast for about 30 years, haven't we? Throughout the entire coast?


MR. SMITH: Okay. All right. Just wanted folks to know we're paying attention to that pretty close.


COMMISSIONER HOLT: And recreationally, we still gig?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes. In the recreational fisheries, both hook and line as well as a gig fishery. Yes.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, well, we're looking forward to working with ‑‑ Commissioner Duggins?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You've got a chart on page 6 of the book that spawning stock biomass of female flounder, and it ends in '05. Do you have any idea where the line would be today?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, given what our fisheries independent information has done, and I apologize that is ‑‑ that was the last assessment that we did there as far as the VPA goes, but given what we've currently seen in our fisheries independent information and a further decline of that, that would have probably gone on downward in a further decline.

And of course, that's why we're here before you, so ‑‑

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But if that's true, I mean, how serious is the situation? I remember Larry McKinney, when we had the discussion on menhaden, saying we want to get the patient before it gets to the ER.

MR. RIECHERS: Well, and certainly it's serious, and that's why we're here. But I don't think ‑‑ I think we can put it in our normal regulatory framework and go through our normal processes, so that basically next September ‑‑ I'm sorry, not next September, a September from now, when we would go through our normal statewide hunting and fishing process, and that rule would take effect September 1, 2009, you know, we believe that will help this fishery.

I can say that some of the recent trends in the recreational ‑‑ you saw the one bag seine recruitment basically ticked up fairly rapidly there in 2007, or 2006, and we've seen that now in the fishery in 2007.

So, you know, there's even a little sign that maybe the environmental conditions got right and we had a little better recruitment than we have had in recent years; last year, or actually two years ago now.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, on the chart that's "Percent of Commercial Flounder Landings by Month," I don't think there's one on recreational by month, but would it mirror the commercial landings, which are heaviest in October, November and December?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes. I mean, basically that ‑‑ it may spread itself out a little bit more, but the real opportune time even in the recreational fishery is when they're escaping through those passes, and they're going from the bay to the Gulf. So it will mirror that very closely.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But you don't think we ‑‑ that any action should be taken now to reduce catches this fall?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly that's up to you all's purview, and we might have to ask Ann about what our possibilities are, in that respect. But, you know, our viewpoint is that, you know, we believe we can work within the statewide hunting and fishing process, and we can, you know, we can work with that and have that in effect by September 2009.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So to Commissioner Duggins' point, yet ‑‑ at this point we don't think we're at critical biomass? State of emergency, where we need to do something sooner?

MR. RIECHERS: No. We're certainly lower than we'd like to see it, but I don't think we're in a emergency state.


MR. RIECHERS: Okay. Commissioner Parker?

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Robin, do you have any feel of what commercial people are doing ‑‑ are they staying in business, are they getting out of the business? Do you have any feel like that?

MR. RIECHERS: When it comes to flounder, Commissioner Parker, I don't have a real good feel, though I believe that like most other commercial fisheries at this point in time given that they're fairly fuel-intensive now, the flounder fishery may be a little different than a shrimp fishery, for instance.

But certainly I believe that the overall pressure, the economics pressure they're facing, with imports of fish products on the price side of what they're receiving, and then the increase in overall operating costs with fuel and other inputs going up, I would suspect that, you know, we're seeing a downward trend and I think the buy back program and the number of licenses we bought back since the ‑‑ 1999, actually that buy back program actually didn't start taking effect until really the year 2000, you know, I would think we're seeing those pressures for those people to get out.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We're looking forward to the work of the committees, and I would just ask if we can better understand the regionalization, if we're not going to go that route, why. And I think that will help us understand the science a little bit more as we go forward as well.

And also, I think we need to make sure that we are sensitive to outdoor recreational opportunities, as always, and that we have a correlation, a known correlation between recreational outtake, and biomass or recruitment, before we ‑‑ you know, before we consider changing regs.

I'm sensitive to the concern about spawning stock biomass as well as recruitment, but I think we need to make sure that our regs ‑‑ before we start changing regs, that there is a tie to recreational off-take.

MR. RIECHERS: We'll certainly be prepared to present that at the next meeting.


Okay, Committee Item Number 5, Rule Amendment Regarding Additional Bycatch Reduction Devices for Shrimp Trawls. Robin.

MR. RIECHERS: For the record, again, my name is Robin Riechers of the Coastal Fisheries Division.

I'm here to basically present to you an action item that will adopt additions to the approved list of bycatch reduction devices.

National Marine Fisheries Service, otherwise known as NMFS, approved three new devices on March 14, 2008. This basically allows those devices to be in Gulf shrimp trawls.

We've had a previous list of approved devices and they basically are adding three to their list. If we approve this action through reference to theirs, it will allow use of those three new bycatch reduction devices in our state waters, which of course basically makes it a lot easier ‑‑ those boats, those Gulf boats, traverse from state to federal and back to state waters as they're doing their fishing, and that sort of basically allows someone to put the gear in place and leave it in place, instead of either confining them just to offshore out past nine nautical miles, or just inshore, near shore, inside the nine nautical miles.

Since the time that the book was published, we've had an additional person weigh in, in agreement to this, and one additional in disagreement so that brings the total to seven in agreement and one in disagreement, and the disagreement I could not really ferret out why they were in disagreement based on their comment.

So with that, that leaves us with that public comment, and that concludes my presentation, and I'd be happy to answer any questions regarding this.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions? Pretty straightforward.

Thank you, and thanks for all your hard work, Robin. Appreciate it.

MR. RIECHERS: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No further questions or discussion I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Committee Item Number 6, 2008-2009 Migratory Game Bird Proclamation. Vernon.

MR. BEVILL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, Regulations Committee and ‑‑

We're here to talk a little bit about migratory birds. And this is a kind of the culmination meeting for setting all the final migratory bird regulations for the year. But let's take a little quick recap and touch on what Director Smith mentioned earlier.

On June 27th, we proposed changes to the migratory bird regulations, and Chapter 65, there are a number of sections that have to be open and dealt with during this period of time, so we published those in the Texas Register.

Among those, we dealt with the early season regulations, and particularly the one that was the most commented on was the dove seasons. And this is the first time, although gas prices have been creeping up every year, this is the first time there was a lot of noise in the public comment about connecting traveling to and from hunting areas, and the issue of gasoline to the dove hunting.

Partly because Saturday, September 20th fell ‑‑ creates a two-day weekend opportunity in the special ‑‑ in the south zone, whereas normally we open it on the Friday after September 20th, again, unless the 20th is a Saturday.

So we learned something there this time, and we learned something on some of these other issues that we feel like it's appropriate now to go back out with a significant instrument of evaluation, and look at what these noise factors really mean when you spread them out to the broad population of dove hunters.

And we intend to do that this fall and winter, and come back to you along the way reporting on what we are learning from that.

We're hearing a little bit about whether or not it's appropriate to seek a Friday opening date for the dove season in all the zones.

I have already worked with Fish and Wildlife Service for the south zone to establish an opportunity to open it on the Friday nearest September 20th, but not earlier than September 17th, which gives us an opportunity when the 20th hits on a Saturday or Sunday or Monday, to have that flexibility to open it a little earlier; this is new for us, and we'll have to work that through the Flyway Council and Fish and Wildlife Service in the coming year, and hopefully have that in place.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, not for this year ‑‑

MR. BEVILL: Not for this year. Not for this year. And although the one component of this year's regulations, which was the ‑‑ moving that week from the end of the first split to the end of the second split, was the one we were really looking at, because our survey in 2000-2001 indicated in the south zone there, significant interest in that late season opportunity.

And we did confirm through our public comment that there still is significant interest in that, but given we saw several little interactions here with the comment, we opted not to implement that this time, but to incorporate that into the survey instrument, and kind of get a broader-brush look at these issues, and see how they mix and match and make sense.

And we will be coming back to you in November and January and March reporting on the progress of this, and what we think it means in terms of needs for some consideration for change.

So with that said, on July 29th, the early season regulations were adopted by executive order, and now we're here today to present to you the late season regulations, and talk about ‑‑ a little bit about the public comment on the late season regulations.

Basically we're looking at another liberal season for waterfowl. We're at the third year of our Hunter's Choice Bag Test, and this is the final year. Next year will be an evaluation year of all the data that we've got, and we will go back to probably the Basic Regulation Package at that time, while those ‑‑ they are being evaluated.

We are making some minor tweaks in the goose season in the western goose zone, as well as the crane season, and I will talk to you about that in more detail when I get to that point.

So for the High Plain Mallard Management Unit, which is from Del Rio all the way to the Canadian border, the western half of the central flyway, we get 23 extra days of waterfowl-hunting opportunity, duck-hunting opportunity. So this year we'll have a 91-day duck season.

We'll start out with the youth season on October 18th and 19th, we'll come back that following weekend with a two-day split if you will, which is something we've done every year; we have to ‑‑ for that High Plain Mallard Management Unit to gain extra days, we have to set most of our days after a certain date in the calendar. So we'll come back on the 31st of October and run straight through to the end of the framework, the 25th of January.

And the north and south goose zones, because we have this liberal hunting opportunity we have been setting the seasons similar in both zones. If we ever go back to a more conservative set of regulations, that's when the zones come into play to set the optimal seasons within a shorter waterfowl season within each zone.

So we're looking again at November 1st to November 30th for the first split in the duck season, come back on the 13th of December and reopen and run to the end of the framework, which is Sunday the 25th.

Bag limits: because of the Hunter's Choice experiment, stay exactly the same as they have. We are the only flyway that is getting the opportunity to hunt canvasbacks this season; otherwise, the canvasback season is closed. We had strong support from three other flyways to allow us to finish our season without any regulatory changes.

And so we appreciated the support of the other flyways to help us convince the Service to maintain our stabilized regs, and that also included not changing our Scaup Regulations. We're again ‑‑ our Scaup Regulations otherwise went to a more conservative package, but we still have two a day.

So we have the five-bird bag with the species restrictions, and the Hunter's Choice that we've discussed before, and you can see in your information, and otherwise unchanged.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is it just because our flyway's become more stable, I mean, what ‑‑

MR. BEVILL: Say this again, sir?

COMMISSIONER HOLT: What I'm trying to understand, why the other flyways would be so supportive of us sticking with these regs. Is it ‑‑ go ahead.

MR. BEVILL: Good question. The canvasback population dropped below 500,000, just below 500,000 this year; they have a harvest model that looks at what the allowable harvest is when ‑‑ at different population levels.

At below 500,000 the allowable harvest was about 24,000 and change in canvasbacks nationwide. Under Hunter's Choice, we, the central flyway has been harvesting about 15,000 canvasbacks. So you don't have a 10,000 more canvasbacks in the allowable harvest.

So, otherwise the Service would have closed the canvasback season nationwide, except that because the Hunter's Choice option may have a fruitful future for all flyways, the other three flyways have been very supportive of us completing this experiment unchanged and uninterrupted so that we have that data to look at, and see what the merit of the Hunter's Choice Bag turns out to be, in all flyways.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: And when is Hunter's Choice experiment up, I mean, is there a year that it ends and then we measure?

MR. BEVILL: I'm having trouble hearing you ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, I'm sorry ‑‑ the Hunter's Choice is ‑‑ maybe I have lost track of it. Is it going to go so many years and then it's going to be measured?

MR. BEVILL: Yes ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: In other words, other flyways are not doing it, we are doing it.

MR. BEVILL: — yes. We're the only flyway doing it. It's a three-year bag experiment ‑‑


MR. BEVILL: — and this is the end of that three-year cycle, so ‑‑


MR. BEVILL: — we'll finish it this year, evaluate it through next year ‑‑ part of that evaluation is a big survey of our waterfowl hunters in the central flyway, to get their feedback on whether they liked it or didn't like it.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So it's ‑‑ yes. Okay.


COMMISSIONER HOLT: So that will go on this year in our flyway?


COMMISSIONER HOLT: And then we'll have some measurements?



MR. BEVILL: Well, I think I jumped ahead, here.

The western goose zone, the western goose zone will open on the ‑‑ for light geese and dark geese, on November 8th and run through February 8th; and we have a full Canada goose bag limit, one white-front bag limit with a possession limit of twice the daily bag.

And then of course light geese, we have a 20-bird bag no possession limit; that's part of the issue of the overpopulation of light geese.

The eastern goose zone, again will run from ‑‑ it runs similar to the waterfowl season; it will run November 1 through January 25th, all three of the goose seasons will open on November 1st with the exception that the white-front season is a 72-day season with a two-bird bag; that means it has to close on January 11th.

So that is the only one of the goose seasons in the eastern goose zone that doesn't mirror the duck season. And you can see the bag limits in your packets, there.

For the falconry season, the High Plain Mallard Management Unit, the waterfowl, the regular gun waterfowl season uses up all 107 days with the teal season and the regular duck season, so there's no extended season for falconry.

We don't use up all the 107 days available in the north and south waterfowl zone, so we have a little bit of a falconry season from the 26th of January until February 9th, three-bird daily bag.

Sandhill crane, we have three zones of sandhill cranes, and that's primarily because of the migration of whoopers. And we allow the fly-through in Zones B and C for whoopers to get to Aransas.

We have a ‑‑ sandhill crane season in the western ‑‑ in Zone A that mirrors the other waterfowl season, so that for the first time, I think in a number of years, we'll have crane season and our goose seasons all running concurrently with each other, and that will improve hunter opportunity in Zone A. And again, in Zone B and C, we've configured those dates to allow the fly-through of whoopers to Aransas.

We are still in the Light Goose Conservation Order, the western goose zone; the day after the goose season closes on February 8th, we open the Conservation Order on February 9th, and it runs to March 29th. The same is true for the eastern goose zone, we open it up the day after the regular goose season closes, and run it to March 29th.

Understanding that most of the Conservation Order opportunity is in the first three weeks of that season, because we are getting in that migration shuffle in February, where we start moving north again.

We've had public comment that was very supportive this year of all of our proposals. For the duck seasons, we had 118 supported, 32 in opposition to one or more components of the proposal. Geese, we had a 99-31 split, sandhill cranes, 44 and 10.

And that concludes my presentation and request to move this to the agenda for tomorrow, and I'll be glad to answer any questions.


Any questions? John.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Mr. Bevill, looking back at the duck information page, from what I'm reading we can take five greenheads?

MR. BEVILL: We have a ‑‑ yes, sir. We have a ‑‑ we can take five mallards in our flyway.


MR. BEVILL: If they're Greenheads. The mallard hen is part of the aggregate bag of the Hunter's Choice Bag; and that mallard hen is in the Hunter's Choice Bag to buffer the other birds, the other less-abundant birds in there, like pintail and canvasback, and mottled ducks. So we can only take one mallard hen in our bag, but we can take five greenhead.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. But either bag, you can't take ‑‑ can you take one mallard hen and five Greenheads, or one mallard hen and four ‑‑

MR. BEVILL: We have a total bag of five ducks.

COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. So it's one an four.

MR. BEVILL: Yes, sir.


MR. BEVILL: Any other questions?

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is there any reason to differentiate between the north zone and the south zone in your consideration of adjusting the opening day to help folks out on travel costs?

I mean, this year, for example, September 1 falls on a Monday, and people lose the benefit of a whole Labor Day weekend, and I just wondered, if you're going to have these ongoing discussions with US F&W about adjusting it for the south zone, is there a reason not to consider the same logic for the north zone?

MR. BEVILL: Well, that's something we control, and the thing we didn't control is the opening day of the south zone.


MR. BEVILL: That's set in federal regulation, and so for us to get any flexibility on the south zone opener, we have to change the regulation. Otherwise you could start hunting migratory birds on September 1st, and so we traditionally, and I think this is ‑‑ this goes back to 1918 when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed; Texas has been opening dove season on September 1st.

So it would be a major, major decision to change that opening date.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But my question is, is it treaty, or is it US F&W regulation, that precludes opening the season prior to September 1?

MR. BEVILL: Treaty.


MR. BEVILL: Treaty.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Your question is also, could we consider, instead of opening it on a Monday, the following weekend and tacking it onto the back. Right?

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, actually, no. I was more focused on ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: He meant it the other way ‑‑


(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Because so many people say ‑‑

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, we can't move it ‑‑

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — we can't, yes.

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Another question regarding that. When does the white wing season in Mexico begin?

MR. BEVILL: Commissioner Bivins, off the top of my head, I don't know, but it can't begin before September 1st, if I'm remembering correctly.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Because it's my recollection that they allow some type of dove shooting in Mexico prior to September 1st.

MR. BEVILL: Now, they may. I would have to go back and look at their regulations specifically to see, if they allow it in mid-August, or I don't know whether Pete Flores may have a feel for that or not, or ‑‑

VOICE: August 1st.

MR. BEVILL: Mike and his tribe may know that.


MR. BERGER: Yes. For the record, I'm Mike Berger, Director of the Wildlife Division. I think you are correct, they start in Mexico many ‑‑ I think in the middle of August, sometime. I don't know when that is. But it's my understanding that we have a number of these treaties, we have a treaty with Canada, we have a different treaty with Mexico, and I think our September 1st start date is with the treaty with Canada; and that the treaty with Mexico does not have that start date.

But we are ‑‑ but we in the United States are tied to the September 1st opening date for migratory birds because of the treaty with Canada. But since that date is not in the Mexican treaty, the Mexicans can start earlier.

COMMISSIONER BIVINS: We need to renegotiate our treaty.

MR. BERGER: We also have a treaty with ‑‑

COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, we'll turn that over to you ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

MR. BERGER: We also have a migratory bird treaties with Japan and the Soviet Union, so ‑‑


MR. BERGER: — for different reasons.

MR. BEVILL: And just to give you a quickie on why there's not any interest at the U.S. level in going back to that treaty and trying to get flexibility: Every time the ‑‑ September 1st falls on Labor Day, we always get a little noise about opening, and why can't you open it on the 30th.

But when you go into a treaty negotiation, that is a State Department endeavor; they lead it. And with the Department of Interior being associated with it, and then members from each of the flyways being participants on that team.

And you may go in with something real simple, like opening on Saturday the 30th, and then these other countries have their issues, that they want to deal with, and all of a sudden you don't get your Saturday the 30th, but you get steamrolled on some other things, and it's a long, arduous process, that was last pursued in the '90s on some little changes.

And I knew some of the guys that were involved in that, and they said, "Never again do we want to do this."


MR. BEVILL: So that's just a ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)



COMMISSIONER HIXON: Just quickly because I haven't read it: Do the bag limits and the Conservation Order for these light geese, is it making any appreciable difference in the breeding grounds, that we know of?

MR. BEVILL: Yes and no. Yes and no. We are dealing with the species and the snow geese, and Ross's geese to some extent, that have become exceedingly adaptable. And so I think the answer is, we are harvesting more light geese than we've ever harvested; we've slowed the population growth, and probably some of the population growth that is tied to certain breeding areas has actually declined.

But they keep pioneering into new breeding grounds, and it's those new breeding grounds and where those birds migrate to that's still part of that population growth. So we've only been partially successful.


COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?

(No response.)

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, so as a quick recap on what Mr. Smith said about dove, so we're going through an expanded scoping process to look at doves statewide, for the next regulatory cycle. Correct?


COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Great, thank you.

MR. BEVILL: And then of course tomorrow I will only be speaking to the late season regulations that are to be adopted.



MR. BEVILL: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay, no further questions or discussion I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Item Number 7, Commercial Nongame Regulations. Dr. Matt Wagner.

DR. WAGNER: Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Matt Wagner, I'm Program Director for Wildlife Diversity.

We're coming to you this morning with some relatively minor changes to our Commercial Nongame Permit Program.

In March, staff received permission to publish the following changes to our Commercial Nongame regs, and there are three:

First, to extend the grandfather period for possession of prohibited nongame for non-commercial use to November 2010. And this is for people that had nongame in possession before we put our new rules in place in October.

So we want to extend that grandfather period to get more information from those that are currently possessing nongame for non-commercial use.

Secondly, we want to allow for the possession and captive breeding of prohibited nongame from out-of-state sources, for those that are importing into Texas prohibited nongame, we want to allow for the captive breeding of those animals.

And lastly, we want to remove three species from our prohibited list, these were erroneously put on the list: corn snake, house mouse, and rough-footed mud turtle. These species are either non-native or protected under other rules, such as the mud turtle, which is a threatened species in Texas.

We had 12 public comments, eight were in support and four were in opposition. The main objections were that the species in general that are on the prohibited list, there's over 180 species on that list, folks didn't agree with that list; they wanted to commercialize some of those animals.

The regulations were not strict enough in some cases, there was no need to extend the grandfather period, and then clarification on some sub-species, that these rules cover.

So our recommendation tomorrow will be to adopt the amendments that we just discussed. So if there are any questions, be happy to try to answer them.


COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, Matt, now we do have to ask you a question ‑‑

(Simultaneous discussion.)

COMMISSIONER HOLT: — you said it was a non-native species, the house mouse.

DR. WAGNER: Right, yes.

COMMISSIONER HOLT: You knew you were going to get this question.


DR. WAGNER: You know, there are so many non-native animals in our environment today. House mouse can be very common throughout the state, when we don't have the authority and we don't regulate non-natives, no matter if it's a mouse or something else. So in this case, there's just no need to prohibit the commercialization of those animals.

They're being used in all kinds of lab experiments and whatnot. So ‑‑



(No response.)


All right, no further questions or discussion, I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

And Mr. Chairman, we've concluded our business.

(Whereupon, the committee meeting was concluded.)


MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
DATE: August 20, 2008

I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 53, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Leslie Berridge before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

(Transcriber) (Date)
On the Record Reporting
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731