Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
March 25, 2009Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 25th day of March, 2009, 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 (Absent)
- Ralph H. Duggins, Fort Worth, Texas
- Antonio Falcon, MD, Rio Grande City, Texas
- Karen J. Hixon, San Antonio, Texas
- Margaret Martin, Boerne, 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 HOLT: This meeting is called to order. Where's my gavel? Boom. Before proceeding with any business, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.
MR. SMITH: I do. Thank you, Mr. 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 record of this meeting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Thank you, Mr. Smith. We'll begin with the regs, Regulation Committee.
Commissioner Friedkin, please call your committee to order.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. We'll convene the Regulations Committee. The first order of business is approval of the previous committee meeting minutes.
Do we have a motion for approval?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So move.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Commissioner Bivins, second by Duggins. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any opposed?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries.
Committee Item Number 1, update on Parks and Wildlife progress in implementing the Parks and Wildlife land and water resources conversation and recreation plan.
MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a couple of things I want to mention to all of you. I want to remind you that on the 9th of April we have the official groundbreaking for the new game warden training center there in Hamilton County, and so I hope all of you have that on your calendars. It's going to be a big day for us. I'm very proud of the cadet class that's going through that right now. I think where once there were 55 cadets, we're now down to 50, so the survival of the fittest is working well there.
And we are also taking applications for the next class which will start in November. So those of you who know qualified applicants, make sure that they get their applications in to us. I think they have until the 30th of April to do so. We're excited about that.
Also, I think all of you are very familiar with the successful crab trap removal program we have out in the bays and estuaries on the coast. Since its inception have removed about 25,000 of those ghost traps out in the bays and estuaries, catches a lot of non-target and bycatch species. We have tremendous volunteer efforts that help support that, a lot of fishing guides, a lot of coast enthusiasts work with our fisheries biologists and fisheries managers on the coasts, and finished that up in May and the coastal fisheries team did a great job on that program.
So, Mr. Chairman, I'll turn it back over to you. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you. Thanks, Carter.
Committee Item 2, potential changes to the migratory game bird proclamation.
Dave Morrison and Corey, please?
MR. SMITH: Clayton too, the schedule looks —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And Clayton.
I was going to say, You don't look like Dave.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, my name is Clayton Wolf. Yes, it's a surprise here.
Up here with me is Dave Morrison —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Deer?
MR. WOLF: I'm here in a little different capacity this morning. Other than big game issues — in our interim here, Clay Brewer, as the acting Division Director, has assigned a couple of us different projects to work on, and one of mine is the regulations process for the Wildlife Division.
And so in addition to our resident species out here, recently have been immersed in our migratory regulations and was asked to be part of this presentation to talk to you about the regulations process for migratory birds because it is a bit more complex than we deal with on our resident species. And then, of course, Dave and Corey both will be here to provide the briefing items, as well as the proposals, and talk about the technical aspects.
The management of migratory birds is an international effort and a national effort. We have treaties with several other countries for the management of birds, and it's probably quite apparent that this is necessary for effective management because these are shared resources. These migratory species can breed in winter in different states and in different countries, and so without a coordinated effort, manage of them would be futile.
And so in the United States, the management of migratory birds is in accordance with federal law. Now the states, such as Texas, have input into this process, but ultimately the Fish and Wildlife Service makes the final decision. And I do need to add that the states can adopt regulations that are more restrictive, but we cannot adopt regulations that are more liberal than the federal frameworks. And so what I'm going to attempt to do is take this process and display it to you, hopefully so that there's a little — there's some understanding.
There are two time frames when we talk about migratory bird regulation proposals in the Fish and Wildlife process. There's the early season process, which deals with dove, teal, rail, gallinule; and then late season framework, which is our ducks, geese and cranes. Now the one thing I'm going to do this morning is I'm going to reverse the order. We're going to talk about late season first. The reason we're going to talk about late season first is it's simply a briefing. We're not asking for any permission to publish, any action, it's just kind of a preview. It's going to be similar to our November meeting when we present the statewide hunting and fishing proclamation to you.
I'm also going to talk about several bodies that are involved in this decision-making, or that are either advisory bodies or decision-making bodies in this process. We have Flyway Technical Committees, and actually Dave Morrison and Corey Mason are on these technical committees. In fact, I learned just yesterday that Dave is also the consultant to the Flyway Council.
The Flyway Council — of course, we're in the central flyaway, and the Flyway Council is made up of members from all 10 states, and Vernon Bevill, our Small Game and Habitat Assessment Program Director, is on this Flyway Council, and so the Technical Committee takes the technical information and then through a consultant, in this case Dave Morrison, he takes that information to the Flyway Council and the Council deliberates these recommendations.
And then the Council actually has two consultants. And, in fact, Vernon Bevill is one of those consultants for the Central Flyway Council, and they make recommendations to the Service Regulations Committee. The Service Regulations Committee is the body that makes the decision within the Fish and Wildlife Service. Obviously they still have to pass that up through the chain of command ultimately for proposal in the Federal Register, and adoption.
But we use the decision the Service Regulations Committee makes as kind of our start gun to say, This is what we're going — this is what we know is going to happen. And then, of course, this Commission then makes decisions based — to adopt state rules that are consistent or more restrictive than the federal frameworks.
So I'm going to try to display this to you on a timeline. You have a timeline there before you, and if you'll focus your attention there on the far left first, in January the Service Regulations Committee gets together, and that's when they offer up the first preview of what they think the federal frameworks will look like. And once that takes place, then there are a couple of meetings that will take place between the Technical Committees and the Flyway Councils.
They'll deliberate, they'll think about options, give some feedback, and then ultimately, when this is said and done, they'll give recommendations to the Service Regulations Committee. And if you'll note there on the timeline, the last item that I've shown is in late July, that's when the Service Regulations Committee makes that decision that is critical for us. That's the start gun for us to know what we would propose to go forward with.
We've got a couple of other items, if we look on the bottom side of the timeline. These are things in Texas going on, and we know that hunting season, the Youth Waterfowl Season, begins in late October in most years, and so we've got to be cognizant of the fact that we've got to get to the Register with proposals, and we also have publications we put together, our Late Season Migratory Hunting Digest. And so we do have some deadlines there.
Now fortunately for us, if you'll notice, sandwiched right in the middle is August, and that's when we have a Commission meeting. So this process, we're able to use something somewhat similar to our statewide hunting and fishing process where we have a briefing, then we come back again in May, and then finally in August with an adoption. And that's what Dave is going to talk to you about this morning, is he's going to simply give you a briefing, we'll come back in May with permission to publish, and we'll have some more information on feedback from some of our constituents. And then in August we'll ask this Commission to adopt this.
And I'll stop with that right now and cover the early season process later, and turn it over to Dave to cover the briefing items.
MR. MORRISON: Thank you, Clayton.
My name is Dave Morrison. I am the Waterfowl Program Leader for the Wildlife Division. As Clayton mentioned, we will not be bringing any proposals at this time, but we will bring them in May. But we felt this would be a good time to talk to you about some of the changes that we think could be coming and some of the things that we're considering.
First of all, the season date adjustments for the coming year. Another thing that we're going to discuss hopefully in May will be a return to the standard bag limit with species and sex restrictions. Also, we'll spend just a minute or two talking about an issue that we're dealing with respect to declines in white goose numbers.
This calendar depicts what we're going to — what we're considering at this time. Typically what we do is we come before you in May and we will present to you season dates based on a liberal package. But that liberal package we won't know for certain until July whether or not — how we're going to deal with that because we've got to wait on the biological information.
What we'll do, we'll come to you with season dates that are basically calendar adjustments from last year. That's what we've done in the past. This year will be no different. But the calendar adjustment this year is a little bit different, simply because the framework allows for 74 days and an ending date of January 31st. What you see before you, January 31st is the last Sunday in January, but we're going to consider coming forward with a proposal that would end on January 24th.
There's a couple of reasons for this. One is biological. There's a lot of us that believe that running this season that late into January is not necessarily good for the resource. And Texas has not had a season, a duck season, that ran till January 31st since 1930. There's a second reason for that. This Commission has shown some concern in the past with respect to the deer and the waterfowl youth hunts occurring on the same weekend. If we consider a season similar to this, then the deer youth and waterfowl season would not occur on the same weekend.
But I should warn you that there's going to be some people that are going to look at this and say, we really want to go to the end of the framework. So that's the reason why this calendar adjustment is going to be a little bit different than in past years.
One of the big changes is going to be changes in the duck bag limit. We're very — we're almost certain that we may be coming out of the hunter's choice and going back to — return to the standard bag limit of species and sex restrictions. Texas has been involved in the hunter's choice experiment for the last three years, and the bag limit that we've had during that time is shown on your screen.
Many of you may remember that in the early 2000s, as recently as 2005 season, we had partially closed, or season within seasons, even closed season on certain species that may not be able to meet the harvest as required under certain management plans. As a result, the Fish and Wildlife Service imposed more restrictive seasons. For example, pintails had a season in season in 2005 of a 39-day season.
Central Flyway came up with an alternative to that, the alternative being hunter's choice in an attempt to use the aggregate back. That's the important piece of hunter's choice, the one mallard hen, or one pintail, or one canvas, or one mottled duck, using those species to buffer against each other and hopefully have a harvest that was at least similar to a season within season, but certainly less than a full length season.
Last year was the end of that study. The information is going to be analyzed this coming year. At the next regulatory cycle we will present the results of that study to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and at that time we'll determine if hunter's choice is an alternative to season within seasons.
Hunter's choice is not completely dead for this year. But the fate of hunter's choice will not be known until the July meeting, July SRC meeting. If hunter's choice is not provided as an option, then we would return to the conventional bag limit of six ducks per day with the various species and sex restrictions.
I should caution though that any time you have a conventional bag, there's always the possibility of a season within season. For example, if canvasback numbers come in and said that we can only have a 39-day season, those dates that are darkened would be when the canvasback season would be closed. And canvasback can only be part of your daily bag limit in the last 39 days. So it's a little bit trickier when you're dealing with conventional bags.
Another thing I want to talk to you is what — we have been in discussions among staff about concerns that we have with respect to white goose numbers. White goose numbers continue to be a continental concern and their numbers are still at or above and are considered over-abundant. Habitat destruction is continuing in the Arctic breeding grounds. Not only are snow goose suffering from this over-abundance problem, but those other Arctic nesters that share this breeding ground are also having some problems. This slide depicts what the population of one breeding colony at Karrak Lake near Queen Maud Gulf has done from 1993 through 2007. It shows all this exponential growth.
Even though continental populations of white geese are at or near record levels, the numbers in Texas have seen pretty good declines since the advent of more liberal hunting regulations. During the course of the coming year we are going to look at various aspects of a white goose season structure, whether it be the bag limit, whether it be the seasonal link, even the conservation order, because right now we don't know what the best approach is.
But we're going to talk among staff, we'll try to get our hunters involved, and before we make any substantial changes in the goose regulations, we're going to talk to these people and try to come, not this year, but next year with something to address this decline in white goose numbers in Texas.
With that I'll end it and take any questions you may have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So at this point we don't know that that's necessarily hunting related?
MR. MORRISON: The reasons for the decline are really very — I mean you look at what's going on in Arkansas and Kansas, Kansas had 400,000 birds this year. Typically Texas would winter anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the white geese in the Central Flyway; now we're down to about 41 percent.
But continental populations have not declined, it's just this Texas portion, that for some reason birds aren't getting to Texas, and we're trying to figure out a way, how do we at least keep those birds here in Texas longer and provide maximum opportunity. We're not suggesting that we're trying to back away from harvest, simply because they're continues to be a continental population, we're just looking at how do we restructure this thing to provide the best possible opportunities.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But is the decline in Texas only, or is it within the entire Central Flyway?
MR. MORRISON: Basically within Texas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Can you give us some reasons, or some thoughts or —
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLTT: — either anecdotal or scientific?
MR. MORRISON: Well, there's a lot of things. If you see that timeline there, that when we went to a more liberalized season in 1999. There was no other state in the United States better prepared to implement the Light Goose Conservation Order and liberalized bags, because we had goose hunters, we had people who knew what they were doing, they had the gear, and we had the geese, and we dropped the hammer on them.
White geese are very adaptable. Guess what? They're going to find other places to go. If I'm going to get shot here, I'm going to go someplace else. And there's some of that going on. You look at what's going on up and down the Flyway. There's lots of groceries north of Texas, so they stop off in Kansas and say, Hey, look, I've got all this corn; I've got water. Why do I want to fly that extra 8- or 900 miles and get shot?
MR. MORRISON: I mean I'm not trying to oversimplify this, but they are a very adaptable species. You see stuff going on even in the Arctic where they're changing their historical migration patterns due to pressure, finding food sources over here. Okay. I'm going to go over here. You take a look at the Mississippi Flyway. Mississippi Flyway has seen huge increases in their mid-winter index.
So Texas is the one that has really taken it on the chin, particularly when consider that continental populations are very high, they're still at near record levels, they're just not getting here. When you look at Texas at one time wintered 90 percent of the white geese in the state of — were in the State of Texas, compared to all those Central Flyway states.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They were literally all coming to Texas.
MR. MORRISON: Literally all. And now we've got about 40 percent —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. MORRISON: — of the Central Flyway. There's —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are the other states doing as much as we are relative to — you said dropping the hammer on them and just 20 bag limit and those kinds of things, were they doing that much or not?
MR. MORRISON: Well, I'll use Kansas again as an example. They had 350- to 400,000 birds in their state, they killed 15,000. They're not putting pressure on their birds like we do. We have a mid-winter estimate of around 350-, 400,000 last — year before last, and we shot about 250,000 birds. Now that's a direct relationship — I understand, that's just the indices compared to population estimates. But the decline, you can see the decline, what's going on. Now, understand that the intent was to cause birds to go down. That was the intent of the expanded and liberal seasons. But the continental population has not gone down. It's simply a Texas problem.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So then once they go back north, your counts up there — let's go back, I guess that's what you were showing in the previous slide.
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right. Let's go back to the previous slide.
MR. MORRISON: This is one breeding population —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. MORRISON: — only in a localized area.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I know, in one location. But it — okay, if snow geese dropped —
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — really dramatically, and your Ross geese went up —
MR. MORRISON: If I could point out —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, go ahead —
MR. MORRISON: — that snow goose drop —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — walk me through this chart here.
MR. MORRISON: Okay. That snow goose drop, yes, it was a decline, but a lot of this stuff you've got to understand what's going on. At that particular year we had a very light ice out, and typically when you have a light ice out, your breeding numbers aren't there because they said, Okay, we're not going to breed. They'll go someplace else and only the really strong breeders will stay there. So some of these drops are tied to timing of nesting initiation.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So what is — if we're the only state that's really having an impact through late season harvest, I mean are we able to try to work with surrounding states to ask them to implement the same procedures because if they're just going to move elsewhere, then this is not having the desired effect.
MR. MORRISON: Well, I think that it's not so much late-season harvest as it is —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Hunting season?
MR. MORRISON: Well, let me just preface it this way. We do not want to back off on harvest. What we want to do is keep birds in Texas. All right. There's a couple of things that could do that. You could reduce hunting pressure on a given day. Now then, to reduce hunting pressure, it requires some pretty drastic steps to get people out of the fields so these birds hang around. The longer these birds hang around, the more likely they are to say, Hey, this is a pretty good place, we're going to stay here, we go back north we're going to bring our kids back down here. And that's how you keep this number staying in Texas.
So one way to address it is a daily pressure. You can look at season length. I'm not sure what season length will do, simply because by the time the conservation order starts, those birds are already headed north. So we're going to investigate all these during the course of the coming year and try to come up with the best answer that we can.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, Carter and I were just talking about the rice production being down and that doesn't necessarily —
MR. MORRISON: I do have a —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — that's the kind of things you're going to look at?
MR. MORRISON: Yes, sir. We do have a presentation. I got a whole presentation. Just so you're aware, we had our Flyway Technical Committee in Corpus back in March. We had two of the world's leading experts on snow goose research at our Flyway meeting. We went ahead and had a public seminar so those people come down. Rocky Rockwell talked about habitat destruction, Ray Alisaskas talked about population, and I showed them what's going on in Texas. And so it was a good opportunity to float some of these things out there so people were aware.
Needless to say that I have got lots of emails on this subject, and — but we are going to look at it, because there's a lot of different ways to go. But what I don't want to do is I don't want to implement something that is destined to fail because then we didn't do anything. So we want to take a very careful look at this before we come to you guys with any proposals that'll make substantial changes to the white goose hunting seasons.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Are there late season questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I've got one just in terms of process. So we have a gap here till May. So we won't really have a better sense of where we might be going with late season —
MR. MORRISON: Honestly, no, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — until May.
MR. MORRISON: No, sir. We will — what — in May we may have some better ideas what habitat conditions look like, because they will start doing their breeding surveys and their pond counts. The Commission meeting, I'm not sure, is it late May, that we my have some preliminary information coming out of the breeding grounds, what ponds look like, and we may be able to narrow it down. Yes, we're pretty — 90 percent sure that we're going to have a liberal season.
With respect to bag limits, we thought hunter's choice was dead, honestly, but some discussions that occurred at the National Flyway Council at the North American last week kind of indicate, well, the Service, because there was so much support — you know, a survey that Central Flyway did, a human dimension survey, there's a tremendous amount of support for the hunter's choice that serves — hey, you know, maybe we're not going to say it's completely dead just yet. But I think that a lot of stars have to line to give us that season again.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I'd like to call up Corey Mason.
Once again for the record, I'm Clayton Wolf, and now I'd like to talk about the early season proposals. Up here with me is Corey Mason, who's our Webless Migratory Program Leader, and he will cover all the proposals and the technical aspects of this presentation. Once again, I'm going to look and show you this timeline here, and the timeline is a bit different.
And I'd also like to add that I do have copies of these timeline slides, and also one that's a little bit more — has more detail on it that I've given to Carole Hemby, so anybody that's interested in a hard copy of these that they want to take with them, because some of this information —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: It's this whole presentation?
MR. WOLF: We can give you the whole presentation, but —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: How about —
MR. WOLF: — she has just three slides right now.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I'd like to get the whole thing if I could.
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir, we can do that.
On this process, some of the same items, same meetings begin. We have the Service Regulations Committee, it's the same Committee meeting in January, and then our Technical Committee's relative to the early season regulations take place in February and March. And as you might — you just heard Dave say, the Flyway Council met last week at the North American, and Vernon Bevill and his counterparts got a little bit better information about what we might anticipate for the future.
The difference on the early season process is that the decision that the Service Regulations Committee makes is made in late June this year. So it's not in July, it's bumped up. And in Texas we know that dove season begins around the first of September. So what we're not afforded in Texas at this time is the opportunity for an August adoption, for a look at this in August. So because of the cycle that the feds have for this early season process, things are pushed up a bit.
We also typically — I mean late June is the very latest that we would do our final edits on our outdoor annual, and we like to get our early season regulations in our outdoor annual. So you can see we're looking at a real tight deadline there from when the Service Regulation Committee meets to getting something in print for our hunters to see.
And of course we have March and May Commission meetings. And so Corey this morning is going to give you a presentation on proposals, and we'll come back in May. However, the Service Regulations Committee won't meet till June. And so when we come back in May, it'll be another briefing. We may have some more refined information, maybe higher probabilities about what is going to occur, but the significant difference is that state statutes and Texas regulations, Texas Administrative Code regulations, allow for the Executive Director to adopt these regulations because of this unique circumstance with migratory bird regulations.
Mr. Smith, of course, has to do that in consultation with the Chairman. So in the ideal world, when we give the briefing, the final briefing in May, there won't be any changes. It'll be pretty much rubber stamped and Mr. Smith will consult with the Chairman, and we'll go along, but there is a possibility that there could be changes and that consultation would have to take place, and hopefully, if we have all our information, we have discussed those other potentials before you.
So with that I will turn it over to Corey to present the early season proposals.
MR. MASON: Good morning. For the record I'm Corey Mason, Webless Migratory Game Bird Program Leader, and I'm going to address early season proposals.
The first proposal I would like to bring to you relates to waterfowl related, it's related to our September teal season. Basically the Fish and Wildlife Service has the opportunity to — the option to bring forward three packages to us: the first being a 16-day season, which — and the second being a nine-day season, the third is the potential always of a closed season.
Now these season packages are based on breeding population numbers, so based on triggers, certain triggers. So if a breeding population number is above 4.7 million, it results in a 16-day season. A 3.2 to 4.7 million it's a nine-day season, and if it falls below that 3.2 million trigger, there's always an option out there, it's not likely, but a closed season.
It's been Commission policy that if there's 16-day season, that we run it the last two weeks of September with the last three weekends. If it's a nine-day season, we run it the last full week with two weekends. Just to kind of illustrate that here, this is the option — what a nine-day option would look like, that last week with two weekends, and the 16-day option is those two full weeks and three weekends. Now, once again, this is not something that — we will not know definitively where we stand until after these breeding population estimates have been delivered from the Service, and we won't know until that SRC meeting that Clayton mentioned in June.
Now related to other species, a proposal related to rail, gallinule, snipe, and woodcock. These are basically no changes from last year, just calendar date adjustments. You'll notice that rail and gallinule seasons we've attempted concurrently with the early September season. Once again, we don't know exactly where that's going to fall yet. There's possibly some latitude there to adjust accordingly so that we're running it concurrently with those early season hunts. But you'll see September 12th through the 27th was — once again, is just a calendar adjustment.
Related to woodcock, you see the dates are the same from last year to this year. The reason for that being is we're given a 45-day season structure from the Service to hunt for woodcock season. January 31st being the last day possible for us to hunt, and so we just go from January 31st backwards on the calendar 45 days, which gives us December 18th date. No bag differences related to this species.
We have several dove related changes related this year that we'd like to present today. First I'd like to present these changes and the proposals in the — the proposals to take to the Texas Register, and then secondly, I'd like to present the rationale related to the derivation of these proposals. The first being a 70-day season and 15-bird bag statewide; the second being moving the South Zone opening to the Friday nearest September 20th, but no earlier than the 17th; and lastly adjusting the special white-winged dove area boundary specifically related to Jim Hogg and Starr Counties.
As some of you may be aware with Adaptive Harvest Management, it's been a concept related to derivation of season structures for ducks for about the last decade. Over the last several years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Mourning Dove Task Force, and Technical Committees have been working on trying to come up — devise an Adaptive Harvest Management for mourning doves. The Technical Committees approved this in 2008 with anticipated implementation in the 2009 regulation structure. Now, once again, this will not be implemented or accepted by the Service until the June meeting.
AHM uses parameters such as monitoring data, population data, and harvest to derive season structures. Now three season structures were adopted, or derived, and these are all being based on a 70-day season. The first being a liberal at 22 birds, the second being a moderate at 15, and the third being a restrictive at eight. Now the Service has evaluated all the parameters associated with the life requisites of mourning dove and the monitoring data, population data, and harvest, and determined that the Central Management Unit, which includes Texas, would fall in a moderate package for the next three years.
Now, we've recently had a Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee conference call, and we ran this through the Committee, and most were in favor of it, we did have a little bit of a minority that expressed some concerns, and I would like to address those concerns. Those concerns were specifically related to the additional time spent in the field related to trying to achieve this three extra bird in the bag harvest. So going from 12 to 15 would result in a little bit more time spent in the field to get those three birds. So the concerns were related to impact on harvest within those fields, so time spent in the field.
Current existing federal frameworks related to the South Zone opening allow us to not open earlier than September 20th. Commission policy is also that we do not — as has been in the past, we do not open until the Friday after September 20th, unless the 20th falls on a Saturday. So under this current scenario here, you can see that this year the Sunday — the 20th falls on a Sunday, which would mean this year that the season would open on Friday the 25th.
This year we are proposing that the South Zone open on the Friday nearest September 20th, but not early than the 18th. You can see here graphically that this would basically open, you know, a week earlier, and next year on the calendar adjustment for next year, the 20th falls on a Monday so next year we are proposing that we open on the 17th. We also ran this through the Migratory Advisory Committee, and all were in favor of this.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So that would be the reason of the change, just because of the calendar days?
MR. MASON: Yes, ma'am. Because for the last several years we've been opening about an average of three days later than the federal frameworks allowed, so it would just enable us to take full advantage of those opportunities that are there, specifically related to the South Zone.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Additional weekend. Thanks.
MR. MASON: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do you see any issues population-wise, or migration-wise, any — I mean if you do this, adding a few days ahead of time, I mean relative to the norm?
MR. MASON: No, sir, not at all.
MR. SMITH: Corey, you might mention just the magic —
MR. MASON: Sure.
MR. SMITH: — of the 17th, and that threshold and why you wouldn't want to go any earlier.
MR. MASON: Sure. Based on some previous nesting studies that have been done in the southern part of Texas, basically looking at earlier nesting doves, basically related to the opportunity of leaving orphan doves in the nest, if the adults are harvested. And so that's the rationale of not going any earlier in the season than that. But based on past history it showed that less than 11 percent had been hatched after September the 1st, with the majority of those being hatched the first two weeks of that 11 percent. So after that second week basically we're leaving very few orphan young in the nest, so, available for harvest.
These are the proposed season dates and bags for all zones. You'll notice here that this is a 70-day season statewide, and 15-bird bag. A couple of things to pay particular attention to: in the North Zone, you'll see that this year there's a proposal of a late season split; this is run concurrently with the Central Zone. And once again, in the South Zone there you'll see that the proposed opening date of September 18th versus the 25th this year.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is there any reason why — well, when are we going to discuss whether or not we should adjust, or try to adjust those dates? Is this the right time?
MR. MASON: Sure. Whenever you want to talk about it.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, I've had a number of people contact me and express interest in reducing the proposed — the days in the proposed second season, and not cutting off so many days in October. What are your thoughts in general on that?
MR. MASON: Okay. Well, if you — let me back up here real quick, just to show it here so everybody can see what we're looking at here.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Excuse me, but which zone are you referring to?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: North Zone.
MR. MASON: Okay. On this, what's proposed here in front of you is this is removing basically five days in October. Some of the earlier stuff that was on the website had about two and a half weeks of October being removed, so this is different —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, removing it is mentioned —
MR. MASON: — than what you're looking at there.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes, the original proposal was ending on October 11.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes, so that's what — I'm sorry, I was looking at this notebook instead.
MR. MASON: Sure.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: This is adjusted on the slide.
MR. MASON: Yes. This is what we're proposing right here.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: See, Ralph, we knew you were going to ask that question, so —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — you've got to work quick on them.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: You were very quick.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: You're keeping us all on our toes.
MR. MASON: Is it — does that answer your question?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: On the North Zone. And on the South Zone would the January 17th date be fixed, or can we for future years try to have the concept that we end it on the Sunday preceding MLK Day?
MR. MASON: We always have the option to adjust these days.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I think it would be good to have that as the mindset, that we're going to try to end that second season in the South Zone on the Sunday preceding MLK Day rather than fixing it on the date, just for future years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: MLK Day is always a Monday?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Okay. What's your reason?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I just think people can follow it and plan accordingly if we try to always end it on that Sunday as opposed to picking a date if we have to adjust the days on the — at the end of the first season to make that work. I just think it's a more user friendly format to know in advance that it's always going to end on that Sunday of that weekend.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And effectively increasing opportunity because they know of it and could plan —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Exactly.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — sort of a traditional event around it.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: The only issue then goes to the start of the late season. If it's always going to end on the Sunday before MLK, then it wouldn't necessarily always be able to open on the 26th.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, you could leave that, you just adjust the end date of the first season.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: So you would take days at the end of the first season if you needed to.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's what I would propose.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Because there'll be a seven-day —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Up to seven —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: A calendar shift.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: A maximum of seven-day change in the total number of days in that season.
MR. MASON: We have an additional item that I'm presenting here in just a little bit that we have — we would like to hold some public briefing events on and public hearings on, and that's certainly something that we could, you know, present to the public —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes —
MR. MASON: — and get some input on.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — let's do that. That'd be interesting, see how people respond.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just for clarification, we would — so we — do we have any other limiting factors, or just the seven-day? It would have to — 70-day — it would have to come out of — we'd have to adjust it. Right?
MR. MASON: The two limiting factors are the earliest start date.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay.
MR. MASON: Or we do have an ending date at the back end of January, and then a 70-day season. So we have 70 days to put in between those two parameters somewhere there. Now if we choose to take them from November or December and put them somewhere else, that's — well, that's all, except on Service —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Too long, it's a drastic shift that you're talking about, the seven-day shortened, the 26th to the Sunday before — second South Zone season take as an example. We could go — we would go out of those dates potentially to the early side, but we wouldn't start earlier than September 17th, so potentially it would go beyond November 3rd. And that would be an appropriate adjustment —
MR. MASON: That would be an option. It's certainly something we could take forward to a hearing and, you know, get public input on.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So let's do that.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I have another question, and if this isn't the appropriate time to discuss this, then I'll certainly refer it till later, but you mentioned the parameters. The federal parameters that we have to work within, the September 1 start date in the North Zone is then a regulation that has been set in stone due to a treaty that we are in with Canada.
Now the bird populations in the northern Panhandle are much more bountiful in August, in mid — I'd say early to mid-August than they are in, say, late September. What process would we have to go through to petition Fish and Wildlife to move that September 1st start date to August 15th?
MR. MASON: Some of that would begin related on the biological end. It would first likely have to relate from some nesting studies because you run — if you move too early back into the season, in the calendar season, you start running the risk of affecting breeding and the individuals that have, you know, young in the nest.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right. As was referenced in the —
MR. MASON: And so that would be the first thing that would have to be addressed, and then from there, since September 1st is the start date within the whole Central Management Unit, so there are 14 states affected there, it would be a fairly lengthy process, but it would have to first start on the biological end to see if it would even be feasible, biologically feasible, before regulations would even come into play.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So you say you want to take on the Canadians —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — the feds. You're a tough guy, Mark.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I never said it'd be easy.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: By the next regulatory cycle.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. I think we'll all be dead. Yes, by the next regulatory —
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: We have confidence in you, Mark.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So is this something we want to explore at least through conversations with —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I would like to —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — counsel?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — just look into it, just to pursue the — at least the biological aspects of it.
MR. SMITH: Corey, do we have any existing data on nesting up in the Panhandle that our biologists have done that we might be able to share with the Commission, just to provide a little background in terms of what we have now?
MR. MASON: I would have to look. I can't really speak to that, but I'll certainly look and provide — if it's available, I'll certainly provide it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, I think that would be —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's a start.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — a good start, just to get some quick data if possible to know whether it's something that's biologically sound and feasible, and whether we should investigate a little bit further or not.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I mean if it's not biologically feasible, then that would be the end of the issue.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right. But the impression is that it is. Let's look at it.
Okay. We've got one more question.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: I was just going to ask if, when you have your hearings, that you also consider the same information for the beginning of the South Zone season in terms of the immature birds and the small birds, that if we're going to give something up, it seems to me that that would at least be appropriate to look at to see what kind of impact that would have on the bird population.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that it?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. And just can we get that information just whenever — whatever information we gather before, you know, you'll get it disseminated before a meeting so we don't have to bring it up as a subject necessarily.
MR. SMITH: Sure. I think we can get that in the next couple of weeks, can't we Corey, in terms of assimilating that, and we'll distribute it to the Commission.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great. Thanks.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Am I right that we're going to have — you're going to have scoping meetings with the South Zone. Are you going to do them for the North Zone, or just the South Zone?
MR. MASON: What we are relating, our South Zone scoping hearings are briefing hearings too, basically, looking for some public input as related to some potential boundary shifts, not necessarily related to these opening dates. Although it would be something that would be mentioned, but it was specifically related to these zone options that I'll be mentioning here in just a minute.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Will there be North Zone scoping meetings on the late season?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Go ahead.
MR. WOLF: I think I can answer that, hopefully to clarify. The — we are going to have some meetings soon about this South Zone shift that we are suggesting via proposal, and then in a moment Corey's going to discuss a couple of other items that we plan to scope over the next year, and that would include where those extra days fall in the North Zone, and we could also include the South Zone as well and do that and talk about start dates, end dates, and, you know, all of these things that fall within the framework.
But because those are — because we thought those were significant shifts for our hunters and we didn't want to cause any confusion, we suggested that we give a year to scope those items and make sure we get some good data from our users out there, and then come to you in the next cycle with proposed changes.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm still not clear. Are we going to — are you talking about having any meetings between now and our May Commission meeting to take public comment on the North Zone second dates, second hunt — late season hunt dates.
MR. WOLF: We had not anticipated that. We can if you suggest the South. The way we classify these in the South Zone, we've already got a lot of feedback and this would basically just kind of finalize our decision in the North Zone. We've done some discussions among staff and talked about like overlaying the pheasant season with some days. However, there are concerns that because there's been a long tradition of hunting most of October, we wanted to, you know, we want to make sure that we proceed carefully, that we don't negatively impact some folks. But we surely could go forward with some scoping meetings in the North Zone if that's the desire of this Commission. And have those results by May.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'd like to suggest we try to have at least one to discuss the late season dates.
MR. WOLF: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Around — when do you suggest, before — around —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm sorry?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — around the holiday? Around MLK —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Is that what you're looking —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — is that what you're saying?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, that's South Zone. I'm talking about —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You're talking North?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes, basically —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — the North Zone.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — it's involving the October —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I gotcha.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — the absence of hunting opportunity in October. But due to the size of the North Zone, we're going to have to have more than one meeting, I mean because — I mean you're going all the way —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: One West, one East.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — across Texas. And so your, you know, your input, granted we can only have one set of parameters within the zone, but, you know, Amarillo guys can't get to —
COMMISSIONER HIXON: El Paso.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — yes, to attend the meeting, so I think it's only fair to try to be geographically sensitive on —
MR. WOLF: And I would say over the last year I've learned that our web comments are pretty useful in getting a large volume of information, and we can surely work with our partners in the press to give us press releases and put some survey instrument up on our web, and also — and be getting a large volume of input from folks that can't attend these scoping meetings.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I think that's a good idea.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I think it's a real good idea on all this, to offer them opportunities.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I guess the question is whether we can impact this cycle, you know —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — and it seems, you know, it seems challenging to be able to get it out and scope it properly.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Right. If we can, then I think that the dates that are proposed seem okay.
MR. SMITH: I think that was our perspective on this, if we had some changes that we were looking at, and we thought it might be helpful to take what we have on the table now, scope those well between now and May, get solid feedback on that, at those meetings we typically have other issues that come up, like you all are suggesting, and so we could fold those into the future conversation, along with these, and then really scope those in a very detailed, methodical process to bring back for the next regulation cycle. So we can do it however you all would like for us to proceed on it, but I just wanted to make sure you all were sort of apprised of what was going through our minds as we were thinking through these changes.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I got a lot of feedback from the October 11 cut-off date.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, I would imagine.
MR. SMITH: And we've addressed that.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And so having this change in place, that's already addressed all the negative input that I've got, but I just think the process is a good process.
MR. SMITH: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So we proceed as you suggested, but try to get some, you know, early indicators of where — how people feel about —
MR. SMITH: Moving the dates and, okay, and taking a look at those, both in the North Zone and the South Zone, and so we'll factor that into our calculus in planning for the next regulation cycle and start scoping those, but we won't be bringing you proposed changed tomorrow for your consideration, and certainly not for recommendation in May.
Okay. So, Corey, was I clear on that? Okay.
MR. MASON: Yes. Did you have another question? Okay.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I do. When are you looking at having the scoping meeting in the South Zone?
MR. MASON: We don't have a date set yet, but we do have something that will affect the Hebronville area, so that was one of the locations that we were looking at. But within the next month, you know, -ish, to two months, something like that, so.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: So it's Sinton?
MR. MASON: Very likely.
MR. SMITH: Corey and Clayton, can we address this issue though of even between now and May of having multiple public hearings in the North Zone so that we have good coverage? Do we have the possibility to have a couple of meetings as opposed to just one, can we planning on that?
MR. WOLF: We can do that, yes.
MR. SMITH: Okay.
MR. WOLF: Just for clarification purposes, my understanding is we're really looking at proposing what you have on the screen.
MR. SMITH: That's fine.
MR. WOLF: But we would use those meetings to help us formulate —
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: Exactly.
MR. WOLF: — where we go for the next cycle.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Correct.
MR. WOLF: Okay.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's my understanding.
MR. WOLF: Yes.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Go with what we've got.
MR. MASON: We can do that. And now addressing the special white-winged dove area, really no changes here, aside from the opening date there, September 18th. Once again, the early two days, September 5th and 6th, 12th and 13th, of those early four days that we have there, the Saturday-Sunday hunts, those are half-day hunts from noon to sunset. The aggregate bag limit of 12, with a mourning dove restriction of up to four, and white-tip of two. Now the white-tip restriction is not unique to the special white-winged dove area, that's a statewide restriction. And then the general season picking up September 18th with a 15-bird aggregate bag, running through January 13th. Now you'll notice the South Zone is January 17th closing date, and this is the 13th. The reason for the four-day difference being those early four days there in September, those count towards the 70-day season package, so.
The Service is currently reviewing a proposal related to the adjustment of the special white-winged dove area boundary, and these — as you can see here, this relates to particularly Jim Hogg and Starr Counties. Now points of reference here in the upper left corner, you'll see Laredo and then there in the center of the screen you'll see Hebbronville and coming south out of Hebbronville, that's FM 1017 if you're familiar with that area. Now the proposal is to remove these portions from the special white-winged dove area, and they would just simply fall into the South Zone.
So the dates and bag would be concurrent with the South Zone so there's no opportunity lost, it's just moving them to a more appropriate area, to more mourning dove habitat versus white-winged dove habitat. Now these areas are not as productive or high quality white-winged dove habitat, as a remainder of the white-winged dove areas, and they don't have as much production of small grain, so that's the reason for this move. Now I'd like to also mention that the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee was — supported this proposal.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Has this been something coming? Help me —
MR. MASON: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — walk me through the process on that.
MR. MASON: It's been something that we've been asked to evaluate from landowners in the area —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. MASON: — for several years. We've been asking for input, field staff have evaluated the quality of the habitat and concurred that it's more representative of mourning dove habitat than white-winged dove habitat.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. So we're responding to the landowners in that area.
MR. MASON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And — okay.
MR. MASON: So in summary, proposed changes for the '09-'10 season are the adoption of an AHM season structure that results in a 70-day and 15-bird package statewide; adjusting — I'm sorry — moving the South Zone opener to Friday nearest September 20th, but not earlier than the 17th; and adjusting the special white-winged dove area boundary.
Now we have a couple of items that we'd like to take this next year to evaluate and get some public input on before attempting to move forward with. Now these are specifically related to the early four days in the special white-winged dove area and the placement of the North Zone dates. Now currently we run the four early days in the special white-winged dove area on the Saturday-Sunday of the first two weekends of September, which you see here. Recently we had a recommendation from our Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee to consider moving these days to the Friday-Saturday instead of the Saturday-Sunday.
Now the Committee brought this forward believing that the Friday-Saturday would better serve those hunters that are traveling so that they can travel on Friday mornings and hunt Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, and use Sunday as a travel day. Now it's — after discussing — after them having some initial discussions amongst the Committee and considering the Labor Day holiday, they came to us with kind of a revised recommendation that looks like this in front of you, which their recommendation was the first Saturday-Sunday, take advantage of that Labor Day weekend, and then the second weekend being potentially a Friday-Saturday, and once again, use Sunday as a travel day.
Now after some internal discussion between Wildlife and Law Enforcement Divisions, we have some concerns a little bit about confusion this could lead to, having one Saturday-Sunday hunt and the next weekend being a Friday-Saturday hunt. So we'd just like to take this next year to evaluate this, get some input in it and just think about it a little bit more before we try to move forward with this.
And the second is the placement of the North Zone dates that we've had previous conversations about here. This year we're proposing to run the season concurrent with the Central Zone, there'd be an opening of September 1st through October 25th, and December 26th through January 9th. We'd like to take this next year to just discuss with public meetings, evaluate field staff after we just see how things are going, to get public input on the perception of this late season, if we'd like to move dates around more in December, less in October, just to get input on it.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And your advisory group was fine with it running concurrently?
MR. MASON: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I would assume — have we done that in the past? I can't remember.
MR. MASON: Well, last year we had a 60-day season in the North Zone —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. MASON: — so we just ran it from October — I'm sorry — from September the 1st through the end of October. Now with the additional 10 days —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. MASON: — we ran for the option of having that late season split because we've have some interest in that, we've had several folks approach us about that, so currently what we're proposing this year is to run 55 days instead of 60 like we did in the past, the majority of — all of September, most of October, and then 15 days late to take advantage of some of those late opportunities.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm talking about the concurrent running Central and North.
MR. MASON: We do have it running concurrently this year.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I know this year, but have we done it in the past? That's what I couldn't —
MR. MASON: I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't answer that. In the past we haven't because we had 60 days in the North and 70 in the Central.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That's right.
MR. MASON: So we didn't have the opportunity —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: All right. I knew there was a reason.
MR. MASON: — to run it concurrently.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. MASON: Well, that concludes what I have for you. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Great briefing. Thank you. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, thanks.
MR. MASON: Okay. Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: No further questions or discussion, I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Item Number 3, proposed changes to the alligator proclamation.
MR. COOPER: Good morning.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Good morning.
MR. COOPER: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, my name is Amos Cooper, and I'm the Assistant Area Leader for the Upper Coast Wetland Eco-System project. And I appreciate the opportunity today to bring the proposed reg changes for the alligator population. Basically for us this is a general housekeeping change for us.
All alligator harvested in Texas must be tagged with a CITES hide tag because of similarity of appearance of endangered crocodilians elsewhere in the world. CITES stands for the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species. On public hunting lands there are two types of CITES tags for alligators. The first is a commercial hide tag at a cost of $120, the second is a not-for-sale tag, which is basically for personal use. The proposed amendment would clarify that alligators taken on public hunting lands and initially tagged with a not-for-sale tag must be tagged with a commercial hide tag purchased from the Department if the alligator is to be entered into commercial trade.
And that's all I have. Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Pretty straightforward. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, very straightforward. 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 4, deer breeder rule amendments. Mitch.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Mitch Lockwood, and I'm the White-Tailed Deer Program Leader.
At our last meeting Mr. Smith mentioned to you our plan to propose a slight change to the rules regarding the transfer of breeder deer. The current rule is specific as to whom or where one may transfer legally possessed breeder deer. Those people or places that — where one may transfer those deer include another deer breeder, they include another person for nursing purposes, they include that one may transfer a breeder deer to an individual for liberation purposes, they can transfer deer to a place to receive medical attention, and finally they can transfer deer to a DMP facility, or deer management permit facility.
More recently a deer breeder offered to donate a breeder buck to an education display facility, and the current regulation doesn't allow for such a transfer. The staff sees no reason to exclude such transfer. Therefore, we propose to amend the current rule to allow the holder of a valid deer breeder permit to transfer deer to the holder of a valid educational display permit, as authorized by the Department. Such a transfer would be final. In other words, the deer may not ever return to another breeder facility.
To date, as of yesterday afternoon, we've received 17 comments on this item, 16 of which support the proposal. The one in opposition really was opposed to the practice of deer breeding in general, and so I'm not sure that's really relevant to this particular proposal.
And that concludes my presentation. I'll be glad to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions? Mr. Duggins?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Am I right that on page 77 of the notebook is the — and highlighted or bold, are the proposed changes?
MR. LOCKWOOD: I don't have that page.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Seventy-seven?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Page 77? Number seven and number —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Three.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — three, yes. And what I — my questions were, what is meant by a valid educational display, or zoological permit? That mean one issued by the state? And then the second question is, haven't we left out zoological permit from three because it's up in seven?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Ann, maybe Ann can help us do the legal —
MS. BRIGHT: Good morning. I'm Ann Bright, general counsel. Actually, it's in both. What happened was there were two provisions: one has to do with the person to whom a breeder deer can be transferred when a permit terminates for whatever reason, the other one just has to do with just a general transfer by somebody who continues to hold a permit. What happened was, apparently already for the provisions involving transfer when someone no longer has a permit already said zoological. So if you'll notice that —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Number two?
MS. BRIGHT: — yes, 65.612 already lists, and it's Item 2, a zoological permit. So when we went back to fix this, we noticed that we also probably needed to put zoological permit up there in 65.10, or 610, to make those consistent. Does that make sense?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes. But my first question is, what is meant by a valid educational display, or zoological permit?
MS. BRIGHT: There's a provision of the Parks and Wildlife Code that addresses both of those permits. I might have to get someone up here to talk about all the things that somebody can do with those permits. The educational display permit, I think that's pretty — that was a little bit more self-explanatory.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But who issues the permits?
MS. BRIGHT: Oh, Parks and Wildlife Department.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, then shouldn't we say, the holder of an educational display or zoological permit issued by Parks and Wildlife — a valid sort of a —
MS. BRIGHT: We can do that. I mean we can do that. I mean we an definitely make that change. Those — only Parks and Wildlife is authorized to issue those permits.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: For clarification, I think it should say that, instead of valid, which could mean valid and subjective, terms somebody else made. What's valid to somebody else may be —
MS. BRIGHT: Well, we get to decide what's valid, so, but we are more than happy to make that change.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Picky suggestion, but I still think it ought to be made.
MS. BRIGHT: No, that's okay. We can do that.
MR. SMITH: Do you want a description of that, Commissioner? We have someone, Jenny Muņoz, who can talk about it, or are you okay if we make the change?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'm fine.
MR. SMITH: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Let's go ahead and make the change he's asking for —
MR. SMITH: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — it sounds fairly straightforward.
MS. BRIGHT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But there are specific criteria or guidelines in terms of how they have to maintain that facility. Right? That's all part of the permit?
MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir, that's correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: It's consistent with the breeder permit.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, no, I said they're the same requirements, but we do have reporting requirements, for example, of the holders of education display permits. For all practical purposes, with the adoption of this proposal, such a transfer in some respects is seen as a liberation.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Right.
MR. LOCKWOOD: In other words, that transfer is final, they're never coming back to a breeder facility, but they may be held under that education display — in that educational facility under that particular permit.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks.
MR. LOCKWOOD: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Item 5, trapping, transporting and transplanting deer permit rule amendment. Alan.
MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the District Leader for the South Texas Wildlife District, and I'll be presenting a proposal for an application deadline for the trap, transport, and transplant permit, commonly referred to as TTT.
In the next couple of slides, just a quick review of the current TTT rules. Complete applications received by the Department between September 1st and November 15th in a calendar year shall be approved or denied within 45 days. Applications may also be received by the Department through March 31, and deer may be relocated, white-tailed deer maybe relocated between October 1st and March 31st. That's a seven-month time frame for folks who give us an application and apply for a TTT permit.
In addition, the TTT rules also require field approval of a Wildlife Management Plan for the release site, field approval of the trap site and release site, portions of the TTT application form, and most important, it has an onsite habitat inspection for the release site to ensure that that property can handle additional deer without impact to the — negative impact to that native habitat out there.
Parks and Wildlife staff have concerns with the current March 31st deadline because the majority of the TTT applications are received after January 1st. For example, in 2007-2008 TTT season we had 77 permits, TTT permits issued, 51 of those occurred after February 1st. Now that may not seem like a lot of permits, 77, but it represents 146 release sites, 87 of those occurred in my district, in South Texas District alone, I just — I've got 10 staff to handle that, aside from their other job duties and responsibilities out there.
Field staff are constrained by these late TTT requests and the necessity to complete habitat inspections for the TTTs and make sure we're meeting the demands of the TTT Program, aside from providing, at full-time, to our other job duties out there, and as a result other Parks and Wildlife programs are being sacrificed in order to accomplish these late TTT requests that are coming in, including the Managed Lands Deer Permit Program, which is a habitat-based program, and requires habitat — onsite habitat inspections.
Staff proposed the following rule change solution to this issue, and that rule change would read, All TTT applications must be received by Department staff no later than January 2nd of the permit year, the current permit year. And all applications submitted to the Department, submitted to Department staff, would require the trap site and release site portion of that application, the number of deer to be trapped and released will be designated on that application.
Now I know the Commission has seen this presentation four times. We've had a January 1st deadline. Staff realized that January 1st is a holiday, the Agency's closed, and so it didn't make sense to have the deadline being on a day the Agency's closed, so we moved it to the 2nd. That's the only small difference and I wanted to make you all aware of that.
To date we've received 26 online responses from our Parks and Wildlife website: 12 were in favor of the deadline, 14 opposed. Two of those that were opposed to the deadline indicated that they didn't want deer trapping to occur at all in the state. The other 12 that were opposed to the deadline just didn't — they just didn't want the deadline at all; the two just didn't want deer trapping at all.
I've had conversations myself, and other staff, they had conversation with private consultants, landowners, land managers, helicopter pilots that do some of the deer trapping out there, and they've expressed support for this January 2nd deadline, or some suggested a January 15th deadline. Some of their reasonings were, for example, a trap site, a landowner that has a trap site and trying to move deer. If he had an early deadline, it's going to potentially let him know whether those release sites can accept deer, or accept the number of deer he's trying to get off. If that's not the case, then he still has other alternatives through managed land deer permits, or maybe general season or late season to harvest his deer population and get that number down to an acceptable level.
And then on the other side of the coin, we've heard, release sites, for example, some of those folks come to us. I had a call yesterday for a release site in Kinney County. They don't have a wildlife management plan in place, they don't have population survey data, you know, obviously we haven't conducted habitat inspection on the place, so if we had this early deadline, it helps us facilitate getting that plan set up with them and maybe they could do a survey real quick and get them set up so they can potentially receive that permit, you know, or at least we could go through the process.
In addition, we've had some release sites, we go out there and say, Yes, you can handle some extra — additional deer, but we think you need to remove a few deer off the property in order to facilitate a hole in that herd where you can maintain that steady deer population. And at times I meet that through harvest, you know, versus a deadline. This proposal has also been presented to the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee back this past October, and they expressed support for the January 2nd deadline. We've also presented this to the Texas Wildlife Association Executive Committee in November. At that time there was no opposition, but they wanted to discuss it further with their internal White-Tailed Deer Committee. Once they did that, their White-Tailed Deer — the TWA's White-Tailed Deer Committee, and I guess their executive leadership now did not support our January 2nd deadline. We've also presented this to the Texas Deer Association, a few of their members, and leadership, and they did not express support for our January 2nd deadline, and they've recommended alternatives from January 20th, as early as that, to February 1st. And, you know, just in conversations, as late as March 1st. So they're definitely not in support of this January 2nd deadline.
In summary, I'd like the Commission to understand that all research in South Texas on stem count sampling or habitat browse surveys indicates that winter sampling is the best time period to conduct these habitat inspections in terms of deer impact on the native range out there. Because it occurs just during that winter period, there's a short time window for us to accomplish these browse surveys. Obviously that doesn't allow a lot of time to get, you know, TTT and MLDP browse surveys done. Both require those habitat inspections, so there is some competing interest between the two programs, while trying to provide equitable time to other job duties out there.
We feel that the January 2nd deadline provides flexibility in planning by our field staff to address current TTT demands, and plus be able to get these MLDP properties, and hopefully we don't look at it as a hindrance to the landowner, it's, you know, it's a deadline to help us get to them, and it's not the complete application. Again, I just want to reiterate that. It's just the trap site and the release site forms with the number of deer to be trapped and released on those properties.
Staff feel that to maintain the integrity of the MLDP Program, which is habitat-based, we need to continue to conduct these habitat inspections on those places. They're important for us to help gauge whether out management practices and management recommendations we're making to these landowners are meeting their goals and objectives in maintaining that healthy native habitat out there. Staff feel that a deadline later than January 2nd will not meet our current needs and allow us the flexibility to address these TTT concerns.
And that concludes my presentation. If you have any questions, I'll be glad to try to answer those.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would like to ask you whether the January 2nd date should be tweaked to be the first Monday following January 1st, in case January 2nd falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Was consideration given to trying to set it on a business day closest to January 1st?
MR. CAIN: We didn't consider that. I think that's a reasonable request. I mean you're talking just a few days, and I may ask Clayton Wolf if he has any comment.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clayton, do you want to speak to that real quickly, please?
MR. WOLF: For the record, I'm Clayton Wolf, Director for the Big Game Program.
And, Commissioner, to address your question, I think Alan's done a good job. That sounds reasonable, I believe, and I don't recall if Alan said — mentioned this, but the way we envision the rules, and I believe the way they're written, it's if they are post-marked, or received, by January 2nd. But having the first business day of January, not, you know, not a holiday, is reasonable, and we would be willing to support that.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's one suggestion. The second one is then among the criteria that must be contained with the application, we don't list the fee. And we discussed last time my belief that the fee ought to be paid up front, because the fee is based on the work to be done in connection with the a permit evaluation. It's not a permit fee. So I continue to push for the payment of the fee at the time the application's made. I just wanted to make that point clear.
MR. WOLF: And, in fact, I was involved in that — in the permit fee increase when we went through that process and the methodology, and the one thing that I would like to clarify is when we did that, we took all field staff work associated with MLDs, and that could include some work for permits that did not get approved. But we basically — we have very specific project codes in the Wildlife Division, and one is for TTT work, and we took all of our manpower, travel, gas, anything we charged to that, and then we divided that among the number of release sites to come up with our price. So in a way we are capturing everything, or at least using the methodology we used at that time, we were capturing all of the Department's expense, including enforcement expense as well. We also got estimates from the Law Enforcement Division. So we tried to capture all of our expenses regardless of whether there was an approved permit or not.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And then that would only leave the question of whether we have a collection issue, which I don't believe we do. Right?
MR. WOLF: No, sir.
MR. SMITH: I think the other part of that, Commissioner, is that any fees that we collect from the permitees would come in in the same fiscal year, irrespective of whether we collected them at the start or the end, as we've traditionally done. So we do collect those fees in the traditional year, or in the same fiscal year, and that's a help, so. I know that's not your specific question, but I did want to make sure that it was clearly there.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, my position is that the application fee ought to be paid at the time the application is submitted, period. That's just my position.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Falcon.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, under the current rule it says that deer must relocated by the 31st of March, and my question is, in order to accommodate some of the comments that some of these organizations had made, could we move to a January 15th date, and move that March 31st two weeks up to allow you all the time to do the work that you need to do?
MR. CAIN: You're asking if we ought to set our deadline at January 15th and move their deer trapping deadline back to March —
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Well, it seems like we're constrained in time because of our 31st March deadline, and it seems like some of these organizations just want a little bit more time into January. So in order to compromise, could we maybe consider the middle of January as the filing deadline, and in order to allow you to do the things that you need to do to approve these applications, move that deadline from the 31st of March to the middle of April. In other words, just move the whole thing over.
MR. CAIN: I think — well, to answer the first part of the question, our staff are scheduled out 62 weeks in advance. There's a lot going on. Now they don't know every single day what they're doing, but they know that they're going to have multiple assignments, you know, whether it's meeting with landowners on helicopter surveys, or tax evaluation plan, or whatever it is. But there's going to be lots of things coming up and we look at those deadlines. We even looked at early deadlines November 15th, and we were discussing all this December 15th, January 15th, later in February, and we just didn't feel like that would meet our demands, or our needs to address the customer needs. If we wait later, then there's the likelihood we're not going to get to those folks, even to the 15th, because we're already — a lot of the guys are already scheduled out into March.
And then Clayton may have other comments, but I have heard folks, you know, that moving deer a little later, those does are pregnant, most of them are already bred, and so maybe you run the risk of causing some stress on that doe that could potentially impact her, or maybe abort the fetus, which could cause some problems.
MR. WOLF: Yes, that's correct. And also just the temperatures, by the time you get into April, you're handling animals when it's that hot, and obviously we don't — we can't predict the weather, but the break off point was chosen because of pregnant does, and also because a lot of this trapping occurs in South Texas, and by the time you get into April it's pretty hot, and so for the welfare of the animal, it's probably not wise to be doing trapping during April.
MR. CAIN: In addition, you know, when we're looking at our habitat inspections out there, as you get into that mid to late March, it's beginning to get hard to read the habitat because you're starting that new growing season and you can't determine a full year's use because you're seeing the new growth on that stem tip, you know, and so that's why we try to keep those surveys then and keep that — would suggest a deadline of January 2nd, or the first business day, as Commissioner Duggins has indicated.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: A couple of general comments. Staff has obviously spent a lot of time in looking at, you know, what they feel is an efficient allocation of work load in order to accomplish our mission. And so I'd certainly weight that pretty heavily, as well as the work of the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee. I mean there's a reason we have an advisory committee, and they've certainly vetted this and thought through it with staff pretty thoroughly and conclusively. So I think the idea of taking a look at, you know, the next work day is one that has merit, but other than that, I would suggest that we support the staff recommendation.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I want to echo what Dan just said about the work of the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee. I think they obviously — I think they met twice on this, didn't they?
MR. WOLF: On this particular issue I believe we just met once, but then we had subsequent meetings and follow up meetings, but we do agree. And we did lay this out there well in advance and deliberated, and we understand that there's a difference of opinion on this. But we have been in discussions for many months.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I also want to add obviously we're great partners with TWA and TDA and we certainly work well with them, and we've listened to the concerns. And I just want to make sure we have circled back to the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee with that input. Is that — since our last meeting?
MR. WOLF: We visited with the Chairman — I believe, if I'm not mistaken, Executive Director Smith did visit with the Chairman on that issue. We will — of course, we will have another meeting April 14, but by that time I'm assuming this item will be adopted.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And TWA and TDA both have representatives on the advisory committee.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: I was going to ask if they did —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, they did.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: They do. Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. SMITH: And also I think you'll have a chance tomorrow to hear from representatives from the Deer Association, Wildlife Association, and will bring forth their specific concerns about that tomorrow in the public hearing.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So just to refresh my memory on process here, do we need to make up an adjustment to incorporate the possibility of looking at what Commissioner Duggins suggested.
MR. WOLF: I believe if we — if I'm not mistaken, if Ann Bright can correct me, but if on the record we could put that in the slide program for tomorrow and make very clear, and then usually our motion slide is suggest with changes, and that's intended to incorporate those minor adjustments.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions, thoughts about this discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much.
MR. CAIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. I will place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
Last, certainly not least, 2009-2010 statewide hunting and fishing proclamation. I think we're starting with inland fisheries.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, sir. We're going to start off today — Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, I'm Phil Durocher, the Director of Inland Fisheries. Joining me this morning is Mr. Dave Terre. He's the Branch Chief of the Management and Research Branch in Inland Fisheries. Dave is filling in this morning for Ken who had to be out of town because of a family emergency. So Dave's going to be presenting these proposals since these come from his staff anyway.
MR. TERRE: I appreciate the opportunity to be here again. My name's Dave Terre, for the record, and Chairman and Commissioners, what I'm going to do today is talk to you a little bit about our freshwater fishing proposed regulation changes.
The first one deals with Lake Ray Roberts. Lake Ray Roberts is a 25,600 acre lake located near Denton. This lake is surrounded by state parks and a wildlife management area and offers great fishing opportunities for a variety of species. In 1998, the Department implemented some special regulations for large mouth bass. They were a 14- to 24-inch slot length limit and a five-fish daily bag limit.
Management goals at that time were to increase trophy bass fishing opportunities. And as we showed you at the January meeting, these limits were not effective at increasing numbers of trophy bass in this population. Consequently, we have made a recommendation to change harvest regulations to the statewide 14-inch minimum and five-fish daily bag limits. We believe these less restrictive regulations are better suited to this particular fish population and fisheries.
We feel like these new limits on Lake Ray Roberts will help draw more tournaments to the lake, and these tournaments may, in fact, yield some significant economic benefits for the local communities. So largely our bass anglers are widely in support of that, and the communities surrounding the lake. As far as our public comments, our public comments from this area were very favorable, both in the public hearing process and also on the Department website.
Let's talk a little bit about blue catfish.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Before you move on —
MR. TERRE: Sure.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — let me ask you a question. Did you consider going to a higher number, 15, 16? I'm just curious at why 14.
MR. TERRE: Well, we opted to go with, you know, the statewide 14-inch minimum size limit, you know, has been a real successful limit, you know, within the state, and the biologists have looked at growth conditions, and right now we try to stick with, you know, some standards. I mean not — you know what I mean, the 14 — you know, it's recognizable to the public, and I think it was important, and really the difference between a 14 and a 15 is not that great, you know.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay.
MR. TERRE: I think it'll be great, this limit on this lake.
In regards to blue catfish, anglers are beginning to support the idea of creating trophy fishing opportunities for catfish, and are now becoming more open to the possibilities of more restrictive size limits.
To explore these opportunities in Texas, we propose an experimental length limit, a slot limit to be exact, on three reservoirs which we believe have high trophy fish potential. Under this special limit, anglers would be expected to release all fish between 30 and 45 inches. We would also allow harvest of 25 fish per day, but only one of those fish could be over the slot limit, over the 45-inch slot limit. Currently these experimental populations that we're proposing are managed with — blue catfish and channel catfish are managed with statewide limits, a 12-inch minimum and a 25-fish daily bag limit. The candidate reservoirs for this work would be Lake Waco in McLennan County, Lake Lewisville in Denton County, and Richland Chambers Reservoir in Navarro County.
We feel like the benefits of these experimental catfish regulations will be — that they will definitely increase the numbers of fish above 30 inches in the population. They will also increase the number of anglers who are targeting, who wish to target trophy blue catfish. Anglers would be allowed to keep only one fish over 45 inches, but this would allow an opportunity for an angler to submit a new state record, if one was caught there, or into our Angler Recognition Program. It's also important information for us as we go forward to evaluate the success of this regulation change. We believe this regulation change will improve fishing opportunity, and help guide future management for catfish in the State of Texas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What is the record for blue cat?
MR. TERRE: Well, I can tell you it's the one that was caught up at Lake Texoma, Splash, you remember the one we had —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. TERRE: — up there.
MR. DUROCHER: I think it was 121 —
MR. TERRE: A hundred and twenty-one pounds.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. TERRE: And we had a —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do you remember the length? You're going by inches here.
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, these —
MR. TERRE: I can't remember how many inches he was.
MR. DUROCHER: Oh, Slash was probably near 60 inches.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'll be darned.
MR. TERRE: He's a huge fish. It's the highest spring visitation ever on TFFC was —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right after that.
MR. TERRE: — at the time we had Splash there.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'll bet.
MR. TERRE: It's amazing how much interest there is in these large, large catfish.
Okay. As far as public comments, we had seven people who spoke out in favor of this proposal at our public hearings, and five were against. But we had overwhelming support based on our input that we received through our Texas Parks and Wildlife website: 218 comments in favor, 28 against. The other column there means other comments that we received either by phone or by email.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What would be some reasons people would be against this?
MR. TERRE: Well, you know, it's kind of — it's doing something different than we've been doing, you know, normally with catfish management. I mean catfish management in the past has been real focused on harvest, and that's still a very important part of catfish fishing. And I think some people, you know, are holding on to the harvest and, you know, catching a big catfish and says, Let's keep it, you know, let's fill that cooler up. This one is the ideal like we've done with bass limits where if you protect those fish and release them, they'll grow up and survive to be caught another day, increasing the quality of fishery.
And it's about creating a diversification, you know, really in our catfish angling across the state. We use catfish for so many ways in Texas, for harvest, now for trophy fishing opportunities and our neighborhood fishing program and such, you know, so we're looking and exploring other ways that we could — I think they're the second most sought after species in Texas, catfish, behind large mouth bass.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Why — help me remember why we — why do you propose to do this in only these three reservoirs and not the rest of the reservoirs?
MR. TERRE: Well, these three reservoirs, based on our survey work that we've done there, you know, have strong blue catfish populations, have historically produced some big fish, we feel like they have great potential, you know, to really be more in terms of trophy fishing there. Also, we believe that there's a lot of research that's gone on in other parts of the country, including Oklahoma, some in Texas, have shown that winter line, jug lining, is a very efficient way to catch these large blue catfish in the winter time. And so where that activity is going on, we feel like there is opportunities, great opportunities for harvest, and that, you know, if that could be curtailed some we could increase the size of these catfish for more anglers. Again, we're trying it on three lakes.
MR. DUROCHER: Mr. Duggins, the way we normally — or the way we have done things in the pasts, if we have a regulation that we want to look at, before we make a statewide change, we will generally do experimental regulation changes on some reservoirs and evaluate it before we make it a statewide effort.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: What's the length of time of your experimental regulations, how long?
MR. DUROCHER: We're going to be watching it every year, but we're putting extra effort on these reservoirs, and I imagine in three or four years we should know whether or not we're being effective or not.
MR. TERRE: Yes, and actually it might take just a little bit more time because these catfish are, you know, they're big and they're fairly slow growing, you know.
MR. DUROCHER: They live a long time.
MR. TERRE: Yes, and it, you know, we're going to be monitoring annually. I think, you know, probably for the next five or six years, you know, but we should start seeing indications. The study is already starting, so we have some preliminary data that we'll capture before the regulation if it's implemented to choose to do that, so we can look at it before versus after.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What's the downside to expanding the sample area from these three reservoirs to include, for example, Texoma, if we can do that, I guess, because that's really part of Oklahoma.
MR. DUROCHER: Well, there's a recommendation here for Texoma we're doing in conjunction with the State of Oklahoma. We could have expanded it, but we would like to show that it's going to be successful before we do this on a statewide effort. And I'm not sure the growth rate of blue cats in all the lakes in the state would be able to support this kind of regulation. You know, we have some populations that the catfish grow fairly slowly, and then they never get into this size limit, you know, we may not achieve what we want to achieve at the end. But this is the approach we've always taken when we're looking at something that potentially could go statewide, we want to experiment.
MR. TERRE: Our next proposal deals with Lake Texoma. Our department meets regularly with the Oklahoma agency to share results of our fishery surveys and discuss management options at Lake Texoma. Through the years we've made considerable efforts to help standardize the regulations between the Texas and Oklahoma sides of the reservoir. This helps reduce angler confusion about regulations, it also aids law enforcement efforts.
The Oklahoma agency has put into place now a one fish per day daily bag limit for alligator gar, and a May spawning closure in the upper end of the reservoir. We support these management options and desire to reciprocate in Texas waters. The Texas closure would be in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge area, and from the U.S. Highway 377 bridge to the I-35 interstate highway bridge during that same time frame.
In regards to blue catfish — and also that gar regulation went into place January 1, 2009 — in regards to blue catfish, the Oklahoma agency has recently approved a statewide one-fish per day over 30-inch rule for blue catfish, which impacts Lake Texoma. The total bag limit there would remain at 15 fish. This will go into effect on the Oklahoma side of the reservoir beginning January 1, 2010. We support this management action and would like to reciprocate, of course, on the Texas side and keep regulations consistent on the lake. As far as public commentary, few comments were made on this proposal during the public hearing process. However, comments made on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website showed good support for these changes.
The next is just a little bit of housekeeping. Town Lake in Travis County is currently managed with a 14- to 21-inch slot length limit for large mouth bass. This lake was recently renamed to honor the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson. This reservoir is now called Lady Bird Lake, so what we do is — what we propose to do is make this name change in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department proclamation.
Alligator gar. Interest in this species as a trophy fish has increased in recent years. Information on gar species is generally limited because they're often difficult to catch in standardized fishery surveys, and also populations have become depleted, you know, in many areas of the country. Texas is blessed, we do have good numbers of gar here. Numerous states, though, have joined forces through the American Fishery Society to combine data sets and discuss options for management to ensure the viability of the species and to ensure that we have — to maintain these valuable fisheries that we have.
Alligator gars have been listed as a species of concern in two states, Oklahoma and Kentucky; populations have been extirpated in the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; and the species was recently listed as vulnerable by the American Fishery Society, which is the professional society of the fisheries business. This was done by the AFS Endangered Fishes Committee.
Here are the current regulations for alligator gar in the southern United States. At our January meeting, you all asked us to — for the reasons why these states have these limits, so what we did was we went ahead and contacted each of these states and asked them for the reasons why. Most states enacted these regulations in response to declining populations, or a shrinking range of the alligator gar. Some states, though, like Oklahoma and Arkansas, are also concerned about the potential for over-exploitation by angling. Both those states have some populations of alligator gar remaining. Many have actually enacted these regulations with little or no data, and some desired to make their regulations more restrictive than they currently are, based on the new information that's coming forward with this species. Arkansas has expressed an interest in using data from Texas to help build their case for more restrictive regulations next year, so Texas is definitely contributing to that database of fish.
Here's the alligator gar distribution in Texas, and it's approximate. The shaded area of the map shows this — where these fish exist. We know we have viable populations in the Trinity River system, quite a few there; and a few reservoirs in Texas; and also in our coastal bays and estuaries. It's important to note that alligator gar really are only one of four species of gar in the state of Texas. There is generally less recreational interest in the longnose, the spotted, and the shortnose gar. Alligator gar, of course, get very, very large; so do longnose gar, but alligator gar get big as well. But the alligator gar has a unique life history that make them particularly vulnerable to depletion through harvest or changing environmental conditions.
Let's talk a little bit about life history. The alligator gar are a long-lived fish. You know, a large female might be between 50 and 75 years. Populations experience — take a long time, or generally experience low annual mortality, and few fish actually make it to this trophy size. Alligator gar take a long time to become sexually mature. Males become mature at about eight years old, and females become mature at about 12 years old.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are you say that — does this slide suggest that the female has to be about 60 inches in length before it's able to —
MR. TERRE: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes. And that's based on a lot of information that was collected by — in Louisiana that is the foundation for a lot of the — supplemented with Texas and other states, is the foundation for the life history information, you know, when they become mature and stuff. So anyway, but, yes, they've got to be 60 inches before they'll be mature and can spawn. Males get their — they grow slower, males grow slower and get there earlier. There is — alligator gar need flooded terrestrial vegetation and specific water temperatures to spawn successfully. These conditions do not occur in Texas every year, and they are expected to occur less frequently in the future as water demands in the state increase.
Here is some current information we have from Texas. We began investigations on alligator gar in Sam Rayburn Reservoir in the late 1980s. There we conducted some food habit studies and learned that alligator gar consume what's probably most abundant are gizzard shad, channel catfish and freshwater drum. Populations in Rayburn at that time were dominated by a few year classes of large fish and those year classes were subsequently removed from harvest, the population was depleted in a matter of a couple of years. It's important to note that there was no noticeable impact, negative impact on game fish populations both before and after the presence of alligator gar.
Also, there's a lot of current research currently going on in Texas. What we're doing is we're looking at size structure of populations, year class strengths of populations, we're doing a mark-recapture study in the Upper Trinity River to estimate population size, we're looking at seasonal habitat use and movements of these fish, we've got radio tags planted in some gar, we're continuing some work with food habits work, we're beginning to work and look at contaminants, we're building knowledge and databases on age and growth and comparing those to age and growth studies that are done in other areas, and we're working in collaboration with the Coastal Fisheries Division on genetic studies in the bays and estuaries.
When we look at length frequencies of alligator gar, what you'll notice is the big difference between the length frequencies that we see in Texas and what we see in Louisiana, which also have abundant populations of gar, is that we have very, very large fish, you know, and it's these large fish that make Texas a popular fishing destination for alligator gar. These fish would be difficult to replace if populations became over-exploited, mainly because of their unique life history characteristics.
So the current status is that Texas has the best remaining gar populations in the country. We believe that we have a window of opportunity to protect these populations and this fishery. Our management goals are simply to sustain trophy harvest and to ensure viable populations into the future, and to attain these goals, we would recommend that we reduce harvest to sustainable levels and ID and protect critical habitats. So our proposal is to limit harvest to one alligator gar per day. That would apply to both commercial and recreational anglers. We believe it's a good first step in managing gar into the future, and we, of course, would continue our research work on alligator gar and adjust those rules if needed.
Here are the public comments that were taken at the hearing and the website. There was quite a few, 79 spoke out against the proposal, and two for, at our public hearing process. The web, however, was kind of a reverse of that. On the web we had 231 comments in favor, 92 against. You may be wondering what the other is, those are people who are also against the proposal for a specific reason, and about 30 percent of those people felt like our regulation ought to be more restrictive. So, anyway, but that's — and, of course, 30 percent thought it should be less restrictive. But, anyway.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: On the public hearing —
MR. TERRE: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — you had 79 against. Where did you hold those public hearings?
MR. DUROCHER: About 40-50 locations all around the state.
MR. TERRE: Yes, all around the state.
MR. DUROCHER: It was part of the public hearing process that we had to vet all these regulations, not even Fisheries, Wildlife, they were all over the state.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. DUROCHER: And most of the people that were testifying in opposition were bow fishermen.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They ordinarily fish with bow?
MR. DUROCHER: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Bow fishermen. And they don't want the restrictions?
MR. DUROCHER: No.
MR. TERRE: No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They want no restrictions as we have now, which is no limit at all, is it?
MR. DUROCHER: Uh-huh.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. DUROCHER: Before we get into the real question, and here I have a little video I'd like to show you all. This is very unique, it's only about two minutes. This video was taken by a biologist in Oklahoma in May of 2007 after we had the big flood at Lake Texoma. He just happened to be checking on the results of the flood and he came across this flooded area and these big alligator gar spawning. It's very, very unique and I'd just like to take a few minutes and watch this. Not many people have ever seen this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They have a bunch of them in there. Right?
MR. DUROCHER: They estimated 50 or 60 of them in that pile.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Look at that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: This is Texoma?
MR. DUROCHER: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Do they spawn every year?
MR. DUROCHER: No —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just at certain —
MR. DUROCHER: — that's the problem, they need this flooded —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They need that flooded —
MR. DUROCHER: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. DUROCHER: So we may be looking at one year class of fish here.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. DUROCHER: Those are big creatures.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Uh-huh.
MALE VOICE: There are bigger ones.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: What is the state record?
MR. DUROCHER: 302 pounds, I believe. It was caught in the Rio Grande —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Out in the Rio Grande?
MR. DUROCHER: — back in the '50s.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I didn't know that.
MR. DUROCHER: There are probably not many left in the Rio Grande now, there's not any water.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, I wouldn't think so. What reach?
MR. DUROCHER: I think it was the Lower Rio Grande.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Lower Rio Grande.
MR. DUROCHER: Watch this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: On the side there. Yes.
MR. DUROCHER: Swimming right up to his feet. But the thing that, you know, that makes this so unique is you can see how vulnerable these fish are at this time —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. DUROCHER: — when they're in this — going through the spawning activity. But the thing that amazes us as biologists is you have to realize that any young gar that hatched from this spawning activity, it'll be eight to 15 years before they reach maturity. And it'll be 30 to 50 years before they get to this size. So a lot of things could happen in 30 to 50 years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, you have to really think of this. Yes.
MR. DUROCHER: Okay. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Just quickly going back to the research, obviously we're doing good things to gain more information. I'm looking back at the slide that shows the river systems and the different projects we have going on. When do you think we'll have more information, conclusive information, and to what extent do you think we can reasonably expect that you'd ever be able to correlate off take to, you know, to population and recruitment?
MR. DUROCHER: Well, what we're — back when we asked the research people at Heart of the Hills to look into the gar situation, they had some population models that are used to check — try to estimate the size of the trophy potential, or the size of the population of trophies. And the results of that modeling concerned us because it showed that really the populations are fairly small, when you consider all the people that want to find them. So we're out collecting information so we can go in and verify what that model showed us before we'll make any more recommendations or suggestions, and I'm thinking it'll probably take two years. Some of the stuff we'll know fairly quickly. We're looking at contaminants, there's been some questions about whether these fish are — and, you know, when you look at their life history, they get very large, they live a long time, they're a top predator, you would expect that there'd be some issues with contaminants. But we're going to look at that and we should have some of those results before the end of this year, and these movement studies.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You listed two goals in the presentation, one was to reduce the harvest, the other was to ID and protect critical habitat. The proposal obviously seeks to address goal one. What about goal two?
MR. DUROCHER: That — go ahead.
MR. TERRE: The study that we're doing right now with the radio telemetry study we have, we have 38 radio transmitters in these fish, on the Lower Trinity River, and we're going to be able to monitor their movements, look at them through a spawning cycle, several spawning cycles, and be able to know what habitats they are using and which ones are important to them. Some studies that are already being done right now in Arkansas have looked at, you know, associations between river flow hydrology in a system, and where that water would flood at certain times, correlating that also with water temperature specific parameters that need to be in place to identify areas that have potential for — that could be very important for gar reproduction. But in Texas we really haven't identified those areas. We have taken the data that we have with the length frequency information, and we have — which is in the Trinity, and have compared that to the hydrology, and have been able to, you know, look at productions of year classes in associations with high flow times. And —
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, we are addressing that through this telemetry study. We've got the fish tagged and we're going to be tracking them throughout the year and if they all end up in the same place during the spawning season, then we're probably going to make that place off limits.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, how did Oklahoma identify that particular area of Texoma and decide to say, That's off limits in May?
MR. DUROCHER: That's where this video came from. They just happened upon this after that flooding.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So they didn't know that was the spawning area.
MR. DUROCHER: No, he didn't know that was there. He was just out on the reservoir and he saw this activity and went home and got his camera and came back and videoed it. And that's why that particular area was listed, because they know it happens there.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And is there any kind of coordination with Law Enforcement to suggest to the wardens that if they see any spawning activity that they'll somehow report back to you so you can try to use that as an identification?
MR. DUROCHER: We haven't thought of that, but that's a very good idea. Pete — I'm sure Pete will help us with that.
MR. TERRE: And we'll continue to work with our anglers. A lot of the data that we do have on the Trinity River, these 289 fish, came with the cooperative work with a local angler there who actually tagged those fish, and what we're doing is doing — they've tagged those fish, and then doing a mark-recapture to estimate a population size for the Trinity River, and, you know, we're open to working with our anglers, our bow anglers, our rod and reel anglers, our commercial anglers to help us identify some of these areas that might be important. It's going to take some time on the water for sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So you do have commercial anglers?
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, sir. Currently —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: When you cut to one a day, I assume your commercial angling is pretty much gone.
MR. DUROCHER: Right. Well, yes, it's going to be very limited. We have, I think, and I looked at the latest information, and I have it here, somewhere here — well, I had it when we started — yes, here it is — for a person to be a commercial fisherman, he has to have a permit to sell non-game fish in the State of Texas. And we have currently — and every year they have to submit a report saying what they caught and what they sold and what price they received, and we have 17 active permits in the State of Texas. Most of them are in the Liberty-Trinity River area, and we have several of them at Choke Canyon in South Texas. Most of these people reported at least a minimum catch of alligator gar. There were several of them that were very substantial. One gentleman living in Mercedes, and I think he reports that he fishes the whole coast of Texas, all the way from — he reported catching 38,200 pounds of gar.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: How much?
MR. DUROCHER: 38,200 pounds of gar. He sold those for $2.25 a pound. So he's the only guy that could actually be making a living on gar.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Catching those in what way, nets? How's —
MR. DUROCHER: No, he can't catch them in nets. They use jug lines, jugs. Right. A special jug — a special way of rigging a jug for catching big gar. We kind of invented that form when we did it on Sam Rayburn. We did the food habit study, we showed them how to catch them.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What period of time was that number?
MR. DUROCHER: That's for a year.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: That's one year.
MR. DUROCHER: One year.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I agree, that's a lot of work.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, he may have some others working with him, or something, I don't know how to catch that much on your own. Okay.
MR. DUROCHER: He had some helpers I imagine.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm sorry?
MR. DUROCHER: He has some helpers, I'm sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Back to your map here and you're showing everything from no harvest to no limit, ourselves and Louisiana, to 50 a day, I guess that's Missouri, all over the map for what reason — to give you an example, Florida, did you visit with Florida, why no harvest at all?
MR. DUROCHER: Well, they don't have any gar.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, they just don't have gar. That's interesting.
MR. DUROCHER: They don't think they have any. There's a very, very limited population, so they don't allow any. You know, with all the damming, and they just don't have those kind of flood events that they — that's required. Right. Some of these states actually — Kentucky is actually going to try to start restocking alligator gar to kind of bring their population back.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Where would they get that stock? Are they farm raising it? I mean how do they —
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, they're going to raise them themselves. I think there's a federal hatchery in that area that is experimenting with producing gar.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Have we ever fooled with that?
MR. TERRE: It's Tennessee.
MR. DUROCHER: Not yet.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Tennessee.
MR. DUROCHER: It's Tennessee, yes. Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: It's interesting to see from no harvest to 50 —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, or none like we have, see we have — I mean there's no limit in our case, theoretically.
MR. DUROCHER: I think Missouri kind of matches what they do with paddle fish and I don't think they have any — they don't have —
MR. TERRE: Fifty per day, that's a combined total of lots of — a conglomeration of a bunch of fish.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Well, it needs to be changed.
MR. DUROCHER: That's been the Mississippi, you know, the Mississippi River there runs — that's where most of that activity takes place.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: Yes, you know, again, I thank you all for coming up here, because I know you're really concerned about this, and there's been some other comments, and I really think we should consider this recommendation seriously.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, I agree. I think the important point here is that we're actively engaged in research that we think will be productive within the next couple of years. And there's a lot of interest obviously in the fish, so. The other point I would make is that, you know, particularly with the significant reduction in the commercial off take, you know, what may come out of that research is that it could be liberalized. I mean it's —
MR. DUROCHER: Right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — we don't know, you're just suggesting that — it's a first step, but potentially a second step is liberalizing it. Having said that, that's a huge fish, and one per day is, you know, a fairly significant —
MR. DUROCHER: Well, it's similar to a tarpon or a shark —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I have a hard —
MR. DUROCHER: — on the marine side.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — time thinking that we're —
MR. TERRE: Sturgeon.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — reducing opportunity —
MR. DUROCHER: Sturgeon.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — with that kind of off take. We certainly want to keep looking at it though.
Any other questions?
MR. DUROCHER: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. All right. Salty water.
MR. RIECHERS: For the record, my name is Robin Riechers, and I'm here to present to you the Coastal Fisheries statewide proposals. As you all recall, our public hearing proposals were comprised of three different proposals: one is a power craft guide license, the other is a suite of several species, looking at consistency with federal regulations, and then lastly we had proposals regarding recreational and commercial flounder fishery.
Just to kind of recap, you know, it's been a long process. We've had 10 different scoping meetings at the following locations listed there; we also formed a recreational and commercial work group, who each met two times, and the last time they actually met together; and then we had these 47 hearings across the state, of which we had comments coming about our proposals from 13 of those hearings.
When you break that comment summary down, it basically looks like that, about 6,500 in the scoping phase, close to — a little over 4,000 in the public hearing phase of comments in regards to some portion of these rules, and the organizations who commented are listed there. And I'm going to go through those because you're going to hear from some of those organizations a little bit tomorrow, and I'll give you hopefully a little bit of a preview of what they're going to say to you.
Coastal Bend Guides Association supported the flounder proposal, they opposed the kayak portion, or the paddle craft license proposal. The Coastal Conservation Association supported the bag limits of five — movement from 10 to five on the recreational side and from 60 to 30 on the commercial side. They did not support the November closure as we had it; they supported an October, November and December closure only to the gig fishery. The Port Aransas Boatmens Association and Saltwater Enhancement Association both spoke in favor of the flounder proposals in our scoping phase, and I don't know if that's where they will still be after we had our proposal, but they did at that time speak in favor of it. The Recreational Fishing Alliance asks us to have a 10-fish recreational and commercial bag limit on flounder, and they supported a November closure. They also opposed our shark regulations and our triggerfish proposals, or our federal consistency proposals.
In addition, I might add, and I missed it when I was up there with Coastal Conservation Association, they supplemented their position on flounder with support of the sharks and greater amberjack proposals, and on gray triggerfish they suggested that we have a 10-inch minimum size limit and a 10-fish bag limit.
The last two, Ocean Conservancy, had a petition with over 350 signatures on it supporting all the federal consistency proposals. The only thing they suggested beyond that was that we should look at upping the minimize size limit on the three fish, that we're not considering upping the minimum size limit on sharks, and they also asked for proactive measures regarding some shark species which is now going through the federal process under HMS, Highly Migratory Species, Amendment Three. And then lastly we got a letter from the Pew Environmental Group supporting our consistency measures on greater amberjack, gray triggerfish, and gag grouper.
Next, I'll move into the actual proposals and, again, kind of like I did when we briefed you last time, I'll stop at the end of each one. If there's any questions regarding those proposals, I'll try to deal with those while we're on them.
Again, when we looked at this paddle craft guide endorsement, we looked at the current requirements and basically the current requirements would be that you have an all-water guide license, which requires you to have a United States Coast Guard operator of uninspected passenger vessel, a captain's license if you will, and then it — to get that, it requires you to have 360 days of sea time. And so it was brought to our attention in a request to us to look at this and, of course, that 360 days of sea time, if you're not going to be on a power boat is, you know, pretty difficult for you to certify. And the other aspect that we've looked at is that we really don't believe that that time on that power boat allows you to really some of the unique safety issues associated with paddle craft.
So our proposal, that was published in the Register was to require a TPWD boater safety course, a CPR and first aid course, and either one of two — you can choose either the American Canoe Association or the British Canoe Union certification, but you basically have to go through a two-step course level there, and that would be the American Canoe Association Level Two, Essentials of Kayak Touring and Coastal Kayak Trip Leading. And if you did the British Canoe Union certification, it would be the Three Star Sea Kayak, and then the Four Star Leader Sea Kayak.
When we look at our comments regarding this proposal, you see we've had considerable comments in favor of the proposal running at about 89 percent with 210 people speaking, those opposed about 25 and 11 percent. Mostly the opposition at the public hearing came from people who didn't think this was inclusive enough of overall general boating safety, and the issues that you might have out there in just overall general boating safety. Some people suggest it's not as stringent as the USC — Coast Guard requirements. And then lastly, some of those people are calling for a drug testing situation in regards to people who are in those kayaks and guiding.
Now, we have a proposed amendment to the change as published in the Register, and what we would propose, upon further inspection of those second courses that were listed there, it's a prerequisite to have those first courses or a course that teaches you those same skills, and some of them may actually allow you to take — one or the other course, and then it allows you to go to that second tier course. So it's our belief that we can accomplish the same skill level by just listing those two last courses in that suite of courses, and that way it also reduces the amount of paperwork someone will have to bring in to our license deputy's office and actually make sure they have with them, and it also reduces the amount of paperwork we have to then certify as it's appropriate and it's — you know, it allows us to have that license. But the requirement essentially ends up being the same thing. So we would suggest that change.
That kind of concludes that section on paddle craft licensing. Are there any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: How many people are affected by this?
MR. RIECHERS: We really believe it's — at this point it's a small number who have asked and kind of come forward and said, you know, We'd like for you to look at this. I'm going to just throw a number out, just based on — and this is just hearsay at this point, but maybe 14, 20, 25, in that neighborhood. Now we believe this is where a growing segment may be, and so certainly anything we can do to allow people who either are doing it and not being licensed appropriately, or to allow growth in that segment, that's kind of why we're looking at this change.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions on that?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks.
MR. RIECHERS: Okay. We'll move on to the federal regulation consistency, and specific the shark item. Again, our proposal was to match the federal prohibited shark list of 21 species, and then for those other species which we allow take on, we would allow — we would increase the minimum size limit to 64 inches total length, which is equivalent to the 54 inches fork length that the federal minimum size limit is. Now when saying that, we're maintaining our bag limit and our minimum size limit at 24 inches total length for Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead and black tip.
And the other species that we're considering for regulation consistency, we're considering increasing the minimum length from 32 to 34 inches for a total length on greater amberjack, and reducing the bag limit — actually the bag limit today is one fish per person per day, so that will remain the same. On gray triggerfish we're establishing a 14-inch minimum length limit, 20 per person — and a 20 per person daily bag limit. Now we're going to have a subsequential change on that proposed as we get to that.
And then on gag we're establishing a 22-inch minimum length limit, two per person per day bag limit. When you look at the proposals, and the support and opposition of those proposals, you see that basically for the most part we're running around 90 percent in support, and roughly 10 percent in opposition.
As we talk about the federal rule consistency, our comment summary, if you will, those who are in support basically asked us for greater protection. And that was either greater, mostly on the shark side of the wall, greater protection to the raising those other minimum length limits. There was some discussion about setting up some of those sharks where it's one per person per year based — or only on — if it's a record kind of fish like we've done on Tarpon and other species. When you talk about those who were against, again, it's this issue over concern of the federal data and how we get from those federal issues and the data that goes into those management recommendations that come forward. And then lastly on sharks it's the identification issues regarding sharks, and as we've already talked with a lot of folks about, we're going to make a real push on education, and the feds have already made a real push on education regarding identification, and the state's going to take that up as well as much as we can to help them support that notion.
The rule change that I wanted to bring forward, or the consistency change that I wanted to bring forward was on gray triggerfish, and, again, this is a proposed amendment to what was published in the Texas Register and it would be that we would establish a 16-inch minimum length limit, total length, instead of the 14-inch total length that was proposed. To be consistent, the federal regulation is 14-inch fork length, and I, in fact, talked about how confusing that was at the last meeting, and along the way we got confused ourselves and had a fork length measurement in there instead of a total length measurement.
That concludes my presentation for that side.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, while we're talking about being consistent, why do we use total length as opposed to fork length? I mean surely that creates more issues with the fishermen than not.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, years ago certainly — well, the feds use both, quite frankly. They go back and forth depending the species. Years ago, here in Texas, in the saltwater, we tried to go to total length on all of our species, and so we're at least trying to be consistent with all of ours being total length. I don't know that we'd have much success in convincing them to go total length on everything. We certainly have tried on that in the past because of that, you know, the difficulty. Now what we try to do is pick a total length, that if you're consistent with our rule, you'll be fine with theirs. I mean there's always a conversion on that fork length to total length and we're trying to make that measurement. I mean we could match theirs totally, but we would have a hodgepodge of fork lengths and total lengths.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Couldn't we list both?
MR. RIECHERS: You could list both, but it's an equation that basically makes that correlation between total length and fork length, and if we listed both I think we'd make it real difficult on Pete's guys because, you know, they could end up with a fish that's 16 inch total length, but it may be, you know, 13.5 fork length.
Any other — I'll move on then.
We're going to next move on to flounder, and I present this picture again. You've seen this one now several times, but it kind of shows the current situation of the flounder stocks basically. It shows that, you know, since the early 1980s we've decreased that overall flounder population by about 50 percent, going from that kind of .1 figure over there on the axis, and that's a catch per unit effort. And our standardized sampling from about .1 to somewhere in that neighborhood of .04, .05 when you look at that. As we've talked about in the past, we see that throughout our data sets, throughout our fisheries' independent data sets, and we also saw that in both the recreational and commercial catches.
So our proposal that we published in the Register will reduce the recreational catch from 10 to five fish, and reduce the commercial catch from 60 to 30 fish, and then we'll close November to all take of flounder as proposed.
Just to remind you all of some of the numbers you were looking at last time, at this point the proposal that we sent to the Register is ingrained there and of course that proposal would achieve around a 100 percent increase in spawning stock biomass over the six-year period, and that comes at that cost as I described it last time, at a cost, and the harvest of about 45 percent, or a 45 percent decline in overall numbers. And of course that also — that particular chart or table shows you some of the other things that we talked about at the last meeting.
Now when I take you to the comment summary, flounder's a little more difficult than some of the other summaries because they could — people could agree with the five and the 30, but disagree with our November closure. So when I present this to you, that's basically how I presented it. If they said they agreed with five and 30, like the people who would have supported the CCA position, I put them in support of five and 30, but then I put them in opposition of the November closure. And, in fact, when you look at these comments, over 7800 of those in the scoping phase and the public hearing phase were in support of that CCA position of 5/30, October, November, and December.
Now when you look at it overall, and this is only the public hearing phase, you see that, you know, we pretty much had overwhelming support of the five-fish bag limit and the 30-fish bag limit change in the rec and the commercial bag limits. Unfortunately, I will tell you the November closure, as you can see there, didn't receive as much support. And of course a lot of that is due to those 2100 or so people from the Coastal Conservation Association, who were represented here within this context of being against the November closure. Not necessarily that they're against all closures, but they didn't like this closure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Let me stop you there, Robin, for a second. On that November closure, what they're talking about is they want to have it open for rod and reel. That —
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — would be correct.
MR. RIECHERS: That's —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Pardon me, on rod and reel, visiting with people about it internally also, catching flounder with a rod and reel, I never had much luck personally, but I'm not much of a fisherman. Walk me through your sense of that relative to the population and what kind of hit it might put on it if you stayed open for rod and reel in November.
MR. RIECHERS: Okay. Well, and I have some scenarios I'm going to —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, good. Okay.
MR. RIECHERS: — certainly present to you —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So I may have gotten ahead of you.
MR. RIECHERS: — here at the end of this. But basically when you think about the rod and reel fishery, and we look at some data set where we have both of those fisheries going on — and we're actually monitoring that gig fishery as well, that was in 1991 — when you look at it overall, because there's so many recreational rod and reel anglers, they actually catch 1.6 or so fish to every one fish caught in the gig fishery. Now, that being said, that doesn't mean they're near as efficient which is what you were getting to, which is the efficiency question about if you're a rod and reel angler out there. And so I will go into that in just a second as we move forward here.
A couple of other considerations that I kind of wanted to bring up that kind of are along those same lines, you know, is first the modeling uncertainties. And certainly, given the long term data sets that we have, I think we can do this modeling as well as anyone in the country, but certainly I, you know, need to at least make you aware that these are based on static conditions. If fishing effort goes up and fishing mortality would go up with that, then our projections of what we're going to see would actually be less. By the same token, if fishing effort goes down, and fishing mortality went down subsequently with that, then we would actually end up with higher biomass than we would have projected. So, you know, that's just one of those things that we always live with in these kind of situations, but, you know, it is based on the static conditions that we're dealing with in the model at the time.
The other thing, you know, that we always want to make note of, and it's certainly just like in the gar scenario, you know, we continue to have this statewide hunting/fishing proclamation every year and we look at all these species every year. And so, you know, what we do today or tomorrow, you know, we'll be reviewing over the course of the next several years, but what we would expect in this particular case is that within about three years we'll have 90 percent of the impact of that rule will be seeing that because of the way this fishery is. It's a six-year lived species, and so we will see 90 percent of the impact to this rule in that three-year time frame.
In addition, I just kind of wanted to remind everyone we do have a fin fish limited entry program on the commercial side. That was put in place in 1999. In the year 2000 we started with the buy-back program that was developed underneath that program. Since that time we bought about — it's 190 licenses. We have a current round out now, we buy on average — in the last three or four rounds, we bought about 10 to 12 licenses per round. We've got an application period out right now, we've got 21 different applications in that just closed. We don't know how many will accept out of that, but certainly we're trying to get more aggressive on the fin fish side of the world in regards to buy-back. Now, you know, I want to at least make you aware as well, when it comes to the fin fish license holder, they can fish for — typically those are either flounder fishermen or black drum fishermen. So it can be a combination of either/or, so —
Now as we — given the overwhelming I guess lack of support for the November closure at this point in time, you know, I wanted to at least consider some of the considerations that Chairman Holt was bringing up there, and give you some information that might help you in your decision. When we look at the efficiencies of these different gears, from that same time frame we're talking about, if you — what you see here is a graph regarding the 10-fish bag limit on recreational for both the rod and reel fishery and the gig fishery. And the percentages are the percentage number of trips that — they had to first of all have a flounder in their bag, and then secondly, how many of those trips caught, you know, one through 10, or greater.
So what you see there when you look at the blue chart, it's about 80 percent of those people who had a flounder in the bag catch only one fish. Then after that about 10 percent catch two and, you know, the percentage that catches more than two fish starts to go way down. When you look at that compared to the recreational gig fishery, you'll see that, you know, about 18 percent or 20 percent of each of those trips catch one, two or three fish, and then, you know, it starts to go down and then you'll see about, you know, roughly 8 percent of those trips catch greater than 10 fish in the current situation, or 10 fish or greater, it can't be greater any more because we've not matched possession and bag limit, but at this time it could have been.
So having said that, you know, certainly if you're going to restrict the more efficient gear during that November closure, you know, we would want to restrict the gig fishery instead of the rod and reel fishery, and if you look at that, I presented you some options here. I've got the proposal as published in green there on top, and then I've looked at options for a November harvest below, and that's the option for hook and line only. You have a — if you allowed hook and line to have a two-fish bag limit, you will see that you would basically raise your spawning stock biomass to about 80 percent in the time frame of six years. If you had a three-fish bag limit, it's about 77 percent, and then five fish, 72. Again, at the cost of roughly 35 percent in total decline in harvest numbers, and about 27 percent in harvest weight.
With that, that really concludes the presentation, so I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The closing of the gigging possibilities for, what we'd say, October, November, December? Sorry.
MR. SMITH: Just November.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, no, no, no, we had it three months.
FEMALE VOICE: Originally.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Originally.
MR. RIECHERS: Originally.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, I mean I'm talking about — I was going to ask — I'm talking about — sorry, I'm jumping around a little bit — on the commercial side, if you close for the three months, as was kind of originally talked about, you are at essentially closed down mode. Is that when most of the commercial gigging is done relative to the year round?
MR. RIECHERS: You know, certainly the commercial gigging occurs during all that period of time, but just like the recreational fishery, a bulk of those landings come from that October, November and December time frame.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Fifty percent I think —
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, yes, that's — yes, it's around 50 percent.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Would there — on the slide that's up now where you have the two- to three- to five-fish bag limit, would there be any minimum size length on this?
MR. RIECHERS: And I should have made that clear. Certainly within the context of any of our proposals it still has the 14-inch minimum size limit we have in effect now. I apologize for not making that clear.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Going back to your regulation impact showing all the numbers which was one of the first slides, it shows an October-December closure, the biomass increase 100.7 — 107.7 percent. Is that total closure, rod and reel and gigging?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. What we presented last time was the total closure scenarios, yes, rod and reel and gigging.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Is there a significant difference if you just did the gigging as opposed to —
COMMISSIONER HIXON: No, not for the whole three months.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: My recollection was, there wasn't a big — correct me if I'm wrong — there wasn't a big difference between the three-month and the one-month closure in terms of spawning biomass increases. Is that correct?
MR. RIECHERS: Correct. There as you see there, the November closure, five and 30 has it at about 102 percent spawning bio mass and the October to December closure, if you include the 5/30 would have 127 percent.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Oh, that's right.
MR. RIECHERS: Right.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I guess what I'm trying to do is factor in the efficiency that you're talking about between the rod and reel and gigging into those numbers, and maybe — if you don't have that data that's fine, but I'm just curious if there's any way to sort of extrapolate, if there is that number.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, I — and I'm trying to make sure I'm understanding your question. I mean we have a lot of scenarios here —
COMMISSIONER HIXON: Sure.
MR. RIECHERS: — so I'm sure we do have the number here, it's just — are you just trying to get at if we —
COMMISSIONER HIXON: I'm saying — I guess I'm going to the CCA proposal, is the fact that it would be closed three months strictly for gigging. Do we have that number somewhere?
MR. RIECHERS: I don't know that we ran that exact number, but when you look at that — when we look at getting at that number by looking at the various scenarios we've done, it's — you know, I think it's probably close to the November closure and five and 30 bag limit. It's getting close in to that range.
And, you know, I think that's one of the other things that, you know, as we talk about this and this modeling, is that, you know, before we could do this modeling, we would take these actions and we would look for that trend line to go up again because that's what we really look at is those abundance trends based on our sampling. Now, you know, this modeling's an important tool because it allows us to project out a little bit further, but certainly there's not a lot of difference between a 95 percent spawning biomass increase, and a 97 percent spawning stock biomass increase, you know. We're kind of cutting hairs here that may not really be there, and when you, you know, certainly consider some of the environmental parameters that are changing from one year to the next out there.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And I may be asking the same question, I'm just getting confused with the figures here, but if we had a November closure — sorry — we allowed rod and reel in November —
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — well, all three months, but only rod and reel in November, the spawning biomass increase based on this model difference would be — the difference between that and our current proposal would be what?
MR. RIECHERS: If you look at the last draft, for the one I have up now, basically it's the difference that 102.5 and 72.8, about 30 percentage points.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So that's —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Pretty significant difference.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: If you go to five. See what he's talking about?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, well —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You could theoretically in November allow some recreational rod and reel, but a two-fish bag limit, and now you're at 80.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Which is still a 20 percent —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's about 22.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — yes — difference.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I have something I want to ask him.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Please.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Let's go now to the fishermen, the recreational fishermen. If you close November, now you've closed it to gigging and to any kind of fishing, of any kind, not only commercial but, of course, for the recreational. I'm going to ask this question, maybe you just give me an estimate. I mean do we have a lot of people out fishing for flounder in November? I'm trying to understand the impact relative to the recreational fishermen.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly November, and I mean this is why we've targeted November —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, spawn.
MR. RIECHERS: — is it's the spawn —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. RIECHERS: — and it's the time that they're moving through from the bay to the gulf.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
MR. RIECHERS: So, you know, I think there are a lot of people who will target a trip in October, November and December, and certainly I think the public hearing comments suggests that there's a lot of people who have interest in that time frame. You know, is November overall one of our high effort months? No. But when it comes to flounder, it obviously is a higher effort kind of targeted fishery.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: We're still increasing spawning biomass significantly —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We have — you're right —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — just not —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — in the middle of your —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — taking that entire period away.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — kind of the middle of the spawn, or the main spawning month, for lack of a better, isn't it?
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, when you look at, you know, November and we looked at the various scenarios, if we just closed October, if we just closed November, if we just closed December, November's the bigger key month here, certainly.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Any thoughts?
MR. SMITH: So I think, Commissioner, you know, there's a million different permutations on this.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. SMITH: But I think the November month is critical, it's something that Robin and his team are saying, you know, we have the proposal now on the table in which we are going to essentially half the catch across all sectors, but with a November closure for all sectors. And so that's the proposal that we would formally present tomorrow. I think what Robin wanted to do is, you know, if you wanted to look at that question of recreational opportunity for rod and reel fishery, which is less efficient, this would be the impact on our recovery on the spawning biomass. So that will be something for you all to consider tomorrow.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. Specific to that point, in terms of recovery in term, 80 percent versus — give us a sense of what that 20 percent, you know, dealt with —
MR. RIECHERS: Well, if we — and I'll just go back to the slide because it'll be certainly far easier for me to show it on a slide versus me trying to describe it. In terms of recovery, that would have us going from, you know, the point in — .08, .07 down here where we're at, you know, somewhere in that .04 range on catch per unit effort, it would have us recovering that stock back up into that .08 range. You know, we're not as high as maybe we've kind of targeted, but we certainly would move up there, and it would level off at that period of time.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: How long does that take?
MR. RIECHERS: We should see most of that, over 90 percent of that recovery we should see in three years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Three years, yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So I think it is a valid question, do we want to — you know, do we want to — it's 80 — 20 percent sounds drastic, looking at it here it's a drastic increase.
MR. RIECHERS: It would be a significant increase from where we are, still a significant reduction in the overall catch. The overall catch would be — the change in reduction in overall catch is — if you keep the current proposal, your overall catch reduction is about 35 percent in numbers. If you go — if you went to one of those other considerations you're more like in the 35 percent in overall harvest decline.
COMMISSIONER HIXON: And this is sort of in a perfect world?
MR. RIECHERS: Sure. Absolutely. I mean —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Well, given the November opportunity on hook and line, I think we ought to consider it, even if it doesn't take a long, long time for that biomass to return.
So any discussion or thoughts on that?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: If we were to do it, could we do it — try it just this year and see what the surveys show after. Would it, Robin?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I don't know if one year would show enough.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Is that not enough —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm like Robin, I'm not the scientists who are —
MR. RIECHERS: Well, I'm going to go —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm worried about that, but I'm not a scientist.
MR. RIECHERS: Let me to back to — I'm going to go back to one of our previous presentations where I showed you the six-year recovery time frame, and see if I can get an estimate of — just ballpark it here if I can find that. I mean the recovery — there it is — I'm sorry — the recovery ramps up very quickly after year one — and unfortunately this is the problem as we get a little older here —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You need your arms a little longer —
MR. RIECHERS: Don't know if those will help, but we should see, at the end of year one and, you know, obviously you're assuming a full cycle which would include that November escapement and so forth, you know, you're going to see about 60 percent of your recovery. Now you've got to remember that our sampling then comes in spring and fall, so, you know, really for us to pick that up in our sampling, you're probably going to need to go two years. I mean that's the reality, because you'll get the recovery in the fishery and then our sampling will be picking it up the subsequent season.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Oh, yes. Yes, I see what you're saying.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But if 80 percent is the number, does that mean going to this chart you have up here that that's the most we would get to?
MR. RIECHERS: Based on the modeling it would project us going to that kind of level of abundance, yes. We wouldn't, you know, we wouldn't quite get all the way back to that, you know, the first five-year average, which is somewhere around .1 there in overall abundance trend. But, you know, it certainly doesn't take away from you the opportunity after three years or two years to look at where we are that recovery, you know, assuming the model works and we reach the recovery that we expect for you to look at it again at that point in time, for us to bring back that information to you and, you know, you have an opportunity for subsequent decisions at that point.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And at that point we'd have a better sense of what a viable fishery is, because, you know, is it something lower than those early numbers, or something in between, you know, the two? I don't have a sense for that at all.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, and certainly if you remember, it's been quite some time ago now when we were in Houston when I presented that temperature information. You know, that temperature information suggests there is some correlation and was having some sort of dampening effect on carrying capacity. And, you know, we could be — you know, we believe we can reach back to this point, or else we wouldn't have proposed it, but, you know, we don't know what that influence is going to be, and we don't know how that's going to change the modeling uncertainty in the next couple of years as well.
MR. SMITH: You know, Commissioners, the bottom line is it's an iterative process, and Coastal Fisheries has a, you know, phenomenal long term data set, which they will continue to monitor the impact of these regulations, whatever it is you choose to do tomorrow, and we'll bring that back to you and can show you trends and are we meeting the proposed rate of recovery under whatever regime is ultimately set. It probably would take a couple of years. You also need to factor in the possibility of hurricanes and what impact that will have on certain sectors of the flounder stocks as well.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, that was my question is, absence some extraordinary event, we'll know if we need to take emergency action, so given that, I join Dan's thoughts on trying to accommodate the two a day on the rod and reel.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Two a day, or I mean — the two a day?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: You know —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We could stay with five and keep it simple too.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — we're not including the fishery — right. I don't hear anything compelling that would suggest that emergency action is required now on this. We have to be extremely restrictive, but, you know, I fall in favor of opportunity.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You say — but are we saying five or two?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm just going to ask you, you're saying that — or at least in my mind I've got to consider five. I don't know if there's an icy water difference. Again, I'm not the scientist. I'm looking at — I'm talking about between the five and two issue, not the five and none, and closing. I understand that difference.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I mean I'd like, you know, simplicity, five and five is consistent —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, then you stay with the — COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — for starters.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — same number —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: But I also —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — all the way across.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — would make the point that we need to keep a close eye on this, and in a couple of years —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, we are.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — have a sense — right — have a sense of where we are and if we have to adjust, we adjust. But I'm with you, that it's — there's not a significant difference, at least here in the model, between five and two.
Any other thoughts on that?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Are you okay with that?
MR. RIECHERS: Well, I'm okay with whatever you all choose to do.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, that was very politic — politically correct answer, wasn't it?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Does it cause concern if we're not —
MR. RIECHERS: Well, certainly —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — replacing the resource?
MR. RIECHERS: — within the context, I mean obviously these are difficult decisions, we've got a resource that we've taken some management actions on through the years, we haven't seen the desired result and that trend coming back upwards. You know, two fish is more conservative, five fish is a little more liberal and simpler. You know, it's just a trade off of, you know, those different —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: But you're essentially really dropping from 10 to —
MR. RIECHERS: Oh, correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — five, or two, or —
MR. RIECHERS: You're certainly going from — yes, you're —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean remember we're changing the whole dynamic —
MR. RIECHERS: That's right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — for the whole year.
COMMISSIONER MARTIN: And then November it's only the hook and line. Right? I mean —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, no gigging. I mean I don't — I mean certainly I wouldn't — I'd have a problem voting for gigging —
But, yes, I'm trying to make sure we just put it in context, Robin —
MR. RIECHERS: Sure.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — I'm not trying —
MR. RIECHERS: No.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — to disagree with you.
MR. RIECHERS: No, no.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Just remember what we're talking about is a change of going from 10 to five, I'm talking about, and then from 60 to 30 for the 11 months. I mean let's say you close November, so you're making a pretty dramatic change in the full 12-month cycle.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes. Well, a 35 percent reduction in the overall numbers —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. RIECHERS: — is what we would project here, and that would be landed. So, you know, and certainly somewhere in that neighborhood of a 70 to 80 percent gain in spawning biomass after six years.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: We're not talking about a lot of people though if we go to five to two. If you go to that chart —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The efficiency issue.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's right. I mean it shows that only — I mean less than —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: A percentage. Right.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: — a few percent are catching more than two on a rod and reel.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I don't know, the only thing I thought about was the simplicity issue relative to these —
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And you're right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — and staying consistent throughout the 12 months for law enforcement and all the other issues that go with anything you change.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You're absolutely right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That was all my thought process was on that. Looking at the difference between two and five, it's eight points, it's less than 8 percent.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So in the absence of other comments about this, I guess we would — you know, my feeling is we'd stick with five in November for rod and — for hook and line, and —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I agree with that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — the current proposal to reflect that.
MR. RIECHERS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER FALCON: But can you —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: But do people want it then?
COMMISSIONER FALCON: The five and 30 for the entire year except for November? Or that would include November also?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, commercial stops.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes. Right. Commercial would stop in —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Why don't you walk through the recommendation as you —
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: — in November.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — yes, we better get clarity. Robin, why don't you walk through the recommendation as you have been out visiting with the public about, and then talk about how you perceive our amendments so that we can —
MR. RIECHERS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — make sure everybody's got clarity here.
MR. RIECHERS: Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Remember, we don't vote on this till tomorrow, so —
MR. RIECHERS: Correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — people can —
MR. RIECHERS: Correct.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — think about it. Robin, you'd be available if anybody had questions after this meeting, or whatever.
MR. RIECHERS: Sure. Sure. Obviously what we have proposed is five fish and 30 fish, rec and commercial, and a November closure to everyone. As I understand your amendment, you would be amending that to allow five fish, rod and reel only, in the month of November, closed to all gigging in the month of November, both commercial and recreational gigging.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Correct.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Correct.
MR. RIECHERS: And as Chairman Holt just indicated, you know, I'm sure you're going to hear a lot on this tomorrow, so, you know, you may have a different view point, but, you know, we will be prepared to, you know, answer any questions in the interim, answer any of your questions and do our best to, you know, have that amendment ready for you if you need it. I mean you'll make the amendment and then we'll put it in place in the Register.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that everyone's understanding good enough?
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Yes.
MR. RIECHERS: Good.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thanks, Robin.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And I just want to — just make sure there's clarity for everybody. How is most commercial fishing done, a commercial take done?
MR. RIECHERS: Certainly. Most commercial fishing is done by gigging.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes. Okay. I just want to make sure everybody understood that, so. Okay.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Robin, thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Clayton.
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, for the record I'm Clayton Wolf. I'm the Director of the Big Game Program. And this morning I'm going to wrap up our proposals for our statewide hunting and fishing proclamations with the Wildlife Division proposals. Most of these are deer related, most white-tailed deer, one mule deer, but we do have a proposed change for lesser prairie chickens. You may recall in January Clay Brewer gave a presentation and indicated that lesser prairie chickens are on the decline, not only in Texas, but throughout their range. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has moved the classification of prairie chickens on their candidate list from a level eight to a level two. So there's quite a bit of concern. Now we do want to say that hunting, particularly in Texas, is not a factor contributing to this decline, but nonetheless our staff, and also our Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee suggested a prudent measure is the suspension of the prairie chicken season until that population can recover. And so that's the proposal that was taken out to public hearings, and of course, as Robin indicated, we had 47 public hearings statewide in addition to our web comments. Everything I show you will be a combination of letters, phone correspondence and web correspondence, but relative to our proposal to temporarily suspend the prairie chicken season, we had 238 individuals comment, and 95 percent of those agreed with this proposal.
On to deer —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Can I stop you there? I'm sorry —
MR. WOLF: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: — Clayton. You know, we're going to temporarily suspend this season. I don't think anybody —
Mark, I assume you're in agreement with that?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I mean — and how to ask the question the right way relative to the changes going on in the habitat and everything else, is there much hope for this lesser prairie chicken to come back?
MR. WOLF: Well, I'm not a prairie chicken expert.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I know you're not.
MR. WOLF: I have visited a little bit —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I'm asking what you've heard and — I haven't gotten a chance to talk to the biologists yet.
MR. WOLF: Right. I did visit with Heather Whitlaw yesterday, and there are some populations that seem to be indicating some improvement because of some habitat modifications along — in those particular areas.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. WOLF: And so, yes, it can happen. There are farm bill programs out there that also provide some incentives. It seems like there is a bottleneck on delivery of those farm bill programs, you know, having enough folks to get out there, that know where the chickens are, to visit with landowners and then walk them through that process, which can be somewhat cumbersome for some of these farm bill programs. But the short of it is, if that could take — if that could happen and if that delivery can occur on that land where it does occur, prairie chickens can respond.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. WOLF: The other thing, of course, and Heather's working diligently on, is we obviously have to — if we're going to — if they're going to establish what a recoverable number is, we have to know how many there are out there and have a baseline, and so she's been working diligently looking at funding sources to establish some surveys out there so we can establish a baseline and then it will be from that point that those technical experts will be able to decide what we could consider recovered. So we just don't know that answer right now.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Gotcha.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I have one comment on that. I think one of the best things that the prairie chicken has working for it right now is the decrease in oil and natural gas prices, because the drilling industry is impacting their populations, at least in the two areas in Texas where we have significant numbers, they're more impacted by the drilling industry than any other aspect. And so laying down these rigs is slowing down the encroachment of their habitat.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: How about your windmills, the turbines, the power turbines and that kind of stuff?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: We're kind of on a threshold there to make a determination on what those structures — what impact they will have. It's not a bird strike issue with —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, in all I think —
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — the birds striking, it's more of a tall structure and how it impacts their ability to breed in the presence of these tall structures.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They don't like them, do they?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Huh-uh.
MR. WOLF: And I learned yesterday, you know, up to a couple of miles there could be an avoidance for those —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's what I understand.
MR. WOLF: — vertical structures, so.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Displacement.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: It's a displacement issue, and I — they don't like those windmills, and they're permanent. You know, a rig moves in and out, and I understand the issues it creates, but it's gone.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Right. Yes, the habitat destruction was different with the oil —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: — and gas rigs.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You know, they're extremely sensitive, yes.
MR. WOLF: Okay. I'll carry on then.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We got out of your field of expertise there.
MR. WOLF: Yes, I was a bit uncomfortable right there, Chairman.
MR. WOLF: But I had Gene Miller in the back, and he was my escape route. He was ready to come forward.
On to deer, something I am a little bit more comfortable with. You've seen these slides several times, so I'm not going to try to belabor too much. The slide before you depicts the current bag limits in Texas, anywhere from one to three bucks, and of course we have a proposal. This is — the suite of proposals I'm presenting to you is an extensive review of all deer regulations in Texas, and we're looking at a three-year cycle.
So if you'll focus your attention first on the eastern rolling plans there, just south of the Panhandle, we have nine counties there in gray that we are proposing to go to a two-buck bag limit. That's kind of Shackelford, Throckmorton and Baylor, Knox on up to Wilbarger County there. And then it — I'll back up again and show you the current state of affairs there in the eastern part of the state. You'll notice we have three different bag limit packages, from one to two bucks, or antler restrictions. And as I move forward here to our proposal, your basic — what we have proposed is basically antler restrictions for the eastern portion of the state.
As far as public comments on this, we divided our buck bag limits into two different categories, where we received 366 comments on the increase in the buck bag limit there in the eastern rolling plains, 366 individuals commented, 87 percent support for that proposal. In the antler restriction package we received 635 comments with about two out of three individuals supporting this. Now this is the lowest approval rating of all of our packages we have out there, so it probably is worth noting just some of the rationale, because we do receive a lot of comments. There are many individuals that oppose this regulation, particularly in the eastern part of the state, that they do not think a deer can grow a 13-inch spread, in fact — or at least most of them cannot. And our data would indicate exactly the opposite.
If we use our six original counties as the benchmark, and we see what happened there, and then we use our data, our statewide data and look at these other populations, all those other populations have at least the capacity for deer to grow as big as those six counties, and in some cases, such as in the cross timbers, they actually grow larger. So surely — definitely our data would indicate that your average deer, or the bulk of the population, can grow a 13-inch spread and that would protect it to the older age classes.
Obviously there are always exceptions, and it seems that some of those comments we get from folks, they seem to feel like for those few bucks that do not have the ability to grow a 13-inch spread, that somehow those animals are going to dominate breeding. And there's no study that would indicate that would occur.
And then just a few — some of the other comments we get, we do get — we did receive quite a few comments folks felt like the agent should be not in the business of promoting trophy hunting. And obviously our proposal is about balancing the age structure. Obviously when you have older bucks in a balanced herd they do have larger antlers. But overall still we have support of this package here, and I just do want to remind you that during — several years back we did a random survey of landowners and hunters and on the average 80 percent plus when we did a random survey of folks and asked them about the antler restriction package.
As far as antlerless bag limits are concerned, our bag limits in Texas vary from two to five. Obviously if you choose to shoot five antlerless deer, you don't have any buck tags left. But that is the most liberal bag limit, and we currently have that in South Texas in the Edwards Plateau. We do have a burgeoning deer population in the eastern Panhandle, and we are looking to provide more opportunity for landowners to control those deer numbers, and so we're proposing an increase in the bag limit there in the eastern Panhandle. As you move further into the cross timbers, it's more of an opportunity issue providing some opportunity. Staff feel like the deer populations there can support a five-antlerless bag limit. Because we segregated this into several regions of the state when we took comment, but if you'll see there, we basically received anywhere from 250 to 360 comments, and anywhere from 84 to 91 percent approval to increase the bag limits in these different areas of Texas.
Of course we also use what we refer to as Doe Days, particularly in the eastern part of the state where tract size is smaller and hunting pressure can be higher, and that's the number of days in the season when someone can take an antlerless deer without an antlerless deer permit. The slide that I will transition to shows what we have proposed in the Texas Register, and in all cases except one county, that's an increase in the number of Doe Days. So there is what we have proposed. I'll back up one more time, this is current and then this is proposed.
The one change I'll indicate to you, as I show the public comment here, if you'll look there up on the Red River, that county that shows 74 percent approval, that's Grayson County, and I just want to remind you that we are proposing to maintain the archery only season in Grayson County, but in order to remain consistent with the RMU for antlerless deer regs, we have proposed to go from four Doe Days to antlerless by permit only. So that's the one case where it was different. And the of course if you'll look at the different parts of the piney woods and post oak savannah, you can see our approval rating was anywhere from 83 to 92 percent in approval of increasing the number of Doe Days.
We have proposed to open a white-tailed deer season in Dawson, Deaf Smith and Martin Counties. Actually, this — some landowners approached our staff last year when we were scoping and proposing our mule deer seasons out there, and that kind of put the thought in their head, and they came forward with that proposal. You can see that web comments and other — and our public hearing comments combined, 95 percent agree. I think it's only fair to the folks there in Lamesa that showed up at the public hearing, I believe we had about seven people that spoke there, and all of those local individuals were opposed to opening a deer season. There's just concern of over-exploitation. However, our — and they also recommended other measures that might be more conservative — but our staff is comfortable with the proposal we have there, simply based upon the fact that landowners and the landowners out there, you know, have the ability to control that and control access. And so our staff still supports that proposal, and overall, when you combine web comments and public hearings together, 95 percent of those individuals support that as well.
Dallam, Hartley, Moore, Oldham, Potter and Sherman Counties currently are the only six counties in the state that have a 16-day white-tailed deer season, and that overlaps our mule deer season up in the Panhandle. And so the combinations of the proposals I show before you would result in a one-buck, two-antlerless, but we also are proposing the full two month season, along with the rest of the state. As far as comments on that, we received 252 comments, and 95 percent of those people were in agreement with extending the deer season.
We have late antlerless and spike seasons in Texas by use of modern firearms and also muzzleloaders. The late antlerless and spike seasons are typically in those places where we see the need for increased harvest. You'll recall we have proposed to increase the bag limit throughout much of Texas, and so for the antlerless and spike season there in the middle of the state, we're proposing to take that up through the eastern Panhandle and over to just west of Dallas/Ft. Worth as well.
I'll back up again. If you'll look on the eastern part of the state, the southern piney woods currently has a muzzleloader season and we're proposing — we have proposed, excuse me, to take that into the northern piney woods, as well as the oak, prairies, marshes, and southern post oak savannah. You'll remember probably back in January that I indicated that the start of these two types of seasons are a little bit different. The antlerless and spike season begins on the Monday after the close of the general season, whereas the muzzleloader season starts on the following Saturday. So we have proposed that both these seasons start on the Monday following the close of the general season, and run for 14 consecutive days. Additionally, we propose no changes to the bag limit for the modern firearm season, but we are proposing the county bag limits that are in place during the regular season also apply during the modern — during the muzzleloader season.
Eighty-seven percent of the 358 folks that responded agree with our proposal to increase the antlerless — or to extend the antlerless and spike season up into North Texas. And 88 percent of the 360 people that spoke to the muzzleloader season agreed with our proposal to extend the muzzleloader season, as well as change the bag limit. On Forest Service land, Corps of Engineer land, and River Authority land in Texas, many times there can be unlimited access, but hunting can be allowed. So we have special provisions in our regulations to control antlerless deer harvest. That is somewhat of a hodgepodge, and we are proposing to standardize and consolidate some of that language, and so we have proposed that the standard language be antlerless by permit only, unless otherwise specified.
And we do have a couple of exceptions we have proposed. One of those is for Fannin County where we would propose no antlerless permit be required on Forest Service land because other control mechanisms are in place on those Forest Service tracts. And for Wise and Montague Counties we are proposing Doe Days for those four days at Thanksgiving, and that would be consistent with the county. Eighty-nine percent of the people that spoke to this proposal were in favor of it, and there were 314 comments as of yesterday afternoon.
We were approached late in the regulation cycle last year to include Parmer County in our mule deer proposal. It was a little bit late to fully scope and vet that, so we put that in this cycle. Parmer County is there on the New Mexico county line, and we have proposed a buck-only season in Parmer County; 90 percent of the comments are in favor of the mule deer season in Parmer County.
The slide before you depicts this past hunting season. The green is our regular season dates for most of Texas, not counting South Texas. And where — and in red is where our youth-only deer seasons fall. We have proposed in the Texas Register that the late youth-only deer season start the Monday following the close of the general season and run for 14 consecutive days. Five hundred and seven people commented on this particular proposal; 80 percent in agreement.
Our White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee, ever since October of 2007 has been taking on the challenge of wrestling with issues relating to waste of game violations, deer tagging, and others, quite a complex array of statutes and regulations. And we do know legislation has been filed at the capital. In fact, there were hearings at the Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting last week, and the Committee substitutes that we saw actually would incorporate some of these recommendations of the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee, so things are rolling downtown. And David Sinclair and I gave testimony on that, as well as Greg Simons, who's a member of White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee, went down there and spoke in favor of the bill, so some of these discussions are taking place downtown, and it looks like things are rolling forward.
However, as far as tagging requirements are concerned, this Commission has the authority to modify tagging requirements. And so we — the current state of affairs for tagging requirements indicates that tagging requirements cease when a carcass is at final destination, it's been processed for cooking or storage, and is beyond quarters. And you may recall that that issue of beyond quarters is a technical issue, not necessarily in reality, but you could have a deer in your freezer and still be required to have a tag on it. So we proposed in the Texas Register that those tagging requirements would cease when at least one quarter has been removed and that deer, or the venison, has been placed in — has been used for — prepared for cooking or storage.
Now here recently what we did discover is there was — there's a difference of opinion in our proposal than what we thought the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee agreed upon and what is in the Texas Register right now. There were some that thought that the tagging requirements applied only to tags and permits, and that other documentation, such as the requirement for a Wildlife Resource document or proof of sex documentation did not cease. And then there was a subset of individuals that thought when we used the term "tagging requirements" we were using that inclusive of WRD requirements and proof of sex requirements. The majority of the White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee, I polled them, and they believe that that's all inclusive and including WRDs. But there were enough other individuals and enough confusion that we are going to withdraw this proposal.
We have time, or we have a White-Tailed Deer Advisory Committee meeting on the 14th, and so what we intend to do is propose in the Texas Register some language that gives the Advisory Committee and this Commission the broadest latitude to make recommendations and decisions. What we will propose is that Wildlife Resource document and proof of sex requirements cease when tagging requirements cease. And in addition, I just want to be clear, that we will also discuss at what point that ceases, whether that's one quarter, or four quarters. And we'll get some advice from Ann Bright and our legal folks on what language gives us the most latitude. But we do propose to put this in the Texas Register, then go to the Advisory Committee and come back to you in May for adoption, and that will still give us time to get the right information in our outdoor annual.
And finally, there are some non-substantive changes. Last year this Commission went through some rule making on turkey regs. There's a little reorganization and some paragraphs were renumbered, but there's still some incorrect references in there, and so just some — a little bit of housekeeping to clean some of that up.
And with that, I conclude my presentation, and I'll be happy to take any questions.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Mr. Chairman, I have two questions. One on, with the extended season that you now proposed in the six counties in the Panhandle, does that make the white-tailed deer season uniform statewide?
MR. WOLF: Yes, sir, it does. With every area, except South Texas.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: All right. And then in Grayson County, regardless of Doe Days, any of the seasons, it's all antler — I mean all archery only?
MR. WOLF: It's archery only, yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Duggins.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What changes, if any, are you proposing to Grayson County from the last meeting?
MR. WOLF: From the last meeting? When we left here, no changes. We — our proposal for Grayson County is antler restrictions which would be a two-buck bag limit; they are currently a one-buck bag limit. And then we also recommended and went to the Texas Register with changing it from four Doe Days to antlerless by permit only. That's what we presented in January, and we've gotten support for it. I mean 74 percent I believe of the folks supported the change in Doe Days to antlerless by permit only.
COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
MR. WOLF: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Appreciate it.
I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.
And I think we have completed our business, Mr. Chairman.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Thank you very much.
Before we move to Conservation, I wanted to recognize some people. I understand Dr. Doug Slack —
Dr. Slack, are you here? Can you stand up? I understand you have a class here today and tomorrow? You going to bring a class tomorrow?
DR. SLACK: That's right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Different group?
DR. SLACK: Different group.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Are they — and can you explain a little bit what your group is — what the students are studying?
DR. SLACK: It's a wildlife conservation course for students in our department. So they're studying policy making. We've been thinking about you.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Well, I assume we're probably boring them stiff, to be honest with you, but —
DR. SLACK: No, we've got to learn where the sausage is really made.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, and it's as ugly as sausage is, I can tell you that.
Could the students stand up, and let's give a big round of applause. I'm glad you all are getting involved.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And Dr. Slack, thank you. I appreciate your interest, and certainly if there's anything we can do for you, don't hesitate to call on us. Thank you very much.
With that we'll move on to Conservation Committee. Chairman Bivins.
How is our time? Gene, what do you think we should —
MR. McCARTY: Get those two —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. McCARTY: — you have two items —
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay.
MR. McCARTY: — then we go to Executive Committee.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Okay. Okay.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Okay. Well, then the gavel's passed to you, Mark.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
(Whereupon, at 12:05 p.m., the meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: March 25, 2009
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 153, 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