TPW Commission

Work Session, March 21, 2018


TPW Commission Meetings


March 21, 2018



COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I'd like to call the Wednesday Work Session meeting to order on March 21, 2018, at -- who stole the clock over your head -- at 9:07 a.m.

Before we begin, I believe Mr. Smith has a statement to make.

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

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 the meeting.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Next order of business is approval of the minutes from the Works Session held January 24th, 2018. Those minutes have been distributed. Do I have a motion for approval?

Commissioner Scott. Second Commissioner Latimer.

Any opposed?

Hearing none, motion carries unanimously.

Work Session Item 1, Update on TPWD Progress in Implementing the Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan. Carter, would you please make your presentation on that item?

MR. SMITH: I will. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Carter Smith. Thanks for the opportunity to share a few words with you this morning. I do need to get this clicker here, Chairman.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Oh, I forgot about that.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Ken. Thank you, sir. Will that work from back here? Yeah.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You can sit wherever you want.

MR. SMITH: No, it's good. That's great. That's easier. Thank you. I should have got that before.

Just as a point of departure, you know, certainly as you know, as required by law we need to report on the status of our Internal Affairs team. I'd just say that that team continues to perform as expected, normal caseload. They've got some administrative and training-related things that they're doing, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. If you've got any questions, I see Mark here and Jon is also around somewhere; and so don't hesitate to catch them.

We're excited about the fact that the next Commission meeting is going to be up in the Panhandle.

And, Mr. Chairman, this is consistent with your guidance to make sure that at least twice a year, we're trying to hold Commission meetings out throughout the state; and we're looking forward to being up in Amarillo and Lubbock.

Dee provided for all of you a proposed itinerary for the meetings, May 22d through May 24th.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Does everybody have that?

MR. SMITH: And so hopefully have -- everybody has a chance to see that. I don't have this on the slide, Mr. Chairman; but I would just remind everybody that one of the things we want to do on the morning of the 22nd for everybody that can get up there, is offer a tour of Palo Duro Canyon State Park. You know, that's Texas' grandest of canyons and a very special place and one of our flagship state park sites that's enjoyed by hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people each year. And so we'd love to have you up there for that in the morning.

And then we'll have a Public Hearing in Amarillo that afternoon, in which we'd get a chance to hear from our many different constituencies there in the Panhandle; and then there will be a community reception and dinner afterwards. The next day, we'll get up and make it over to Lubbock and have Commission meetings, followed by another opportunity for the public to share feedback to the Commission and a community reception and so forth.

The only other thing I'll say is we'll wrap up from the Commission perspective, Chairman, probably noonish or so, as is customary, on Thursday. Parks and Wildlife senior staff will stay up in the Panhandle for a town hall with our colleagues up there so we have a chance to interact with our employees up there and hear from them. So we're looking forward to that time with our colleagues there.

So let Dee or me know if you've got any questions about that itinerary and kind of what your schedule is. I've heard from a couple of you that you can make, you know, two; but maybe not three of the days, and so but just keep us posted if you don't mind.

I want to now just herald a partnership that y'all probably haven't had a chance to hear much about with Feeding Texas. And Celia Cole, who's the CEO for Feeding Texas, is here with us today. Celia, welcome and thanks for joining us.

Feeding Texas is, of course, a statewide hunger relief organization. You may have known them previously as the Texas Food Bank Network. They coordinate getting food to our fellow citizens that who need it most. And one of the programs that they administer, which is very germane to our work here, is the successful Hunters for the Hungry Program. And that program has been around for a couple of decades in which hunters can take legally harvested deer, donate it to a processer who will make that into ground hamburger, and then it will be distributed through Feeding Texas to various outlets around the state to share, again, with those citizens who need it most.

So it's a terrific way to use protein, locally-sourced, free-range game. Also helps us with helping to encourage the necessary harvest of White-tail deer and Mule deer across the state. So it meets a lot of goals.

One of the challenges that we have faced with this program over the years, has been sufficient dollars for Feeding Texas to be able to reimburse participating meat processors who are converting that venison into hamburger. And so during the 84th Legislative Session, SB 1978 provided a mechanism where at the point of the sale for purchase of one's hunting or fishing license, one could elect to make a donation to go towards the Hunters for the Hungry Program to help offset those costs.

Part of that legislation ensured that the Department would collect those funds, and then distribute it to the official nonprofit partner for this particular activity. The Commission selected Feeding Texas as that partner.

So we're really, I'd say, Celia, about a year and a half or so into this partnership. We do have some metrics kind of where we are in terms of dollars collected from October 2016 through September 2017. We've collected a little over $116,000; and as you can see, that's been converted into almost 42,000 pounds of venison and has helped provide meals to over 27,000 Texans. So it's making a big impact.

What we want to do is elevate that. We want to continue to market this program. We feel there's opportunities to make this better known among our hunters so that we can increase donations to support this effort, and so we're having active conservations with Celia and her team about how we accomplish that important objective.

We're going to look at extending our contract with Feeding Texas through 2020, to also just give us some more time to invest in that program. Again, I wanted to bring that to your attention today and ask you to think about ways that we can help continue to build awareness. It's a very valuable program.

We've got a lot of deer across the landscape, as y'all know, that need to be harvested; and oftentimes, hunters may be reticent to harvest deer because they're not sure what they want to do with the meat and let's make sure that they know that there's a very important option that's out there to help, again, help some of our fellow citizens that need it most.

So I want to thank Celia and her team for this partnership; and we look forward to working with you to continue to grow this over time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Question for you on that: Is there a link on the website if somebody -- a hunter were to want to donate venison?

MR. SMITH: There's certainly a link on the Hunters for Hungry Program and through the Feeding Texas website.

Josh, I don't know the answer on our website or do we just have a link that would take us to Feeding Texas or is that something we need to look into?

MR. HAVENS: Look into.

MR. SMITH: Okay.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Would you look into that so that we do have a link either that gives -- somebody can --


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- punch it and know how to help on this program, please.

MR. SMITH: You bet. You bet. Y'all give that some thought, and give us any other ideas you have about how we can help this worthwhile program. So thank you.

I want to shift gears and talk a little bit about oysters. And, obviously, this is resource issue which this Commission has taken very seriously, as have, obviously, our staff working on oyster management-related issues along the coast. You know, just as a reminder, recently y'all have put in force a very important mechanism to help the accelerated rebuilding and recovery of our depleted oyster stocks for reasons that y'all know well; but again, just as a reminder: You've reduced the bag limits; you've reduced the allowable threshold for the percentage of juvenile oysters that can be harvested; you've set aside secondary bay systems, which are so important as nursery habitats for oysters; you have set in place essentially protected areas in the near-shore area where we have high amounts of biological diversity associated with those oyster reefs.

We're going to talk about a prospective oyster license buyback program a little later this morning that Lance is going to share background on. And, of course, last Legislative Session, House Bill 51 was passed which enacted steeper penalties for those oyster fishermen who chose to or choose to kind of egregiously and recurringly overharvest juvenile oysters. And so those penalties are in effect and our game wardens are actively out there educating and enforcing oyster fishermen about those laws.

Those enhanced penalties do not apply to oyster fishermen that choose to fish in areas that we have closed. And just as a reminder, the way that our Coastal Fisheries team manages our oyster resources along the coast, we essentially have our bays gridded by management area; and we will open up areas for commercial oyster harvest, as you know, from November through the end of April, based on a series of metrics associated with the preponderance of adult or harvestable oysters -- so three inches or larger -- and a relative proportion of the juvenile oysters. And so the depending upon that relationship, if the percentage of mature oysters has been brought down to a certain threshold or the percentage of juvenile oysters makes up a certain high percentage of the overall oysters in an oyster reef, we'll keep those areas closed to give it time to mature.

So in any one bay system, we'll have some management areas at the start of the season that are open and some that are closed; and during oyster season, we'll have management areas that are open and closed, depending upon, again, what the percentage of juvenile oysters and mature oysters that are available for harvest.

What we've encountered this year through our Law Enforcement team is some commercial oyster fishermen that have recognized that after they are finishing fishing in an area that's currently open and they see those reefs start to be depleted, they will move across a line in a bay to nearby reefs in a closed area that are off limits that are, in theory, not available for the taking and those enhanced penalties do not apply. So all our game wardens, in essence, are able to do, are basically issue one simple Class C citation for that violation and that goes to the captain and it becomes kind of a cost of doing business, if you will. And with, you know, oyster sacks bringing upwards of $40 a sack and a potential fine from the JP at, you know, a 100 bucks or 125 bucks, it might be worth the risk that some choose to take to deliberately violate the law.

So our game wardens got on that very quickly. Had a report from Danny and Grahame and Brandi this morning. They really jumped on this very, very quickly with saturation patrols on the coast and very, very quickly started aggressively enforcing these violations and we've seen that activity taper off dramatically. I want to be fair about that. But it was a very serious problem at the onset of oyster season and very quickly, our game wardens had issued, you know, upwards of 70, 71 citations to that effect. So we're concerned about it. We're on top of it. It's something that we're thinking about prospectively; and I just want to make sure that y'all are aware of it, given what a priority this Commission has put on the protection and recovery of oysters along the coast.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I don't know how the rest of you feel about this, but I -- to me, that outrageous conduct is something that we have to focus on going into next Session because we had such great leadership from Senator Kolkhorst and Representative Bonnen with the enhanced protections and this one somehow, I guess, these 70 or so fishermen have figured out there may be a loophole in the laws that currently exist; but we certainly want to try to fix that next time and prevent this kind of abuse of the public resources and flaunting of the system. So thanks for the update.

MR. SMITH: You bet.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And thank -- Grahame, thank you and your team for doing what you can given the state of the law as it exists now.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Is keelhauling authorized? Is that not something we can do?

MR. SMITH: Next.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We'll continue on on this front and, obviously, more conversations to come.

I just want to take a moment to acknowledge a number of our Fisheries colleagues across the state. The Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society is the professional organization for fisheries managers here in Texas. Obviously, that's an important network for exchanging the most recent updated scientific information, providing professional networks; and our Inland and Coastal Fisheries team continue to lead in this area in many ways.

And they're fresh off the last meeting and the haul of awards home by our colleagues was really impressive and so I would be remiss if I didn't brag on them a little bit and so indulge me, if you will, while I do.

First, I'll say Michael Homer, who's our District biologist up in Abilene, is the President of the Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. So we love to see that leadership among our biologists. Dan Daugherty, who's a research scientist at our Heart of the Hills Research Station, will be the next President. So we'll see a couple of generations there of Texas Parks and Wildlife leadership.

But just looking at the awards that our team received there, were incredibly just gratifying. Outstanding scientific presentations from Dave Buckmeier and Dakus Geeslin on their work on everything to do from gar and river inflows in the Colorado River and how them impact certain fisheries. Outstanding Fisheries Worker of the Year Award, Spencer Dumont, who's our East Texas Regional biologist, leads all our work on those big lakes over there and all the myriad issues there in the rivers. Alice Best and Niki Ragan-Harbison out of our Bryan/College Station and Houston office, working on community and neighborhood fishing opportunities in Houston to provide opportunities in that metropolitan area.

Carl Vignali got a great award and recognition for the work to establish Channel catfish nesting structures there at Lake Raven at Huntsville State Park and so looking at how we create more spawning habitat in kind of midsize lakes and, again, tying that to specific goals of improving fishing in state parks.

A bunch of our colleagues with special recognition. Dakus Geeslin, again, who's been just such a great ambassador for us with Guadalupe River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Texas Brigades.

Michael Morgan and Paul Fleming who've been leading the charge to raise scholarships for students that want to study fisheries biology, but need some help to pay for college. Certainly, we've all been there. Kudos to them.

Sarah Robertson who's partnered with the University of Texas on these semiannual bio blitzes to help collect information for the Fishes of Texas Project; provide a lot of great biological data, which has helped management at state parks and wildlife management areas.

We've talked a lot about our game wardens and state park police officers and also, a number of members of our Wildlife team that were so involved as first responders in the Hurricane Harvey event; but we had a bunch of our colleagues in Southeast Texas on our Inland Fisheries team around Jasper that were absolutely invaluable to that effort over there because, you know, those men and women operate boats every single day. They know all of the backwaters and creeks and rivers and lakes and how to get to places that can't otherwise be accessed by water and particularly during flood events.

And our colleagues John Findeisen, Michael Mayo, Bill Johnson, Jeffrey Bowling, Ray Lenderman, Joe Moorhead, Shawn Malone, again, critical in terms of emergency response, body recovery, getting power line workers to places to restore power to communities over there. You know, they just did a remarkable job.

Also, lastly our Inland Fisheries Watershed Conservation Management team, Megan Bean and Preston Bean, Beth Bendik, Tom Heger, Melissa Parker, Ryan McGillicuddy, been working on watershed management, habitat enhancement on private lands, restoring riparian habitats for Guadalupe bass, working to address exotic and invasive species issues, sand and gravel conflicts among landowners on the Frio. They've just done a remarkable job.

And so kudos to Craig and Robin and their teams and their colleagues and nice to be able to thank them and celebrate their contributions and leadership in this important area of the state. There's a picture of a bunch of happy awardees from Fisheries. You've never seen so many Fisheries biologists smile. We'll just sort of let that sink in for a minute.

Okay. I'm also going to brag a bit on Gail Huber and Cindy Neathery. Gail from our State Park team. Cindy from Coastal Fisheries team. The State Employee Charitable Campaign is kind of our equivalent to your United Way that many of you have in your businesses to help raise funds for charities like Feeding Texas, like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation; and I bring this up because Gail and Cindy led an effort inside the Department to help increase the percentage of donations across the Department.

You can see we had nearly a 15 percent increase from the last year. Parks and Wildlife was recognized for having the highest percentage increase among any State agency. I think that's particularly notable, too, given how focused our colleagues were this year on helping other nonprofits, their neighbors, their colleagues at work on recovering from Hurricane Harvey. So the fact that these colleagues out of sometimes very limited budgets, were also investing discretionary dollars to help other nonprofits at this time in addition to that I just think is remarkable.

And I want to thank Gail and Cindy for their leadership of this program. It's a nice way for the Department to help give back in so many ways. So kudos to them.

Big Time Texas Hunts, this is a great program that provides through essentially a lottery, chances for sportsmen and sportswomen a chance to pursue hunting opportunities in places and for species that probably otherwise really wouldn't have a chance to do. And so we've got a series of basically nine specialized hunting packages that -- everything from, you know, trophy deer to special waterfowl hunts to the real holy grail, the big time or the -- what's the trophy one?

MR. WOLF: Grand slam.

MR. SMITH: The grand slam, where you can hunt a Pronghorn, a Mule deer, a White-tail, and a Bighorn sheep. I mean, again, just a remarkable opportunity. You can buy a chance for $9 online, $10 through the mail.

Our Marketing team and Communications has done a phenomenal job of focusing on what demographics are most likely to purchase these chances, driving down the cost of this marketing program to incredibly low levels, and then showing a return for every dollar we invest in this, we're bringing back $3.76 to invest in wildlife management and habitat research through our Wildlife Program.

So it's a terrific partnership; and, Josh, kudos to our Marketing team who've really brought a lot of sophisticated analysis to this in managing this program.

You can see last year, we had 84,000 entries brought in; three-quarters of a million dollars. Had a great partnership with Cabela's to add a high-end shotgun to the Waterfowl Adventures, which increased the partnership in that by 60 percent. So they're doing a great job; and Clayton and his team, I know, are very appreciative of that partnership with our Marketing team and nice to herald their work.

It's never too earlier to be thinking about the next Legislative Session. Process-wise, one of the major steps for us is the development of the Natural Agenda. That's what the Legislature refers to as the Department's strategic plan. Of course, we also have the Commission's strategic plan, which is our Land and Water Plan; but we prepare the Natural Agenda every two years in advance of submitting our Legislative Appropriations Request and it just simply outlines our major priority issues, challenges, and funding needs looking ahead.

Mike and Julie Horsley and their teams are working on the development of this plan, and that's something that we'll be having more conversations about with the Commission before submittal; but I just wanted to remind you that that's in development and coming down the pipeline.

With that, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, that concludes my report this morning; and I'm happy to take any other questions you might have.


MR. SMITH: Yes, sir. Sure.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- can I ask a question about the oyster issue?

MR. SMITH: Uh-huh.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So if someone commits a crime in an opened area, then we can hammer them?

MR. SMITH: We can, yeah.

Brandi, do you want to -- where is Brandi? Brandi, why don't you come up and specific -- I want to make sure we get this exactly right in terms of what the level of offense is because it's going to depend on what the specific offense is.

MS. REEDER: Good morning. And again --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Good morning, Brandi. How are you?

MS. REEDER: -- Brandi Reeder. So whenever it comes to undersize oysters or whenever they are harvesting in restricted waters, restricted areas closed by the Texas Department of State Health Services, those both carry elevated penalties. If they're in restricted waters, it's Class A misdemeanor. If it is they're a multiple offense, then the undersize oysters will carry a Class B penalty and potential license suspension.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So which one is -- which one is the problem area where if they're in the closed waters, the law may not reach them on some of the enhanced penalties?

MS. REEDER: So on those, on those violations that have the enhanced penalties, now everybody on board the vessel is responsible. So not only do we cite the captain, but we also cite crew. Whereas with the closed areas, the responsibility falls solely on the captain still; and it is still a Class C penalty, which is a penalty of 25 to not greater than $500 in fine. And so it only goes to one citation to the vessel; and as Mr. Smith alluded to, it has become the cost of doing business.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. So the only reason we have the areas closed is because we think we have too many undersize oysters in that --

MS. REEDER: Correct.

COMMISSIONER JONES: -- area, right?

MS. REEDER: It's a threshold closure, as established --


MS. REEDER: -- by Coastal Fisheries.


MR. SMITH: Yeah, we're facilitating the recovery of those reefs.

MS. REEDER: Correct.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I get it. I get it, but I'm going somewhere with this. So -- but it's up to the captain -- and now the crew in an open area -- to make sure that when they're harvesting, that they're not harvesting too many undersized oysters, right?

MS. REEDER: Correct.

COMMISSIONER JONES: All right. If you harvest an oyster and you realize that you've got a bunch of undersize, can you put them back?

MS. REEDER: Oh, yes.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, then why don't we just open all the areas and leave it up to them?

MS. REEDER: That has not proven to be a successful model, is -- you know, with the undersize granted, House Bill 51 has enabled us with new tools for our toolbox in order to encourage compliance. We are still seeing violations. So like on our violation numbers, I believe whenever we last did the report, I think we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 81 violations for undersize oysters.

Now remember, I mean, it has significantly reduced from previous years where we had 163 or more citations in a season. So it has reduced. It has started to have an effect. However, my counterpart Director Robin Riechers could probably go more into the ecology of it; however, is that for an enforcement tool, House Bill 51 will help us. But I think the management side is very important to continue, as well.

MR. RIECHERS: Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries. I'll try to answer your question a little bit. What occurred was we were having those issues with undersize oysters, and so we enhanced that penalty in the last Legislative Session. And you're correct, what we basically have now done is shifted that pressure to where they're basically seeing an un-enhanced penalty section -- that is that management closure section -- and they're able to go in there and basically go ahead and harvest those undersize oysters in that closed area, and so we're back into the same problem.

The real fix, I believe, is going to be to basically go in and enhance that penalty, as well; and it --

COMMISSIONER JONES: I know that fix. I'm not addressing that, and we can do that; but we've got to wait until the next Legislative Session to do so. My point is: If you open all of the closed areas -- they're going there anyway, right? They're going there anyway because that's a loophole?

MS. REEDER: Not to the level that if you opened it up to the entire fleet to harvest. These are a few bad actors that have weighed the consequences and found that the consequences are not enough to deter the behavior. However, is that if you open it up to the entire fleet, you're talking about excessive harvest of a resource that when you only have a few, it's not as bad of an issue or as critical of an issue as what it could become with the entire fleet in those areas.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah, and --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Do you have some limited areas that you could perhaps open up so you can hammer the bad guys? Not all of them, but maybe some limited -- or you see that they're hitting one particular area more?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, I think the effort -- and I'll -- I think the effort on enforcement targeted -- because we were getting reports -- both from biologists, locals, oyster fishermen -- and basically, it did target those efforts on those reef areas where people were taking more advantage of it and there may be various reasons why they're hitting certain reefs.

It may be because there is some market oysters there. It may be because it's out of sight. It may be because the people in the community are looking the other way, but that's how the effort was done was to harvest those. Prior to this, this is -- and what led us down this road of undersize enhancement and these closed areas, because every year we would start the season and very quickly we would start getting reports about all of the undersize oysters that were being harvested and we would get that from industry, enforcement, Coastal Fisheries biologists, and we didn't have tools to close it.

And so we still think the closure portion is the way we want to go because it is working and we are able to see those reefs recover and then us reopen them; but the more they do it, it takes longer for them to open. And I think when we were having the bigger discussion about oysters and undersize oysters, we shared that with you. That some reefs were taking as much as two and three years to reopen, and it's because they had taken those undersize down so far.

We've got way more boats than we need to harvest the product that we have out there right now. And so it's kind of what Brandi was saying, is if we turned everyone loose and just let them go, we do believe that the -- you know, we would exacerbate the undersize problem. We wouldn't help it.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. I'm just trying to --

MR. SMITH: Yeah, think through it and come up with some tools in the interim. Yep.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So there's a penalty for undersize oyster, but not in a closed area for undersize oysters?

MS. REEDER: So there is a penalty, but it's a Class C. It's a lower level offense. There's still a violation. And what it was, is that -- again, so restricted waters are a health concern. We had elevated penalties to ensure the public health was protected. Okay?

Then recently because of the persistent and detrimental affect that fishermen have had on the undersize, we were finally able to get elevated penalties and suspensions, which seem to be working well. It seems to be a deterrent. However, is that closed areas had not previously been a problem. They had not been a noted violation. Last year, I think we had a handful of closed area violations; but it was nothing to indicate that this was going to be a new trend and an issue. So it was still a Class C violation, and there are only a handful of violations to where the entire crew is responsible. So, again, it's just minimal.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: But it still seems like if you have a penalty for undersize oysters, whether they get it in a licensed area or a restricted area, they should have that same penalty against the crew; or is that not how the law was written?

MR. RIECHERS: It's the way the Code's constructed in that the Code only applies those enhanced penalties to particular violations. And so, frankly, what we have to do is now go in that portion of our Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, the statute, basically apply that penalty to this other section.


MS. REEDER: And they were -- the oysters that they were harvesting was in an area that was about to reopen. It was still a closed area. So, therefore, they were able to get lawful sized oysters in higher concentrations than the bays that they were currently able to access.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So they didn't have as many small oysters.

MS. REEDER: Correct.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Can I ask one question?

MS. REEDER: Any other questions?


MS. REEDER: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: You board a boat, check the oysters. How many do you -- if you catch one boat, how many -- are there ten that got away, or how big a problem is this?

MS. REEDER: That is -- that is a very large problem. So, you know, whenever you have -- whenever you have a team of game wardens go out, typically you'll have a handful of vessels that are out there. Well, whenever you have a team -- a driver/an operator of the vessel and the crew member/game warden -- whenever you go to jump on a boat, if you decide to count a sack of oysters, it can take up to 45 minutes --


MS. REEDER: -- to count that one sack; and granted, we may have to count two, depending upon the number of oysters on board. So it takes time. And at that point, they either scatter and hide amongst the rest of the population of boats out there; or they go ahead and head back to dock, depending upon the location as to which is closer or how they feel that they can mesh in. So you're right, is it absolutely -- it makes it very difficult to catch all the offenders at one time and be effective.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Is there a penalty to buying undersize oysters?

MR. SMITH: The penalties for buying undersize oysters.

MS. REEDER: There is, yes, sir. So we've got -- you know, if they -- if a dealer has been caught in violation -- I believe it's three times -- then it can elevate to a Class B misdemeanor.


MR. RIECHERS: And I might add on that, that was passed with House Bill 51. That's a new penalty to be able to carry it to the dealer.

MR. SMITH: We've never had that before.


COMMISSIONER JONES: Have we gone after any of them?

MS. REEDER: We have continued to make dock inspections in order to see what product they're buying.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Have we caught any of them yet?

MS. REEDER: We have not.


MS. REEDER: But the elevated penalties on the boat, you know, I can't praise House Bill 51 enough is that the elevated penalties on the boat have created a very cautious industry whenever it comes to violating because whenever you talk about 30 days losing your license, you're talking about no income. So it has had a very strong effect. Because whenever you look at our numbers, 81 citations at the last draw that I pulled out of our citation system -- 81 citations, that's now crew member and captain. So now we're talking about you divide that number by three, typically; and so it's not near the number of violations that we would have typically seen. So I want to put your mind at ease is that on that side, that new legislation has had a strong effect.


Before we move to Mike Jensen's report on the finances, I wanted to -- because Jim and Bill got here just a minute or so after we covered this. On your -- at your desk is a draft schedule that Dee gave you of the May schedule and Carter emphasized kind of the great opportunity we have Tuesday morning if you can get there by 10:00 to go see Palo Duro Canyon, which will be super if you can make it, if it works with your schedule. Anyway, this is the current draft of where we're going and when. So I wanted to mention that.

And then on the Feeding Texas, it occurred it to me seeing David Yeates present of TWA in the audience today that, David, you might consider whether TWA would include something in your newsletter about Feeding Texas. As many members as TWA has who deer hunt, that might be a real good opportunity to enhance the success of the program. I don't tell you what to do. I'm just throwing it out as a gratuitous suggestion.

MR. YEATES: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anybody else have any other comments on the update that Carter provided or questions?

Okay. With that, we'll move on to Mike and a report on revenue and expenses, which hope will be sanguine.

How's that, Bob?

Thank you.

MR. JENSEN: Good morning, Commissioners, Chairman. I'm Mike Jensen, Division Director of Financial Resources. I think you're very familiar with this format and the information. I mailed out most of this to you earlier in the month. Since your agenda is so long, I'm going to try to get through this fairly quickly for you so you can focus on some other things this morning; but I am going to follow the same format.

Just to give you a full cycle of state park revenue, this is what it looks like; and you can see that it's backloaded. First six months is about 37 percent of the revenue. Last six months about 63 percent. Fiscal year 2017 was the best year of record and then we had Hurricane Harvey, which has drastically impacted the revenue. So far this year, every month has been behind in comparison to the prior fiscal year. So year to date, we're behind about 10.6 percent through January. That actually drops down to about 13.3 percent through February. About 1.96 million behind when you look through January, and it's closer to 3 million behind when you look through February.

The five-year trend is not accounting for this current period. So when I recalculate this when we start next fiscal year, these percentages are probably going to drop a bit because of the current fiscal year; but leading up to this fiscal year, we've been growing at about a pace of 7.1 percent. Almost 3.2 million per year has been the growth in state park revenues. And the hurricane significantly put us behind; but the report I'm getting for March, we're actually doing fairly well this March with spring break visitation and we'll report on that in the May Commission meeting.

So you can see through January, we're down about nearly 2 million, 10.6 percent; and these are the variances by the different categories. Visitation is also down. It corresponds to the revenue. It's about 10.3 percent. Even though we're trailing significantly behind 2017, we are better than when compared to 2016, 2015, and 2014. Similarly, visitation is better than '16, fiscal year '15, and fiscal year '14, as well.

The boat revenue is a little bit more resistant to the impacts of a hurricane. It's more of a flat cycle when you compare it year-to-year basis. It is extremely backloaded, as well. The last six months account for about 71 percent of the revenue. First six months 29 percent of the revenue. The best fiscal year on record is 2016. The best months typically are June, May, and July. And you can see through January, we're overall actually ahead by about half a percentage point, about 20,000. Basically, we're holding even in comparison to 2017.

September was behind about 8 percent. October was ahead by 11 percent. November is ahead by about half a percent. December was even, and January was ahead 2.2 percent. February did fall behind a little bit. And again, this trend is generally flat. It only grows about a half percent per year, which is about $110,000 a year. When you look at '15 and '16 and '17, it was growing at a higher pace, about 1.5 percent. Best year of record again is 2016.

Revenue is up about a half percent. It's only about 20,000. So basically, we're hanging even; and that stays about the same when you look at it through February. We did drop a little bit in February; but the peak periods are coming up, March and through the summer. This gives you the variances. And if you'll look at the volumes, total registrations are up 2.6 percent; new registration is up about 1.7 percent; transfers, 1 percent; renewals about 3.2 percent. Registration fees are crucial here because they account for about two-thirds of the revenue.

Moving on to the license revenue, this is what the cycle looks like. We're still following this cycle except for the peak is lower and the troughs are also lower. Because of the hurricane, we started significantly behind this fiscal year; but this is what it typically looks like. You have about the first month -- anywhere from 40 to 43 percent of your revenue comes in that first month. First six months, about 75 percent of your revenue comes in; and then fishing cleans it up the last six months. That's about 25 percent of your revenue.


MR. JENSEN: Okay. If you look through this current fiscal year, the first five months through January, we have 73.7 million. And the month of September was behind by about 11 percent. October was about even. November was ahead by 9 percent. December was down half a percent, and January is up 2 and a half percent. While not reflected on this slide, February was a pretty poor month. We were behind about 27, 28 percent. Hopefully, people start buying fishing licenses and things will pick up through the end of the year, with primarily reliance on fishing license revenue.

And looking at the trends here, not counting this year, it has been growing at about 2.8 percent per year, about 2.7 million. If you look at the most current years, license years '16 and '17, the growth rate's been closer to 3.3 percent, to 3.4 million a year. When we conclude this year, we expect to be behind because of the hurricane. So the average will probably drop a little bit for a five-year period or two-year cycle.

The best year that we had was actually last year. And, hopefully, the last few years, fishing has always been strong. We've ended the year strong with fishing. We hope that trend continues with this year so we can catch up and little bit and fill that gap that we're behind. Right now, we're behind about 3.6 million and that's about being behind 4.6 percent.

These are the variances by the different categories. You can see we're trailing on most of them, with the exception of the nonresident in hunting. So if you aggregate the fishing, resident, and nonresident together, we're 14 percent behind through January. Hunting, resident and nonresident together, we're behind about a percentage point. Combination licenses are behind about 3.6 percent.

This last slide shows you the budget adjustments from this period from November through January. When we last met, we showed you the adjustments that brought the budget up to 551.32 million. We have 10.3 percent growth in adjustments in four categories, totaling 5.7 million. Federal and UB, the top three sources are coastal wetlands planning, about a million dollars; state wildlife grants, about a million dollars; wildlife restoration, 402,000. That accounts for the 3.05 million.

The second line, appropriated receipts and UB, most of that is is from donations, about 1.35 million and third party reimbursements, about 442,000. The third adjustment line, 234,570 for capital construction. That's GO bonds, about 176,000; appropriated receipts of about 58,000. And the fourth adjustment there is simply truing up employee fringe/unemployment, about $535,000 for an adjustment of $5,707,039 to our adjusted budget, through the end of January is 557.02 million.

That concludes what I brought for you for your presentation today. I'll see you again in May; and we'll probably talk a little bit more about the strategic plan, in addition to an update in May. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any questions or comments?

Okay. Thank you, Mike. I assume that when you see us in May, you're going to give us very robust numbers for park visits in February.

MR. JENSEN: We hope probably through March.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: The record said, "We hope." For the record, he said, "We hope."

And that ringer that just went off was mysterious. Does anybody want to take ownership of who had that ringer?


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Cindy, would you please present Internal Audit Updates? Cindy Hancock, welcome.

MS. HANCOCK: Good morning. For the record, I'm Cindy Hancock, Director of Internal Audit; and I'm going to give you a quick update on the completion status of our internal audit plan and any external audits.

This is a list of the projects for the fiscal year '18 audit plan. We've completed the federal grant audit and the IT governance audit. It has been issued, and we noted one item regarding performance measures. We're in the fieldwork stage of the state park audits. We've issued 18 to date. We're also in the fieldwork stage regarding the follow-up audit, contract audit, and one special project regarding unpaid citations.

In addition, we're in the planning stage of the sand and gravel program, the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, wildlife management area audit, and selected IT systems audit. So we have a lot going on.

For the follow-up audit, we're pending our follow-up process on 11 issues that are going to be covered by some work from external audits. As of the end of February, we have 29 recommendations that were -- that are outstanding, with 11 of those pending further work on those external audits; and eight recommendations have been implemented in January and February.

Of note, of the 18 state park audits that are reports that we've issued, 17 were compliant; and I just wanted to the take note -- let y'all see the compliant state parks on this list.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Would you say that one more time? Out of how many?

MS. HANCOCK: Of 18 state park audits that we've issued, the reports that we've issued, 17 were compliant, no findings. Only one had a finding, and it was only one finding at that. So this was a list of all the good work that they're doing out at state parks.

COMMISSIONER JONES: State parks ought to pat themselves on the back. That's pretty strong.

MS. HANCOCK: For ongoing external audits, currently we have a few of them. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Civil Rights Division is conducting a desk review to determine if TPWD meets the non-discrimination requirements of the Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program. The Texas Comptroller is finishing up their periodic post-payment audit. TDEM has hired an audit firms to look at support documentation regarding Ike compliance and recovery, the 2015-16 floods, and FEMA cost information. The State Auditor's Office is conducting an audit of our fleet management processes, and the Office of the Governor is performing a desk review of our TPW Law Enforcement grant.

Now, the results of Civil Rights' audit and the Comptroller's work will be used in those 11 pending issues that we're going to follow up on in our follow-up process. So we're going to rely on their work to follow up on some of these outstanding issues.

For completed external audits, the State Auditor's Office conducted a follow-up audit on an audit that was conducted in 2014. All recommendations have been implemented except for one, and that had to do with contract term. So management is working with the vendor to resolve that issue in the contract provisions. So that concludes my presentation.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Cindy, that last audit, that SAO, that's the one that came up toward the end of the last Legislative Session, wasn't it?

MS. HANCOCK: It was in '14, and it was on the license connection. It was on our license system.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. One comment -- and I apologize. I usually send out a note on your audits when you complete them and I discovered last night that I had overlooked one and that was the IT audit. So I'm going to say publically, I want to -- can you just comment a little bit on that? Because I've read it and I thought I understood it; but when you get into IT, you lose me pretty quick. Usually after the first sentence. But it appeared that they were mostly in compliance, but there were one or two follow-up issues that they needed to complete and they have until September to do so?

MS. HANCOCK: In the IT governance audit, we're required by standards to do that audit about every three to five years; and from the last review that we did about three or four years ago, they have done a lot of work. I put in the audit report notable improvements that have been made.

We gave them a list of management discussion items; but felt that one of the most important and high-risk areas are to implement these controls that have to be implemented -- the DIR is requiring them. COBIT requires them. Those are all just acronyms of these IT kind of governance organizations -- but was to put together some performance measures and report those to the IT governance, their meetings that they have, the Commission -- not the Commission -- you know, but even they could report to the Commission here. But -- and those performance measures, I let them come up with; but after we've had discussion, they have -- with management, that we've discussed, I think they have a good idea of what they want to put together. And I think this will help them meet those control objectives that they're required to meet.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So they basically have to set up their own control governance objectives, and then perform under those?

MS. HANCOCK: Governance objectives are there, but they need to report on some of those performance measures and how they're striving to meet those objectives.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. And that's the September deadline that was put in your report, your audit report?

MS. HANCOCK: They have put a deadline in there.

George, do you remember what deadline you put in offhand? I don't remember.

MR. SMITH: Do you remember that deadline, George?

MR. RIOS: Yeah.

MR. SMITH: George.

MR. RIOS: Good morning. George Rios, IT Director, for the record. Yeah, we went ahead and implemented the findings that Cindy had to start in September and to have the full implementation by December.

Part of what Cindy's saying is that we have an IT Steering Committee that is -- it's the Steering Committee that's composed of all the IT Directors, which really looks at the IT portfolio and how we're managing the portfolio for applications that we're developing. Part of that portfolio, we do work and respond back to them; but the formal measurements are not in place, and that's what we want to put in place. So we informally do it, but we want to put a formal process in place to ensure that we're meeting the deadlines or requirement to budget of what those projects are.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Hasn't that -- wouldn't that have been done by other IT departments and other agencies that you might be able to copycat?

MR. RIOS: Yeah, sure. We can definitely look at that. The DIR has a standard that we can follow, as well, too. Part of this is just, again, trying to take something that we're doing informally and formalize it so that we can also publicize what we're doing so that the Divisions and the Agency understands what we're doing.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. I just want to make sure you're -- if you don't have to reinvent that wheel --

MR. RIOS: We will not --

COMMISSIONER JONES: Because it sounds like you're doing something -- formalizing something you're already doing.

MS. HANCOCK: That's correct.

COMMISSIONER JONES: You can probably -- I be you they'll share.

MR. RIOS: The thing is, in her reporting, we just don't have the formal documentation or the format or template that we're submitting and having it submitted and followed. We're more -- we're reporting on it; but we don't have anything that we formalize, and that's what we're trying to do: Formalize it, get signatures --

COMMISSIONER JONES: And that's what I'm saying. I bet you somebody has a template that you can borrow and then copy.

MS. HANCOCK: They're pretty known -- the guidance is pretty -- it's pretty clear.


MS. HANCOCK: And there's no way we can do everything. So after our discussion, we've come to agreement on a few things that I think will highlight and help improve our processes a little bit more.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. All right, thank you much. Appreciate it that, George.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anybody else, comments or questions?

Okay. Well, Cindy, thanks for your good work.

And, Bill Jones, thank you very much for your continued close oversight of this important function. We really appreciate that.

MS. HANCOCK: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. With regard to Work Session Item 4, Advisory Committee Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Ranger -- Register, excuse me -- does any Commissioner have any questions or comments? If not, I'll just place this on the agenda tomorrow for public comment and action.

Is that okay with everybody? All right, we'll do that.

So then we'll skip to Work Session Item 5. This, too -- this Mule Deer Advisory Committee Formation Rules, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, if none of the Commissioners have questions or comments, I'll place this issue on tomorrow's agenda for public comment and action.

All right. That's what we'll do.

Works Session Item 6, the 2018-19 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamations, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, Ken Kurzawski and Mr. Geeslin, I think.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Good morning. Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ken Kurzawski with the Inland Fisheries Division, and I'm here today to once again go over the proposed changes to freshwater fishing regulations and to provide you with a summary of public input.

As you may remember, Largemouth bass were the focus of this regulation's process and we reviewed the bass regulations that differ from statewide to ensure they're meeting our management goals and we're looking to standardize and simplify those regulations and at the same time, maintaining fishing quality.

This first group of locations, we had three in the 16-inch minimums, three in 18-inch minimums, and we were -- and six in the 14- to 18-inch slot limit, which was one of the slot categories that we were targeting. We're proposing to change those back to the statewide regulations, the 14-inch minimum and five fish bag. We think these -- the special regulations weren't providing a lot of material benefits there and this -- these regulations will be a -- will do a good job of maintaining those populations.

Next, we had two reservoirs on state parks: Purtis Creek State Park Lake and Lake Raven, which is in Huntsville State Park. We have -- currently, we have catch-and-release regulations there with an exception that allows anglers to keep a fish and donate to the ShareLunker Program. We're going to change those two to the 16-inch maximum, which does allow our anglers to harvest some fish under 16 inches; and once again, it's a -- the only way they could keep a fish over 16 inches would be to donate that to the ShareLunker Program.

Our next, we have three power plant reservoirs: Fayette County Reservoir, Gibbons Creek Reservoir, and Lake Monticello. We currently have 14- to 24-inch slots on those; and we're just moving them to the 16- to 24-inch slot category, which is a slot category we have on Lake Fork. That will -- this -- that category will protect -- provide adequate protection to these populations and allow us to eliminate one slot length category, that being the 14- to 24-inch.

Our next lake in the Metroplex, Grapevine. It currently has a 14- to 18-inch slot length limit. We're changing that to the regulation which -- where we have a five-fish daily bag and we allow anglers to keep two fish under 18 inches with that bag. We have that regulation on three reservoirs, and anglers have taken to it. It's a little bit -- at first, it's a little bit difficult to understand; but I think once we get that in place, anglers will appreciate that.

We have two locations where we're changing the regulations. This is sort of outside of the regulation review process. Lake Bellwood, a small lake near Tyler, that currently has an 18-inch minimum length limit and a five-fish bag and we're also proposing to change that to the 16-inch maximum. And, finally, Davy Crocket, a lake in Caddo National Grassland. It has a 14- to 18-inch slot, and we're also moving that to the 16-inch maximum length limit.

One additional change we had to make to the proclamation, last year when we changed -- added Alabama bass as a game fish and as a specific species, we had to make a modification to make sure we maintained the Spotted bass to one of the regulatory category.

Moving to the public comment summary, these six reservoirs, mostly comments we got, mostly in agreement with that. Not -- very few specific comments among those that disagreed. Once again, these six will be moving back to the statewide 14-inch, five. These -- another six reservoirs, these are also moving to the -- back to the statewide. Similar type of agreement, disagreement. Very few individual comments by those disagreeing.

And then finally, have the remaining reservoirs that did get a few more comments disagreeing and a few more individuals. The one that kind of stands out there is Grapevine up in the Metroplex. Some of the comments we got that were against that, people were once again maybe a little bit confused about the regulations. Some of them wanted to move to a statewide or possibly have another fish under 18 inches and the rest of those are pretty much in line with support.

And before I take any of your questions, I just wanted to update you on our public input process. If you remember five years ago, we modified our approach to public input. Prior to that, we were holding a number of public hearings around the state. Sometimes 20, 25, 30. Attendance at those was very poor. Sometimes we wouldn't have anybody show up. We were sending staff around the state, and we didn't think that was a very efficient way to get public input. So we at that time with your approval, we changed to a couple different things. We decided to just cite those public hearings where we knew there would be interest or in those areas. For this year, we just did three concerning the Mule deer changes up in the Panhandle; and we've been sort of in line with that three to five over the last few years.

We also posted narrated versions of all the regulation change proposals by specific hunting categories, coastal and freshwater; and also in the previous years, we've done a live webinar. We used sort of a program to do that where people had to register and sign up. It went okay; but this year, we moved to a little different model. We used our -- took advantage of Facebook and had a Facebook live regs webinar, and we were able to reach -- get to a lot more people. This was spearheaded by Aubry Buzek and Whitney Bishop in Communications and assisted by Julie Hagen and they had somewhat -- position that they had to shepherd some biologists/game wardens/administrators through this technological process and they did an excellent job at that and kept good humor with questions from some of us how are not as technically advanced as them. And so they did a great job on that.

Then we had just has some of the metrics on that. We reached about 32,000 people, had about 12,000 video views. During the webinar, we had some 474 reactions, comments, and shares; and we received approximately 70 comments during the Facebook live. We did that on March 6th over the noon hour. We were probably live for 30, 35 minutes. And we also had about 589 clicks onto the comment pages. So we think this was a step up in our live webinar.

We felt like we reached a lot more people and, you know, bottom line is as you know and as we know, the public input's an important part of this process and we want to give people as many opportunities to give us their comments on that as they can and we'll continue to, you know, tweak this as we go along and maintain that opportunity for the public to give us their input.

So with that, that concludes my presentation; and if you have any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ken, was the webinar a one-time event; or is it something that remains open?

MR. KURZAWSKI: It's just the one-time live. It is posted on our Facebook page. People can go on and continue to make comments. Same thing on the online comment portal where we have all those -- the narrated versions of the PowerPoints. People can continue to comment on those.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: When we're going to schedule one of these live webinars, do we e-mail -- send out a blast e-mail to a constituent group advising them of when and how to -- a link --

MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, that's all -- we did announce it, put a press release out. And then everyone who is in our, you know, Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook page, all the specific Facebook pages, everyone would get notified of that. They'd see something on their -- in their news feed. So it reaches a lot more people that way.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But as an individual, can they go to the Parks and Wildlife website and register, for example, send me updates on inland fishing and you --

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yeah, yeah.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You can do that? And is that true across the board from coastal fishing --

MR. KURZAWSKI: We use the GovDelivery system and people are specific -- freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, all those things.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: And did we use that process to inform them?

MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes, that's what we did.


MR. KURZAWSKI: We wanted to contact as many people as we can.


COMMISSIONER JONES: Did you have to be on Facebook to participate in this webinar?

MR. KURZAWSKI: No, you did not; but if you wanted to make a comment, you would have to be on Facebook. You can view it, but you would have to be -- you'd have to be -- the way I understood it, you'd have to be a Facebook user to be able to make a comment.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anybody else, comments or questions?

Good work, Ken. Thank you.

Dakus, welcome.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I am curious. Do we webinar capabilities outside of Facebook?



MR. HAVENS: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. Because Facebook is in a little trouble right now. So we might want to have --

MR. SMITH: Get some other options, yeah, understood. We need a Plan B. I hear you.


MR. GEESLIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, Director Smith. Dakus Geeslin with the Coastal Fisheries Division. This morning, I'll just be presenting one proposed change to our saltwater fishing statewide regulations; and that is with our King mackerel.

These changes were initiated through federal changes in the Gulf of Mexico from one -- from two fish to three fish, an increase in that bag limit. This is an effort to standardize that and reduce confusion to both our anglers and our law enforcement. If you guys remember back in January, we proposed the temporary exception to that bag limit. That was adopted here and that carries us forward to August 31st of 2018, and this statewide change would pick up then. So that's the gist of this regulation change.

We've received a total 138 comments, most of those in favor. Only five -- 5 percent disagreed, and we only came away with one commenter that thought the increase in a bag limit from two fish to three fish was a waste of fish. So that is our proposed changes for our saltwater fishing regulations, and I'll take any questions from you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Questions or comments?

Okay. Thank you, sir.

If there's no further -- because there's no further discussion, I will place the 2018-19 statewide recreational commercial fishing proclamations on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action by the Commission.

Which takes us to Work Session Item 7, 2018-19 Statewide Hunting, Migratory Game Bird, and Furbearing Animal Proclamations -- furbearing animals are of great interest to Commissioner Scott -- Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes. Alan Cain, please begin.

MR. CAIN: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Alan Cain. I'm the White-tail Deer Program Leader. This morning, I'll be presenting proposals regarding White-tail deer harvest regulations and methods of take for your consideration and seeking adoption of those proposals for tomorrow.

If you'll recall from the January Commission Meeting, the first proposal was a result of a petition for rulemaking in which the petitioner requested that general season be standardized statewide to open that first Saturday in November and run through the third Sunday in January.

Currently, all counties with a White-tail deer general season, open on the first Saturday in November; however, the closing dates differ between the North and the South Zones, where the North Zone season closes the first Sunday in January and the South Zone season closes the third Sunday in January. With the current general season structure, South Zone counties have an additional two weeks of hunting that North Zone counties do not.

Staff are proposing to standardized general deer season statewide to open from that first Saturday in November and close the third Sunday in January. The proposed change would also include turkeys to make it consistent with the current fall hunting season regulations, in which deer and turkey can be taken during the same season.

Staff would also propose moving the muzzleloader, special late season, and late youth season back two weeks in the North Zone counties; and these seasons would open the first Monday following the third Sunday in January and run for 14 consecutive days. Staff do not believe there to be any significant biological impacts that would result from this proposal. A majority of the harvest statewide occurs from the opening date of general deer season through the last week of December, with peaks of harvest around opening weekend and then Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when folk are off and the kids are out of school during those time periods.

Only 13 percent of the harvest, statewide harvest, occurs after January 1st, even though we still have the South Texas general season open, the special late season, the late youth season, muzzleloader season, MLD season, and a few days in the North Zone season are all still open after that time period. Additional harvest that could result from this proposal -- proposed change if adopted -- is not likely to have any population level impacts on the deer populations in these North Zone counties, which show a stable to increasing trend in most of the deer management units.

These proposed changes would also simplify harvest regulations for hunters and provide additional hunting opportunity, which further supports the nationwide R3 effort to recruit, retain, and reactive hunters.

To date, there are 2,814 public comments. 91 percent agree with the proposed changes. 9 percent disagree with the proposed changes. Reasons for disagreement include things such as the comments that general season is already too long. Some wanted the general season to open later in the North Zone, and some wanted it to open earlier. There was concerns that there could be overharvested deer population in some North Zone deer management units. There were concerns that there may be additional harvest of shed antler bucks during that January timeframe. There was concerns that this could reduce incentives to participate in the Managed Lands Deer Program, and there were some concerns that -- well, some comments that archery hunting should be allowed during muzzleloader season, which is really not germane to this proposal; but we had several of those comments. And lastly, there was comments that this change would interfere with quail, duck, squirrel, and varmint hunting season in late January.

Now, I should note or provide an update to the Commission that the Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee does not support the standardization of deer season, as they fear it may adversely impact quail hunting opportunities and decrease recruitment of quail hunters. The Quail Coalition Group also does not support this proposal for similar reasons. Also, to provide a little bit additional information to the Commission, just point out that quail season runs from the Saturday closest to October 28th and runs through the last Sunday in January, providing quail hunters approximately 17, 18 weeks in the field. And additionally, quail hunting has overlapped deer season in South Texas, which is being -- which is similar to what's being proposed. We're just standardizing it to match the South Zone, and there hadn't been any impacts on quail hunting in South Texas that we know of.

And lastly, just wanted to make the Commission aware that State Representative Jim White has provided a letter to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department asking us to standardize deer season statewide to provide a fair and equal deer season, as he stated.

The next proposal, again, is a result from a petition for rulemaking in which the Crosman Corporation requested airbows and big bore air rifles of .357 caliber or larger be made available for harvest of big game in Texas. Since that initial petition request, I've had a number of other informal requests from air gun dealers in Texas, as well as air gun hunters and enthusiasts in the state.

Current regulations specify any legal firearm may be used to harvest alligators, game birds, and game animals; and those firearms would include centerfire rifles, handguns, muzzleloaders, shotguns, and any of these firearms with a silencer. The regulations do not specify any minimum caliber size requirement, bullet size, muzzle velocity, or muzzle energy requirements. However, regulations do provide an exception that prohibits the hunting of alligator, deer, Bighorn sheep with rimfire ammunition or fully automatic firearms.

TPWD regulations prohibit the take of native big game species with air rifles and airbows because neither of those are defined as a firearm or archery equipment in the current TPWD regulation, under the Texas Penal Code, or under the Federal Firearms regulations. However, air rifles are allowed for the take of squirrels under TPWD regulations; and because this Agency does not regulate exotic big game species, air rifles and airbows may be used to harvest those exotic big game animals in the state.

There's obviously a number -- as we've discussed before -- a number of different brands and models of big bore air rifles that project bullets ranging in size from .30 caliber to .58 caliber. The airbow is illustrated on the top left there and it's just you slide an arrow, the shaft, and the air canister that's on the gun, when it's charged, you press the trigger, it propels an arrow; and the air rifle works the same manner. It uses lead-cast bullets.

And then air rifles and -- at least have comparable ballistics to other firearms that are legal for the take of big game in Texas. And, for example, the AirForce Texan, which is a .45 caliber air gun, has a muzzle velocity of about a thousand feet per second and a 500-foot pounds of muzzle energy, which is comparable to a .45 automatic handgun with a muzzle velocity of about 900 feet per second and 360 pounds of energy and it's comparable to muzzle energy of a .17 Hornet, which is about 592-foot pounds of energy.

Air rifles have been used successfully to harvest White-tail deer in other states, such as Missouri where it's allowed to be -- or where big bore air rifles are allowed for the take of White-tail deer, as well as another number of exotic big game species ranging in size from deer to large African antelope. So just providing some -- or illustrating the capability of these air rifles to take big game species.

Therefore, staff are proposing to allow air guns and airbows to be used to lawfully hunt alligators, game animals, nonmigratory game birds, and furbearers. Air guns used to take alligators, deer, Pronghorn, Bighorn sheep, Javelina, and turkey, must be .30 caliber or larger. And alligators may be taken with air guns and airbows in non-core counties; but in all counties where alligators may be caught on a taking device, they may be dispatched by means of an air gun or airbow. Additionally, only air guns .177 caliber or larger may be used to take squirrel, pheasant, quail, or Chachalaca.

The proposal would also define air guns as a device that functions by using un-ignited compressed gas to propel a bullet, and airbow as a device that propels an arrow or bolt solely by means of the force of un-ignited compressed gas. Arrows, bolts, and broadheads used with airbows must conform to standards defined in current regulation for lawful archery equipment.

And I will note that airbows are not defined as a legal archery equipment and would not be under this proposal and so they cannot be used during the archery season. There was a few folks that commented -- that were worried about airbows being used during archery season, but that's not the case. And they would only be allowed to be used during seasons when firearms are legal for the take of these game animals, nonmigratory game birds, or furbearers.

Total public comment is 2,000 -- to date, is 2,267 comments. 65.6 agreed with the proposal. 34.4 percent disagreed with the proposals. Reasons for disagreement include that airbows should not be allowed during the archery season, which I just addressed; some folks thought this was -- this change is just to satisfy a niche group of hunters or it was a gimmick.

Some were concerned there would be an increase in wounding loss, that these were not ethical means of take. It would be insufficient to harvest big game. There was some comments that were concerned that these air guns would be too quiet and increase a poaching or safety issue. Some commenters wanted it to be allowed for small game, but not for big game. And then some folks thought that we shouldn't allow .177 caliber for the take of the nonmigratory upland game birds that we -- that I outlined earlier. We did receive a letter of support from the Air Gun Sporting Association for this regulation change, as well.

The next proposal is a housekeeping change to clarify that the MLD tags are not required to take antlerless deer on U.S. Forest Service, Corps of Engineer, River Authority lands when and where hunting is allowed on those properties. As part of that housekeeping change, staff propose to clarify that the take of antlerless deer is prohibited on U.S. Forest Service lands except during archery season, muzzleloader season, the youth-only season -- both early and late -- and the four doe days in -- on the LBJ National Grasslands in Montague and Wise Counties.

I will note that does not affect -- this change would not affect, if adopted, would not affect the antlerless harvest on U.S. Forest Service properties managed through our TPWD public hunt drawing program. Those are public hunt land tags that are issued by TPWD specifically to be used on certain U.S. Forest Service lands that are managed under our authority, such as Alabama Creek WMA, for example.

Total public comment on clarification for the take of antlerless deer on Forest Service lands is 1,763. 95.5 percent agree with the proposed changes. 4.5 percent do not agree. There were some that provided comment that we should make archery/muzzleloader seasons the same, which, again, is not germane to this proposal. There was other individuals that wanted antlerless harvest to be able to occur on Forest Service lands during the general season. There were some for that commented for and against. Some thought that -- they commented they wanted to be able to draw for antlerless tags to hunt deer on U.S. Forest Service lands not managed by us, just any Forest Service lands during the general season. And then some were concerned that we would take away the antlerless tags issued through our public hunting program, which is not case.

The next proposal would provide a clarification to the antler restriction regulation for White-tail deer. The proposal would clarify that in each county where antler restrictions are imposed, a person who takes a buck in violation of the antler restriction is prohibited from subsequently harvesting any buck deer with branched antlers on both main beams in that county during that deer season.

This change is necessary to prevent hunters who accidentally or intentionally take a buck that is not legal from taking a buck with an inside spread of 13 inches or greater and reduce the opportunity for overharvest of a buck that has a 13-inch inside spread or greater by one individual and that who took an undersize buck, likely intended to take a buck with a 13-inch spread or greater.

Total public comment is 2,518. 87.1 percent agreed with the proposed proposal. 12.9 percent did not agree. The comments provided, generally, focused on that folks that felt that these were honest mistakes and that hunters should not be penalized twice. In other words, not being able to take a legal buck with a 13-inch spread or greater. They felt that the citation and restitution charge was sufficient penalty.

Again, there was a number of folks that just plainly commented that we need to remove antler restrictions, which is not germane to this proposal. And then some commented that we should change the angler restriction criteria from inside spread to the minimum number of points, also not germane to this specific proposal.

The last proposal addresses modifications of requirements of certain archery equipment. Archery Trade Association recently completed a project to evaluate bow hunting equipment regulations in all 50 states. The intent of the project was to highlight the complexities and confusion regarding bow hunting equipment and archery regulations within and among states and offer suggestions to State wildlife agencies to help clarify or remove unnecessary regulations that could be barriers to bow hunters -- or bow hunting and bow hunting recruitment, as well as reduce confusion of what is legal and not legal as far as archery equipment. Especially for those hunters that may hunt in different states where there may be different restrictions on the type of archery equipment or regulations.

The survey revealed that Texas had minimal regulatory complexities and few potential barriers and no regulatory outliers. Although, we had minimal issues, the survey prompted staff to conduct a thorough review of current TPWD archery regulations and consider moving unnecessary standards from the regulation.

After thorough review of current archery regulations, staff are proposing to remove the following: Remove the requirement broadhead hunting points to be a minimum of seven-eighth's inch width and have two cutting edges. It will retain the language that you have to use a broadhead hunting point. It just would remove the language with the seven-eighth's inch width and the two cutting blades. It would remove requirements of the 125-pound pull for crossbows and remove the crossbow minimum stock length, as well as the mechanical safety requirement.

Staff believe that providing guidance on what archery equipment is effective for taking game animals or game birds or archery equipment standards is best accomplished through bow hunter education programs, media sources such as the Outdoor Annual or popular articles, and general standards developed by the archery equipment manufacturers, as well as the bow hunting community itself. The industry standards and market place are likely to have the greatest influence on our archery equipment standards as to what is acceptable for safe, responsible, and ethical take of game animals and game birds, much like how the market drives what's acceptable with regards to firearm for the take of game animals and game birds.

And just as a quick example, after review of 70 broadhead hunting points on the market, 69 had a one-inch width or greater and all had at least two cutting edges. And then at the January Commission Meeting, there were some questions that you-all had about the mechanical safety requirement. I just want to provide some updated information.

So the ATA survey revealed that 24 of the 26 states -- or 24 states had no requirements for a mechanical safety, and 26 states had some sort of the requirement. And then also after review of crossbows that are currently on the market -- there was 32 of them -- they all had mechanical safeties and which just indicates the industry is more likely to set safety standards for their own purpose, whether it's liability our just being a responsible manufacturer, regardless of what a State wildlife agency may have in place or not. And additionally, these standards, obviously, don't ensure -- even if we have a mechanical safety in place and people have them on their crossbows -- it doesn't ensure that they're going to use those; and we believe education is the best avenue to promote safety, ensure safety.

There's been a total of 2,110 comments. 76.5 percent agree with the proposed changes. We definitely had -- or we had support from the Archery Trade Association. And then 23 and a half percent do not agree with the public comments. Some folks just simply didn't want us to allow crossbows to be used during in archery season, which is not germane to this proposal; but we do hear that from time to time. Others wanted us to remove the regulations -- or they thought the removal of these restrictions or regulations would result in unethical harvest or increase wounding loss. There was a number of folks that wanted to keep the mechanical safety requirement or the minimum width of broadheads. And just of 495 folks that disagreed with the proposed changes, 54 of those requested that safety requirements be left in place, so just for your information on that.

And that concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to address any questions y'all may have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Anyone have any questions or comments?

COMMISSIONER WARREN: I have just a nit. Go back to the air gun/airbow -- and we use the -- we say "a device that functions by using un-ignited compressed gas." It seems to me -- and it says it again in the next point. It seems to me if we replace that by using an "inert, compressed gas" -- I can't imagine somebody would be silly enough to use a combustible gas.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, I might ask Ellis or Robert MacDonald, that helped draft the un-ignited gas -- and I think the point is that we didn't want, you know, gas from an explosion like if you use in centerfire or some sort of ammunition that has gunpowder in it. When it explodes, that air in there is caused by an explosion; and so we wanted to us the word "un-ignited." But "inert" may be a better term.


MR. POWELL: Good morning, Commissioners. My name's Ellis Powell, with the Law Enforcement Division. We did use the "un-ignited" and to be opposite of what the definition of a firearm is because it talks about "ignited" gas. So we wanted to do the opposite, but "inert" would probably work just as well.

COMMISSIONER WARREN: Again, it's a nit. It's just an absolute nit.


COMMISSIONER WARREN: But I'm from East Texas, and there ain't no telling what they'll put in there.

MR. CAIN: So would you like us to make that amendment to proposal?

MR. SMITH: I think we can. We can make that change if y'all want us to.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Let's make that change, please.

COMMISSIONER JONES: I have a question. Do y'all have any footage of the firing of an airbow or an air rifle that you can share with us? I've never seen one of these.

MR. CAIN: Yes. I'll find it for you.

MR. POWELL: You can find it on YouTube.

MR. CAIN: There's a bunch on YouTube. Ellis and I had a chance -- and I think I mentioned this back in January -- to go out and actually demo the -- one of the -- the AirForce Texan, the .45 caliber air gun I was talking about.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Let the record reflect that none of the Commissioners were invited to this demo, just saying. Go ahead.

MR. CAIN: Yes. No. We'll make sure that happens next time. But anyway, we were successfully able to harvest three White-tailed deer spikes and it was us because it's obviously not legal; but we were doing this as just part of the experimental research. The -- I took both spikes at 100, 120 yards. Ellis, about 95 yards. Two of the animals dropped in their tracks; and the one of them that I harvested, it was shot through both front shoulders, did significant damage like you would expect, and ran about 50 or 60 yards and was dead when we walked up to it. So they have sufficient energy and capability to take down big game animals.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Why was Ellis' shot closer?

MR. CAIN: You'll have to ask him that question.

COMMISSIONER JONES: What are you saying?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: He fed his better.

MR. CAIN: Yeah. So I wanted to test the capability at longer distances. Ellis was just making sure we were getting some data.

MR. POWELL: Thanks, Alan. Thanks, man.

MR. CAIN: No. He was good sport in helping to participate.


COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Quick question and it just hit me. Back when we talked about this in your January, wasn't your recommendation to be .30 caliber or larger on the shell size? And then I notice today on this one, one of the manufacturers is saying .357. What is the actual size -- what is the minimum caliber going to be in this regulation if we pass all that?

MR. CAIN: So good question. The petition for rulemaking from the Crosman Corporation, they just stated .357 or larger because that's the air gun they have in place. That's -- it's only .357 caliber or larger. We actually -- I used a .45 caliber. Ellis actually used a .30 caliber air gun to take his. And so -- and after talking to some other States that allow air gun hunting and just the industry itself, the .30 caliber is kind of a minimum size requirement that have enough lead to provide enough impact and lethally take big game species; and so that's why we set it there. But even though the petition was a -- requested a .357 caliber.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So you're going to recommend .30 caliber --

MR. CAIN: .30 caliber --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- or larger, obviously.

MR. CAIN: -- or larger.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: But -- okay. I was just -- it just hit me that that was -- I remembered that's what we talked about in January.

MR. CAIN: Yes, sir.


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other questions or comments?

Okay. We go to Shawn Gray at this point. Shawn, welcome.

MR. GRAY: Good morning. For the record, my name's Shawn Gray. I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife; and tomorrow, I'll be seeking adoption for the proposed mule deer regulation changes for 2018.

This map illustrates our current Mule deer seasons in the state. The yellow-colored counties have a 16-day general season that starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with a special archery season. The red-colored counties have a nine-day general season that starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with no special archery season. And the -- in the Trans-Pecos where the green-colored counties are, we have a 17-day general season starting the Friday after Thanksgiving, with a special archery season. All general seasons are buck only. The gray-colored counties have closed Mule deer seasons; and you'll notice that we have one county left in the nine-day season block. Therefore, staff propose to open Lynn County as a nine-day buck-only general season county, which is consistent with those other red-colored counties.

In 2014, staff delineated a new Mule deer monitoring unit for the Lynn county area. Within this monitoring unit, survey transects are flown annually per our statewide Mule deer population monitoring protocol. The purple area in the map represents this new monitoring unit and contains over 360,000 acres. Since 2014, the population surveys indicate an average of about 2,400 Mule deer or a density of approximately 150 acres per Mule deer. The average sex ratio is 2.4 does to one buck, and an average fawn crop of 47 percent.

These data support that there is no biological concern opening a new buck-only Mule deer season in Lynn county. Local staff also contacted 18 landowners in Lynn County last October. Of these landowners contacted, twelve supported the season and three were neutral. Only three landowners were against a season in Lynn County because they believed it would lead to more trespassing and poaching on their properties.

The next Mule deer proposal is an experimental antler restriction. Over the last 20 to 25 years in the Southeast Panhandle, excessive buck harvest has occurred primarily because of increased lease hunting and popularity of Mule deer hunting. This success of buck harvest has affected the Mule deer sex ratio in the area, with our survey data indicating a post-season sex ratio of five to six does per buck. In addition, intensive buck harvest has also impacted the buck age structure. These data highlight the fact that mature Mule deer bucks in the Southeast Panhandle are rare.

Because of this, over the last several years have -- staff have received many requests from landowners and hunters to improve the buck age structure of the Mule deer herd in this area of the Panhandle. In addition, the success of the current White-tail deer antler restriction has proven that an antler restriction using antler width works for improving buck age structure.

In 2016, staff began collecting specific antler and ear measurements to potentially develop a Mule deer antler restriction. Initial data indicate that an antler restriction might be able to be used to improve buck age structure. To test this, staff are proposing an experimental Mule deer antler restriction in six counties in the Southeast Panhandle colored blue in the map. These counties are Briscoe, Hall, Childress, Floyd, Motley and Cottle.

Most western States have tried an antler point restriction, such as a minimum of four points on one side, with no significant improvement in buck age structure. This is because many young deer meet these minimum standards. We are proposing different antler restriction criteria.

Using the White-tail deer antler restriction as a model, staff have collected data on Mule deer captured during ongoing research projects and hunter-harvested Mule deer in the Panhandle to estimate the ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread of bucks standing in the alert position. The average ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread for Mule deer bucks standing in the alert position is 21 inches, demonstrated in the picture.

Because the average ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread on Panhandle bucks is 21 inches, staff propose to use a restriction with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches to protect younger age bucks and allow hunters some leeway in field judging the antler restriction. The outside spread is estimated in a similar manner as the inside spread, but by using the outside measurement of the antler material. These illustrations will be used to demonstrate what type of buck can be harvested or those that will be protected with the potential Mule deer antler restriction.

Using the average ear-tip-to-ear-tip measurement in the alert position as a guide, which is 21 inches shown by the blue dash lines on both buck drawings, the buck on the left would be legal for harvest with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches or greater. It would not be legal to harvest the buck on the right because of the outside spread of the main beams is less than 20 inches. Even young deer have an ear-tip-to-ear-tip spread of about 21 inches.

Unbranched antlered bucks with an outside spread of less than 20 inches would also be legal for harvest, as shown in these examples. This is different compared to our White-tailed deer antler restriction regulations. Our main goal is to get more Mule deer bucks into those older age classes and most unbranched antlered bucks are yearlings and allowing more yearlings to be harvested can significantly impact future age structure, especially during drought. Mule deer populations are much lower than White-tail deer populations and can be more sensitive to overharvest.

Preliminary data analysis suggests that an antler restriction with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches should protect at least 80 percent of one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half-year-old bucks and about 80 percent of five-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half-year-old bucks would be available for harvest. Therefore, staff propose an experimental antler restriction in six counties in the Southeast Panhandle for at least four hunting seasons to test the effectiveness of an outside spread antler restriction to improve the buck age structure within this area.

With this proposal, any buck with an outside spread of the main beams of 20 inches or greater would be legal for harvest. Thus, any buck with a spread of less than 20 inches would not legal to harvest, regardless of unbranched antlers. The experimental antler restriction will not apply to MLDP properties. As part of the MLD Program, TPWD sets property specific bag limits, which are conservative.

Staff will monitor success of the experimental antler restriction using population surveys, such as sex ratios and voluntary check stations to collect more antler and ear measurements, as well as buck age structure data. We also plan to send out opinion surveys to evaluate landowner and hunter support before and after the experiment.

Again, staff propose a new Mule deer season in Lynn county and to initiate an experimental antler restriction in Briscoe, Hall, Childress, Floyd, Motley, and Cottle counties. Public comments made online and during public hearings, indicate that 93 percent of the respondents agreed with the Lynn County proposal; and 84 percent were in favor of the experimental antler restriction.

Germane comments from those who opposed or disagreed specifically on a part of the Lynn County proposal, were some believed that there are not enough deer for a season and that we should apply the experimental antler restriction to Lynn County if a season is open.

During the public hearing held in Tahoka on March 7th, the 16 attendees in support of the season made public comment requesting the Department to include Lynn County in the experimental antler restriction. In addition, attendees at the public meeting were concerned that a new season would increase poaching and trespassing. As for the experimental antler restriction, the germane comments from those opposed or disagreed specifically on the proposal where what about those older age bucks that don't meet the restriction, and the Department should include unbranched antler bucks and a couple of not really germane comments were some thought that there should be a doe season or a longer season.

And with that, I would like to address any questions you might have before I turn it over to Shaun Oldenburger.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Questions or comments?

Okay. Let's have Mr. Oldenburger join us.

MR. GRAY: Thank y'all.


And welcome, Shaun. S-h-a-u-n.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Mr. Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger. I'm the Small Game Program Director for the Wildlife Division. Today, I'm going to be -- going over the proposed adoptions for tomorrow for the 2018-19 migratory and resident game bird regulations.

We'll start with migratory game birds. The major changes here are listed and for webless species, we do have some changes here for the North, Central, and South Zones for dove seasons; but one of big changes will be the September 14th opening day in the South Zone for doves. As you may recall, the federal frameworks in the past had been the Friday nearest September 20th; but no earlier than September 17th. And we were able to get the Fish and Wildlife Service to change that to as early as September 14th in future years going forward for the South Zone.

For waterfowl -- just for your information, as well -- all the seasons that we will list here, there are no changes. It's just calendar progression for those seasons. The one major change here is the daily bag limit for pintails will be increased from one a day to two per day, based on the harvest strategy from Fish and Wildlife Service. So that is a good thing for Texas hunters, especially those folks on the coast that see lots of pintails that fly by their decoys.

All right, we're starting off with teal hunting. We are allowed 16 days. The preference is to go the last three full weekends in September. Therefore, we hit the -- more of the migration chronology of those teal coming from the prairies up north. So the proposed dates will be September 15th through the 30th, and that is six birds in daily bag limit. That is an aggregate daily bag limit. So you're allowed to take Green-winged teal, Cinnamon teal, and blue-winged teal.

So we'll start off with High Plains Mallard Management Unit for ducks, for mergansers, and coots; and just for your information, this area does allow more opportunity than the North and South Zone due to population dynamics of these birds and mallards in this area. For the youth season, October 20th and 21st; and then the regular season will begin October 27th and 28th, with a split occurring. The second segment beginning November 2nd and running out the rest of the days to January 27th.

Just for your information as go forward, there is some dusky duck regulations in here under federal frameworks. We're not allowed to harvest dusky ducks the first five days of any waterfowl season. So you'll see this in here for the next couple zones, as well.

Going -- moving to the North zone there in green: Youth season, November 3rd and 4th; the regular season to begin November 10th, running to the 25th, and then opening again December 1st and running to January 25th. Then also there are the five-day delay for dusky ducks.

Moving to the South Zone: Youth season is October 27th and 28th; regular season beginning November 3rd, going to the 25th, opening again December 8th, running out to the end of federal frameworks on January 27th. And in this area where we do see more mottled ducks, there would be a five-day delay in that season and opening on November 8th.

Moving on to ducks, mergansers, coots, proposed daily bag limits statewide, once again, six per day. No changes here except for the two pintails as outlined beforehand; mergansers, five per day; coots, 15 per day. Once again, for all migratory game birds, possession limits are three times the daily bag limit, with once exception which we will say later with goose seasons.

And for goose seasons here, we have two zones in Texas. We have the Western Goose Zone in red and the Eastern Goose Zone in light blue there. The daily bag limits are five dark geese, to include no more than two white-fronted geese, 20 light geese, with no possession limit on light geese. So that is the one exception on possession limits.

For Western Goose Zones in red, dark goose and light geese would be November 3rd to February 3rd; and then the conservation order would begin February 4th to March 17th. That's where we do have some special regulations outside our regular hunting seasons to take more light geese.

In the Eastern Goose Zone, we have a Canada goose only season that aligns with our teal season and that goes September 15th and 30th. We do have an increasing number of local breeding Canada geese out of the historical range there in Northeast Texas. So that's to take advantage of those during teal season. The dark and light goose season would be November 3rd to January 27th; and once again, the conservation order starting directly after that, January 28th and running to March 17th. The end is the same as the Western Goose Zone.

Moving on to Sandhill cranes, we have three zones here in the State of Texas. Zone A is start October 27th and run to January 27. A daily bag limit of three. We did change that a couple years ago to allow more opportunity for regular goose season openers, which has been very successful and we've heard a lot of good input on that change. In Zone B, that season doesn't open until November 23rd and run to January 27. The reason being is, that is the major migration corridor for Whooping cranes to get to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and associated areas; and so we voluntarily take a delay in that season to allow those birds to pass through that area before we open the season.

In Zone C there in red, towards the coast in South Texas, that season would begin December 15th to January 20th. Under that one, we're only allowed 37 days under federal frameworks; and once again, under federal frameworks, we're only allowed two in the daily bag limit.

Rails, gallinules, moorhens, snipe, and woodcock -- rail, gallinule, and moorhen seasons would overlap with teal season, September 15th and 30th; opening again November 3rd and running out the rest of the days to December 26th. We're allowed 107 days for snipe, going October 27th through February 10th; and woodcock, there's no change from last year. The end of federal frameworks is January 31st. There has been a desire from the few woodcock hunters here in Texas to go as late as possible. So we start January 31st; and then backdate the 45 days, starting December 18th.

Moving on to statewide regular dove seasons. Once again, there's 90 days in the season. If you recall a couple years ago, we changed -- we were able to get that change in federal frameworks from 70 days to 90 days, which allowed a lot more flexibility in our dove seasons and there's 15 birds in the daily bag limit, which are Mourning doves and White-wing doves. There is a limit on only two White-tipped doves, which only occur in South Texas.

North and Central Zones, as you remember in January, there were some proposed changes by the Commission. These are reflected here, where those would aligned starting September 1st and running to the end on November 4th, which would be the opening for deer season, starting again on December 21st and running out the rest of the days to January 14th.

For the South Zone Special White-wing dove days, here are the seasons. Just so you know, September 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 9th would be the Special White-wing dove days. That is only -- an afternoon-only season. Those are 15 birds in the bag limit in which we're only allowed two Mourning doves during that season due to federal restrictions in that area on that special season outside of our regular dove seasons.

Once again, as mentioned earlier, that season this year can open early on September 14th, which this year coincides with a Friday, which is more of a traditional opener. So we would propose opening September 14th, running to November 4th, similar to the other two seasons; opening again December 19th and running to January 21st, which is MLK Day weekend. And 15 birds, as I mentioned, in the aggregate for the regular season.

To look at this on a calendar here, you see the 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 9th in yellow. In gray is the regular season; and just for your information, the 21st is outlined because that would have been the traditional opener we would have been allowed under past federal frameworks, but we're allowed to go as early as September 14th with the 18-19 season.

Also in January, the Commission had a desire to get some input from the Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee on moving forward since this change did occur. We were able to engage those folks, and they were able to come to some conclusion as far as a policy looking forward into future years; and their suggestion was to go to the first segment as early as possible on September 14th, running to that first Sunday in November, very similar to what this year's proposal would be, and then the second segment would open the third or fourth Friday in December and go to the end of available days. And that proposal would capture MLK Day weekend every year, as desired; and that third or fourth Friday would just vary, depending on where MLK Day falls on the calendar in January.

Proposed falconry seasons for doves, November 17th to December 3rd; and then falconry seasons for woodcock, moorhen, gallinule, rail, and ducks in the North and South Zones, January 28th through February 11th. And just for your information, there is no falconry seasons in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit, for the fact we've already used all our 107 days we're allowed underneath the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for open seasons.

Moving on from migratory game birds to proposals for wild turkey regulation changes, we do have a couple concerning our one-gobbler Eastern Zone area. They're highlighted in blue. We do have four different areas with different regulations in the state on wild turkeys. Those counties in blue, you'll see there as some of you are aware, we've been doing a fairly aggressive restoration program with the wild turkeys in East Texas. It is one of the few areas in the United States where we do not have wild turkeys in all the areas we wish to have them; and so our staff have been working diligently on this project, as well.

We do -- a couple years ago, we came forward with a proposal, which was adopted, to look at some closures on counties and how that would occur in areas where we do have limited populations of Eastern wild turkeys. We do have two counties that met those criteria this past year and those are Upshur and San Augustine. In those two counties, on average the last three years, we've averaged less than one bird per season in those two counties. And also just for your information, these counties do have mandatory reporting for take of wild -- of Eastern wild turkeys during the spring season and it is an only spring season and shotguns only during the season.

So the proposal would be for Upshur and San Augustine to be closed going forward until those populations are able to recover and we can open those seasons again.

Also another one is, a proposal, is the Eastern Zone season start dates. Right now, we have fixed dates from April 15th to May 14th, is what the dates are for the Eastern Zones. Based on some work that was done by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Wild Turkey Working Group, they produced a white paper looking at when season timing should occur for these areas where there are possible declines or decreased populations. Their recommendation was to move forward where basically the midpoint of initiation of hens on nests is where a season should start. And if you actually look at this graph in front of you, you'll actually see about around April 22nd is where that would occur based on some research we've done in East Texas; and so we would be proposing to wait a week and moving a fixed opening date to April 22nd, running out the days to March 14th.

To look at harvest in this area, like I said, it is mandatory harvest; and this is the timing of harvest. It is very front-end loaded. In fact, 50 percent of the harvest occurs during the first week. So the proposal would basically be shifting that harvest down a week and that would then allowed for those hens to be bred and it would also allow for hens to start incubating nests and, therefore, we actually have more reproductive output in those populations in East Texas and, therefore, hopefully securing those populations in the future for hunters and the public.

The next proposal are possession limits. We currently allow three times the daily bag limit for possession limits for migratory and game birds and quail. The proposal would include species where possession limits remain two times the daily bag limit and that's pheasants, squirrels, Chachalacas. This is just a simplification proposal where we would align all those and make possession limits the same for all those species.

Public input for all these proposals on the public comment page here, we actually had substantial more amount of public comment, as Ken mentioned later -- earlier today. We did give substantial amount of input -- trying to get input from our public this year. So for the first proposal, pintail daily bag limits, we had 95 percent support; and you can see the numbers there that commented on these through that page. That is a substantial amount more than we have received in the past.

For the North Zone dove, it was 87 percent support. Central Zone dove season changes, 90 percent support. South Zone dove changes, 95 percent support. I will mention here, we did make an erroneous couple words in the proclamation of migratory game bird proclamation; but the reality is here, is 88 to 90 percent of the harvest occurs during the first segment. That error was towards the winter segment. So, therefore, we don't think that was a major impact on the public's input.

On statewide migratory seasons, 91 percent support. Eastern turkey changes, 78 percent support. Most of the input received here on the not supporting side of things, were basically the timing of gobbling that occurs; but based on research that has been done, it shows that gobbling chronology does not correlate to nesting chronology. So that is one of the major changes, and then also taking seasons away and some time away from turkey seasons were the major input we received there.

For possession limit changes, we had 94 percent; and then also the Upland and Migratory Game Bird Advisory Committee provided input and supported the proposals and very instrumental in this process, as well. So that concludes my presentation. I'd be happy to take any questions at this time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Morian.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Shaun, for tomorrow, would you tweak the South Zone dove a little bit? I think we talked last meeting that the September 14th was an important date; but we only ran it through October 30th, and added those five days to the second season, which means we'd start December 14th.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's consistent with my recollection of --


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: -- where the Commission ended up in January, too.


MR. OLDENBURGER: So take -- just for clarification, take days off the backend of November and put those at the beginning of December to get to the 14th?




MR. OLDENBURGER: We will tweak that.


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Any other Commissioners have questions or comments for Shaun?

All right. Thank you, Shaun.

I will say I have some concerns over extending the White-tail deer season in the North Zone and also the allowing of hunting with crossbows without safeties; but notwithstanding that, we're not voting on anything today. We'll place the entire 2018-19 statewide hunting migratory, game bird, and furbearing animal proclamations, as adjusted on the South Dove zone, for public comment and action by the Commission tomorrow on the entirety of the proposal.

With regard to Work Session Item 8, Chronic Wasting Disease Containment Zone Delineation in Hartley County Rules, Movement of Deer, and Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments about that; or can I go ahead and place that on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action?

Hearing no opposition, or objection rather, we'll go ahead and place Work Session Item 8 on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action by the Commission at that time.

That takes us to Work Session Item No. 9, Alligator Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, John Warner. Welcome, John.

MR. WARNER: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Jonathan Warner; and I'm the Department's Alligator Program Leader. This morning, I'm requesting permission to publish proposed amendments to the alligator proclamation in the Texas Register. Specifically, these changes would affect rules governing nuisance alligator control procedures.

Just as a quick refresher, since 2012, the Department has permitted individuals as nuisance control hunters after successful completion of an alligator handling and a written course and payment of an annual fee. Permittees frequently contract directly with landowners or their agents, political subdivisions, petrochemical companies, or homeowners' associations for the removal of nuisance alligators. Permittees are required to submit nuisance activity and hide tag reports to the Department.

The proposed amendment to Section 65 concerning nuisance alligator control, consists of several components. Subsection A would allow nuisance alligator control hunters to designate subpermittees to assist them with alligator control activities. This change would require assistants to be approved by the Department, provide for an application process, and require permittees to directly supervise all nuisance control activities conducted by subpermittees.

Alligator program agrees in principle that the nature of nuisance alligator control makes it convenient and sometimes necessary for a control hunter to use a few extra hands. That said, because alligators are a public resource that the Department is charged with managing and conserving, as well as an export commodity subject to federal and international laws governing trade and endangered species and look-alike species, it is necessary to ensure that subpermittees are appropriately vetted and supervised. Therefore, the proposed amendment would allow the use of subpermittees subject to Department approval.

The proposed amendment would also eliminate current Subsection B(2), which establishes a deadline for permit applications. Eliminating the application deadline, would allow for additional nuisance alligator control hunters to be permitted at times when control calls are at high volumes or there is a shortage of nuisance control hunters available.

Under Subsection D, the proposed amendment would require permittees prior to engaging in permitted activities, to receive a control number from the Department via the La Porte Communication Center for each nuisance control alligator that the hunter needs to remove. This procedure is currently standard for the Department's control hunters, facilitates compliance and transparency in capture activities, as well as allowing staff to track open complaint numbers in realtime. The Department is simply seeking codification here.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: John, before you move on, if you don't mind me interpreting. Why should we limit the issuance of a control number to the La Porte Center? Why not have more flexibility by just saying, "Issued by Law Enforcement, TPWD Law Enforcement," in case it's an emergency and -- I mean, it seems to me that we shouldn't tie our hands by limiting it to one center. That's a question, observation maybe.

MR. WARNER: That's a good question, and maybe Ellis or someone else in Law Enforcement could help me; but historically, since they switched over to basically outsourcing nuisance alligator calls to the public, to permitted public, it's always just worked through the staff there at La Porte that's on call 24 hours. In emergency situations, if there's an alligator in the middle of I-10 or if there's been an attack, then Law Enforcement certainly responds directly to that; but I'm sure Ellis can shed some light on that.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Ellis, what do you think?

MR. POWELL: Yes, sir. Good morning. For the record, my name's Ellis Powell with the Law Enforcement Division. That's just a consistent way that we've done it. Game wardens go through that, also; and then it keeps track. We do respond to the ones he's talking about, the -- if it's an emergency situation, a game warden will go out and handle it right there and then follow up with La Porte so we track those numbers. That's just the clearinghouse, I guess you would say.

MR. SMITH: And, Ellis and John, we provide that number to the permittees. So they all have that so it's easy to call.

MR. POWELL: It's 24 hours a day, 365; and it's just a central number where keep all that at one spot.

MR. WARNER: And if I could just make a short addendum there. The public can call that number at any time, and they're provided a list of permitted individuals in their area that are authorized to deal with a nuisance alligator.

MR. POWELL: If it's not an emergency situation and a game warden gets a call -- you know, it's not life or death. It's not blocking the roadway or something like that and you call and the game warden verifies that, yes, it is, indeed, a nuisance situation, they will just simply give them that number; and then we're hands off, for the most part. That person calls La Porte. La Porte gives them a list of hunters that they can contact and the hunter will come out and then take care of it and do all the paperwork.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, as I say, I don't feel strongly about it; but it just seems like it might make it easier on Law Enforcement and the Department, in general, just to not have that limitation. But whatever you-all think, I'm fine with it.

MR. POWELL: Yes, sir. We can look at it some more, and see if there's a way to broaden it.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You just say, "Control number required, issued by TPWD's Law Enforcement," period. Think about it. Whatever you want to do, I'm okay with it; and the other members can speak for themselves.

MR. POWELL: No, that's a good idea and that would allow us to use other dispatches besides just simply the La Porte one also if it was a little broader language. So I'll get with Alan --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Sorry to digress. I just --

MR. POWELL: -- I mean, John; and make those.


MR. WARNER: Thanks.

Thanks, Ellis.


MR. WARNER: I would like to note for the record that at this time, staff is withdrawing the proposed amendment to Subsection D that would prohibit the use of social media or other digital recording of nuisance alligator control activities for commercial purposes or entertainment.

Finally, just to wrap up, during the past year, the Department received several dozen complaints from the public that large alligators were being captured by a small member -- small number of members in the nuisance alligator program, not because the alligators were legitimate nuisance animals; but solely for their value as desirable trophy animals or lucrative captive attractions. I guess I should just qualify that by saying these are primarily alligators over 10 feet in length, mostly breeding males. These animals are also highly valuable to Texas hunters who seek to legally harvest trophy alligators during the alligator season.

Also from an ecological standpoint, large alligators are critical components of aquatic ecosystems as apex predators and have an overarching impact on the social and breeding structures, home ranges, and population densities of alligator populations in East, Southeast and Coastal Texas.

For these reasons, the proposed amendment would, therefore, require written authorization from the Department on a case-by-case basis for the capture or killing of alligators greater than 10 feet in length. This additional confirmation that these are large alligators are, indeed, verified nuisance animals before removing them from the environment, is seem simply as a further safeguard for ensuring that alligators remain a sustainable natural resource in Texas. That concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Comments or questions from the members?

Okay. John, thank you very much.

MR. WARNER: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I'll authorize staff to publish the alligator rules in the Texas Register for the required public comment period and later potential action.

Item 10, Commercial Turtle Harvest Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Ranger -- Register. I can't get "ranger" out of my head. Meredith Longoria. Welcome, Meredith.

MS. LONGORIA: Good morning, Commissioners, Chairman. I would like to talk to you this morning about commercial freshwater turtle collection in Texas. For the record, my name is Meredith Longoria; and I'm the Nongame and Rare Species Program Leader.

In October of 2017, TPWD received a petition for rulemaking requesting that we prohibit the commercial collection of freshwater turtles in Texas. In 2007, TPWD Commission adopted the current rules designed to protect freshwater turtles from overharvest. Under the current regulations, commercial collection of all freshwater turtles on public lands and public waters is prohibited. However, an exception was made during that rulemaking to allow these four most commonly harvested species to be collected only from private lands and private waters, including the common Snapping turtle, Red-Eared Slider, and the Smooth and Spiny softshell turtles.

The current regulations were based on a source-sink model, which is a spatial harvest management model, with the idea that turtle populations in protected public waters would naturally replace overharvested populations in private waters.

TPWD funded a five-year research project beginning in 2008, that examined whether the current rules were sufficient for protecting freshwater turtle populations from overharvest. I'll discuss the results of that study later in the presentation.

Current rules require a commercial nongame dealer permit to buy or sell freshwater turtles in Texas. There we go. The means and methods for commercial take require tagging gear with the owner's contact information and ensuring that turtles do not drown in traps and permittees are required to maintain a collection log, as well as report all collections, sales, and purchases annually to the Department.

Because of their long lifespan, long generation times, slow growth rate, and delayed sexual maturity, they have very low reproductive rates. They also have a low survival rate and population sustainability is dependent on adult survivors. Particularly, breeding age females to offset the high mortality rates in eggs in juvenile life stages. As a result of these characteristics, turtles are highly sensitive to harvest.

Also, populations may appear to be stable with the presence of juveniles; yet, if breeding age females aren't present, it takes decades for juveniles to reach breeding age. By the time a population decline is noted, it's likely already too late. Common environmental threats -- such as water pollution, road mortality, and habitat loss -- add to the life history vulnerability's characteristic of turtle populations.

Depredation also poses a threat. Freshwater turtles are sometimes disliked by landowners and fishermen because of the common misconception that turtles prey on or compete with game fish and maybe unnecessarily targeted for depredation. Turtles are, in fact, omnivores for the majority of their lives, eating aquatic plants, invertebrates, and decaying matter. Such -- species such as the red-eared slider and Texas River Cooter can be more carnivorous as juveniles, but transition to a largely vegetarian diet by they time they reach a few inches in size.

It's worth noting that turtles most likely aid fish populations, rather than harm them. Recent research has documented the important role turtles play in the structure and stability of aquatic food webs in ecosystem processes. They can actually improve water quality and prey abundance for fish populations as a result of their eating habits.

Commercial collection, unlike some of the other threats, can be addressed through regulation. There is still a huge oversea's demand for turtles, including turtle meat for consumption and demand from the pet trade. The current rules came about because of the large numbers of turtles being shipped overseas, with instances of tens of thousands of pounds of turtles being shipped to China at a time from Texas.

Turtle populations in Asia experienced deep declines from overharvest, leading to an increase in export of turtles from the U.S. to meet market demands. The demand for oversea's commercial trade is still high and provides an opportunity and an incentive for poachers to trap turtles in Texas and smuggle them into neighboring states with fewer protections. As a result, the existing exceptions to our rules provide a loophole that makes law enforcement in Texas unnecessarily challenging when trying to discern legal from illegal commercial collection. Closing that loophole would enable Law Enforcement to better respond to illegal activity.

Another large threat to populations of rare turtles is failure to discriminate among similar species. This can be a challenge for both commercial nongame dealers, as well as for Law Enforcement; and the result can be devastating to rare turtle populations. The Alligator Snapping turtle pictured here, is a State threatened species and is under review for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act currently and it is similar in appearance to the common snapping turtle, as you can see.

The Red-Eared Slider can easily be confused with several rare turtle species, including the Rio Grande Cooter, which is listed as a species of greatest conservation need in the Texas Conservation Action Plan and is under review for listing; the Western Chicken turtle, which is also under review for listing; the Big Bend Slider, also a species of greatest conservation need; as well as Cagle's Map turtle, which is considered the rarest Map turtle species in the world.

Finally, Smooth and Spiny softshell turtles are very difficult to tell apart, even for experts; and Smooth softshell is also a species of greatest conservation need. It's extremely rare and should not be subject to commercial collection. As you can see, multiple rare turtle species can be easily confused with the four species that are currently allowed for commercial collection, posing even more of a threat for the continued existence of these rare turtle species in Texas.

Since commercial activities require a commercial nongame dealer permit and all collections, sales, and purchases are reported annually to the Department, staff are able to assess any potential economic impact that might result from the rule change. All 71 permit holders that reported buying or selling turtles between 2015 and 2017, were surveyed to assess potential economic impact. Staff received 12 responses from those 71 permit holders.

The total annual income reported by the 12 permit holders from the sale of commercially collected turtles from the wild -- that responded to the survey -- are shown here by species and year. Each of these amounts were reported by individual permittees. No more than one permittee reported annual income on any particular year for any particular species.

Looking at these numbers, commercial harvest appears to be down. However, there's no continuity or trend evident in these data, which makes it unclear whether this is a result of underreporting, a lull in commercial activity, or an overall decline in turtle populations. Regardless, these data indicate that removing the existing exceptions to commercial collection of turtles, will not produce a significant economic impact on rural communities.

Data from the five-year research project that we funded started in 2008, mentioned -- that I mentioned earlier -- combined with the continued monitoring of commercial collection data and review of additional research outside of Texas, shows that turtle populations are extremely sensitive to commercial harvest. Even modest commercial harvest can lead to long-term declines. Public waterbodies in Texas are not a sufficient source for repopulating our -- for repopulating overharvested private waters and illegal commercial harvest continues to be a large threat, as confirmed recently by federal and TPWD Law Enforcement officers regarding several cases under investigation within the last year alone in Northeast Texas. Closing the loophole by removing the exceptions from the current rule, will help position Law Enforcement to better protect turtle populations in Texas.

In light of all this information, the petition we received, and at the recommendation of the Wildlife Diversity Advisory Committee, TPWD staff recommend removing the exceptions for the commercial collection of these four species of freshwater turtles -- again, that's the common Snapping turtle, the Red-Eared Slider, and the Smooth and Spiny softshell turtles -- to make the rules consistent across all turtle species and all waterbodies in Texas; to enable TPWD to better protect the turtle populations in Texas, including those especially vulnerable rare species from overharvest.

A nongame dealer permit is required under the current rules to buy and sell any freshwater turtles, including those collected from the wild or bred in captivity. Captive breeding and sale of lawfully obtained broodstock by permitted nongame dealers would continue to be legal under the revised rule. The rules for recreational collection will not change, in order to continue to foster and encourage the interest of public, including nature enthusiasts, educators and children, and landowner rights would remain unchanged in that landowners can still use noncommercial means to manage turtle numbers on their land.

As such, staff respectfully seek your permission to publish the proposed changes to the Texas Register. And that concludes my presentation, and I'm happy to answer any questions that you have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Bill, Commissioner Jones.

COMMISSIONER JONES: How much does one get for a turtle?

MS. LONGORIA: Well, that's a good question; and it probably depends on any given year. I went back and looked at the data reported by our permit holders, and the one year -- let me go back and show you kind of the numbers that I have there. One year, 2017, Spiny softshell turtle sales were reported at $5,000 from one permittee. And I looked to see which permittee we had records of that reported sales of that species and there were 400 and -- 400 plus turtles that he sold that year, that one permittee -- I assume, it's him. So $11ish per turtle. So it can vary on any given year in any species, I guess, depending on the market.


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other members, questions or comments?

Could you go back to the slide that's entitled "Regulations Re-examined," please?


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I think that says a lot; and I just want to thank you for this very worthwhile presentation on this wonderful species, these great creatures. Anyway, thank you.

With that, I'll authorize staff to publish the commercial turtle harvest rules in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Thank you, Meredith.

MS. LONGORIA: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Work Session Item 11 -- just a second here, I've got to look at my notes -- Chronic Wasting Disease Detection and Response Rules, Facility Location Information Requirements, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Range -- Register.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Baseball season.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: It's his fault from last night. Mitch Lockwood, please make your presentation.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Mitch Lockwood. I'm the Big Game Program Director. And this morning, staff seek permission to publish in the Texas Register proposed amendments to our comprehensive CWD management rules, which are located in Division 2 of Chapter 65, Subchapter B.

The proposed amendment would require a georeferenced map showing the boundaries of any facility to which or from which deer may be transferred under the authority of a permit. There are a few reasons for these proposed amendments, including the need to provide or Law Enforcement Division with accurate information regarding the location of these facilities for which they're responsible for monitoring.

We've also become aware of a number of instances in which deer breeding facilities have been closed and subsequently reopened or release sites have been re-registered and what could be attempts to obtain or apparently obtain a Class 1 status, which would give a false indication of the historical CWD surveillance for those facilities; and in the case of release sites, potentially to circumvent CWD testing requirements.

We're also aware of the creation of fictitious release sites, which would presumably appear as -- appear to those who are selling deer as legitimate Class 1 release sites and, therefore, would have no CWD testing requirements associated with them. This requirement would apply to any facility which is defined as any location required to be registered in TWIMS under a deer breeder's permit, Triple T permit, or DMP, including release sites and/or trap sites. And the proposed amendment to this definition would include locations of affected by TTP permits, as well, or the permits for the trapping, transplanting -- excuse me, the trapping, transporting, and processing of game animals.

The existing rule authorizing the Department to require a map specifically for Triple T trap sites, would be redundant under these proposed amendments; and, therefore, staff propose to strike this language from the rules. Existing rule provides a mean for TC 1 and TC 2 facilities to transfer breeder deer under a transfer permit that has been activated and approved by the Department, as provided in 65.610, Subsection E. Well, Subsection E is specific to the details of a Transfer Permit; but there are other important and relevant subsections of 65.610 that pertain to the transfer of deer and, therefore, staff propose to strike the reference to Subsection E and to make this subsection reference all of 65.610 relating to the transfer of deer.

That concludes my presentation. I'll be glad to entertain any questions you might have.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Mitch, back at the very start of your deal, you're asking for a georeferenced map showing these boundaries. How -- some people may not be very sophisticated on all this stuff and plugged in. Who's going to help them get a georeferenced map, or how are they going to be held accountable to get this information if it's not real easy and they're not real sophisticated?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Well, this process, Commissioner, will be just as easy as it is for our 10,000 or so MLDP cooperators who are having to georeference their maps in the online system, the LMA system. It's basically similar to other applications like Google Earth, for example. The permit holder would go online and actually with a mouse, digitize the boundaries of a property over an aerial image.

And as y'all know, this Commission recently adopted rules -- amendments to our aerial wildlife management rules to require -- have a similar requirement for those permittees, as well. So it would be real similar to the process that every one of our MLDP cooperators are using and our aerial permit holders are using.

As far as how we hold them accountable, the permit issuance or renewal would be dependent on having those maps georeferenced in this online system.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Have you gotten any comments from anybody relating to this, or the thoughts about what people think about this?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Yes, sir, we have. Just a few days ago, our Division Director Clayton Wolf did send out an e-mail to a number of our stakeholders to advise them of this, simply that we're requesting permission to publish these amendments. And we did receive an e-mail response from the Executive Director of Texas Deer Association expressing his opposition to this proposal.


MR. LOCKWOOD: To my knowledge, that's the only people we've received any written comment from. I personally have received verbal comment in support of this from some other stakeholders.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So this doesn't -- I've gotten some comments, as Carter knows, from people on the TWIMS deal that really like the final product that we've got out there now and they've finally, apparently, have got the bugs worked out of it. Does any of this -- will any of this tie into TWIMS?

MR. LOCKWOOD: So this system -- this will be a component of TWIMS.


MR. LOCKWOOD: And I am often guilty of lumping a lot of applications into TWIMS, such as our MLDP application. That's actually a separate application called our LMA system, Landowner Management Assistance, I believe. But it's very, very similar as far as how this process would work as this would work in TWIMS; but our deer breeder program is exclusively in TWIMS. And as you said, Commissioner, it's been very popular with our permit holders. It works quite well.


MR. SMITH: Commissioner, I'll just add, our biologists out there have bent over backwards to help landowners that were going through the transition on the MLDP to help make sure they got their maps done and so forth; and I would expect us to do the same here if someone had an issue with being able to handle the map technology.


MR. SMITH: If they need our help, we'll help them.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You know, when I go out, I just hear -- can hear that coming up.


COMMISSIONER SCOTT: As long as we've got an answer, showing them how we're going to help, and the same process since we know that TWIMS has been so readily accepted --


COMMISSIONER SCOTT: -- since you've got the bugs worked out of it, I think. But anyway, thank you.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Mr. Chairman, if I may, one thing I did neglect to let you-all know is that effective date of this rule -- if eventually adopted by this Commission -- the effective date would be dependent on programming these changes into TWIMS and we would begin gathering the business requirements to know what all that would entail upon adoption and then if it is, indeed, adopted our -- and at that time, determine whether or not the effective date could be within six months of adoption or whether or not we would need to return to this Commission to propose a later adoption date -- I mean, I'm sorry, effective date. But our goal would be to have this in effect no later than April 1 of 2019, if the Commission does, indeed, adopt these amendments.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Remind me of what we require now. Is it just a map, as indicated on that language that you struck through?

MR. LOCKWOOD: Commissioner Jones, that's a very good question. Right now, the only requirement is to provide a general location in writing of the location of a facility; and that general location could be approximately 12.5 miles north of Brownwood, Texas, off of county road such and such and that has provided game wardens quite a challenge of locating these facilities.

And in the case of the fictitious release sites that have been created, obviously, it's made it impossible at times to find out where they really intended for these to be located.

MR. POWELL: I'm sorry to jump in there, Mitch. Go ahead.

MR. LOCKWOOD: No, go. You're the man.

MR. POWELL: My name is Ellis Powell with the Wildlife Division, as Mitch likes to put it; but most of the time, Law Enforcement Division.

MR. LOCKWOOD: Our short-distance shooter here.

MR. SMITH: Our sharpshooter.

MR. POWELL: The addresses on the release sites has been a problem for us. Sometimes we've -- there are many cases where it's a P.O. Box. So game wardens are constantly having to reaching out to landowners to find out where this place is and if it's an investigation where it's not appropriate to contact the landowner, it puts them in a bad spot anyway.

We've seen a lot of release sites that are really small, and they're next to a large release site owned by the same people. That's sometimes used for the wrong purpose, but we can't tell that by just an address. One of them will have one description. One of them has another. Where a georeferenced map will be a visual. You will be able to see it, that they overlap.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Okay. So someone would give you a -- if they are up to no good, they'd give you a fictitious site with no intention of actually releasing the deer in that site?

MR. POWELL: We're currently working a couple cases. Our CID and Special Op guys are working with some of the guys in the field on cases exactly like that, where they had testing requirements on a release site and they didn't want these deer tested that they purchased. So they created another release site on paper, in TWIMS, which defaulted to different testing standards and physically put the deer where they were going; but it sent them to this fictitious one. We're working a couple of those cases like that now.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Wow. They keep moving the target, don't they? Wow.

MR. POWELL: If we would have had a map there during the transfer or when they registered their release site, the game warden of the county would have said that's -- I mean, they would have seen that it wasn't where it was supposed to be; but the address was some address that was real vague, and we didn't catch it.


MR. POWELL: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: You're welcome to stay if you want. Finito?

MR. SMITH: Are you done?

MR. LOCKWOOD: I am done.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Is there any comment -- are there any comments or questions by members?

Thank you, Mitch.

I will authorize staff to publish the Chronic Wasting Disease detection and response rules, facility location information requirements in the Texas Register for the required public comment.

With respect to Work Session Item 12, Implementation of Legislation from the 85th Legislative Session and House Bill 1260, Rules Relating to Regulation of Commercial Shrimp Unloading, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

If not, I'll place that on tomorrow's meeting -- Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action. Okay. Then we will do so since there are no questions or comments. So that Work Session Item 12 will now be placed on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action by this Commission.

Thirteen, Red Snapper Exempted Fishing Permit, EFP Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register. Welcome, Lance Robinson. Hi, Lance.

MR. ROBINSON: Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Lance Robinson with the Coastal Fisheries Division; and I'm here before you this morning to propose some language changes to existing authorities that the Executive Director has in making changes to state regulations on -- for federal fisheries in federal waters, should the need arise and the clarification in the language we're looking for is to make sure that that language covers an exempted fishing permit or other fishery management plan that the federal government may put in place.

And so what I would like to do this morning, is to talk to you just a little bit about this exempted fishing permit and what it means and what we're looking for and then I'll get into kind of the proposed language change.

The appropriation -- Congressional Appropriations Bill last year included language that directed a NOAA Fisheries or National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a pilot program that would allow states to lead the management, if you will, of Red snapper in federal waters off of their respective states. These exempted fishing permits, as the vehicle that they're -- the National Fisheries is going to be using, are generally issued for research purposes and other fishing activities that are normally -- are currently prohibited by other existing regulations.

All five states submitted EFP applications for their respective states. The request for those applications, the Department received in late September; and so all five states have submitted applications. The applications were presented to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in late January. The applications were published in the Federal Register in early March; and they are currently taking public comment on these applications, which are -- which will close on April the 2nd.

The Department has scheduled -- has released a press release on the Texas application for their EFP and we have a portal on our website where we are taking public comment on the proposed EFP. We also have scheduled three public hearings or public meetings next Tuesday. One in the Houston/Clear Lake area, one in Corpus Christi, and one in Brownsville, where we will be briefing the public on the EFP and soliciting their comments.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has given us a projected approval date or a possible approval date that would take place in mid April of this year.

So getting into the Texas specific EFP plan, Texas has requested to -- 16 percent of the overall recreational quota that is allocated. As you recall, in the Red snapper fishery, the total allowable catch is divided 51 percent going to the commercial fishery and 49 percent going to the recreational sector. In our EFP, we are requesting 16 percent of that 49 percent.

We are also including all recreational fishing in our plan. That means the fisherman who goes out on his personal or a friend's boat to fish, as well as the fisherman who may go out on a for-hire vessel, they're all included together in our proposed EFP. However, we were notified -- that 16 percent would translate into just a little over 1 million pounds of fish for Texas.

However, just prior to the Gulf Council meeting in January, we were contacted by National Marine Fisheries Service who voiced some concerns about leaving the federally permitted for-hire sector within our management plan, within our EFP. As the five Gulf states presented their applications to National Marine Fisheries Service, initially only Alabama and Florida excluded their federally permitted for-hire fisheries. The other three states included them in their plan; and subsequently as a result of the contact from National Marine Fisheries, Mississippi has removed the federally permitted sector out of their plan. Louisiana and Texas still are keeping the federal for-hire sectors contained in their -- within their application.

Then during the Council meeting in January, the National Marine Fisheries also indicated and notified or informed Texas that the 16 percent allocation that we had requested, was inappropriate to use for the for-hire sector; and they suggested that the state should instead use the landing's history of a more recent two-year timeframe. So primarily 2016 is what we were looking at. So that would reduce that total allocation by a little over 300,000 pounds if that is -- ultimately happens.

So going back just to kind of get down to the nuts and bolts of this, this is what the plan actually would allow, what we would end up with. So what we've shown here in the table -- just kind of walk you through it. The TPWD proposal -- which was the 16 percent of the total allocation, combining both groups of recreational fishermen -- as I said, those that fish on personal boats or private boats and those fishermen who fish on the back of a for-hire vessel -- under our proposal, that would give 104 days in federal waters that would be open for Red snapper. That's in addition to keeping state waters open 365 days a year.

If the NMFS proposed changes were used, the reduction in the allowable catch for the for-hire sector and then keeping them together, that would reduce the total days in federal waters to 64 days. And if -- and just as a caveat, you'll see the note down there, that if the sectors were separated, if the decision was made either to pull -- if National Marine Fisheries decided to pull the for-hire sector out of the Texas application or if Texas decided to manage that fishery -- those two sectors separately within the allocation we received -- the private recreational fisherman would still receive 82 days in federal waters, plus the 365 days year-round in state water season.

So if this is approved, obviously, there will be -- responsibility will fall on Texas to monitor the landings. This is what we're proposing and what we proposed in our application, that we would monitor landings weekly using our existing bay-and-pass harvest monitoring program for bay-and-pass fisheries, as well as our Gulf-only sampling that takes place. And we're also in the second of a three-year project or grant collaboration project with Texas A&M Corpus Christi, utilizing their phone application called iSnapper, which allows anglers to voluntarily report their landings before they get back or when they get back to the dock and that helps provide some additional estimates of harvest that we will also be validating along with Texas A&M by doing the on-site surveys validating that data.

So as I said, we would require the close monitoring of catch while the season is open, when those days are open; and the State has agreed that if we are projected to reach that quota, then we would close the fisheries down to prevent us from going or exceeding that 16 percent.

Some of the things that we have to take into consideration as we look and project those number of days out there, those number of days should be looked upon as maximum number of days because there's a number of projections that we had to make in trying to come up with those numbers. Some of those are listed here on this screen. Latent demand, one of the things that we're unclear of -- there's no way to really put our arms around is that there may be fishermen out here who because of the very short and truncated seasons that Texas and other Gulf states have experienced in the more recent history, they may have chosen not to fish and just not take the effort to go fishing.

However, given more opportunity to go fish, they may now become active and may have an effect on the landings that may come in. Also, because of the these truncated seasons that we've been experiencing under -- through the Gulf Council and National Marine Fisheries, in order to go and look at a timeframe in history where we had a comparable number of days that were available for fishermen, we've got to go all the back to 2010. And so we're modeling these projections, so number of days, based on behavior that was prevalent in 2010; and we just have no way of knowing if that fishing behavior is going to be the same in 2018 as it was back then.

Another factor that we have to consider, the quota is based pounds. And as I think we've talked about before, as the fishery continues to improve, the fish are getting bigger and bigger and so the projections that we've made on number of days, obviously, we trans -- convert the number of pounds, that 16 percent, into fish. And if the fish, the average size of the fish goes up, then that's going to reduce, obviously, the number of fish that could be available. And then also Hurricane Harvey threw some wrenches, you know, into some of the availability for fishermen to get off shore and some of the operations are still not totally on their feet yet. Some of the camps, some of the boat storage facilities, people lost boats; and so as that becomes -- those boats and vessels become more active, we're not sure how that might affect landings going forward.

So with that, what we are proposing is to clarify the language that already exists in Chapter 57.801, to make sure and to clarify that it clearly points to the fact that the exempted fishing permit, it is covered under the powers of the Executive Director in case a closure or an opening needs to take place. So with that, I'll certainly try to answer any questions you may have.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: So this EFP limit of poundage is only in federal waters?

MR. ROBINSON: No, ma'am. The --


MR. ROBINSON: The Red snapper allowable catch includes landings from state waters, as well.


MR. ROBINSON: They aggregate it all together. So the 16 percent includes state water landings. But what we did in our analysis, is we calculated based on our previous years' landings of Red snapper in state waters, the number of fish, and we subtracted them off of that 16 percent to start with. So we knew we had the state season, and then we worked with the remaining balance to come up with the number of days in federal waters.



COMMISSIONER JONES: So who's working the levers to change these rules at the last minute as to what formula is going to be used by the various states and who's -- and which formula is used -- which one is preferred by this group? Who's in that group working that lever?

MR. RIECHERS: Let me try to answer that, Commissioner Jones. For the record, Robin Riechers, Director of Coastal Fisheries.

As Lance put in his presentation, this was an appropriation's language added on that occurred; and so, you know, we were asked to put in the EFP. We submitted that. We didn't -- we weren't provided guidance on pounds and/or what to include and what not to include. So we went forward with kind of our philosophy based on how we've been suggesting we should manage this fishery.

Now, kind as you suggest, at the last minute at the Gulf Council, we were -- and immediately prior, we were informed of some of these issues that they have concerns with. They did go ahead and publish our proposal, as we sent it in, in the Federal Register; and so they're taking comments on that full suite of proposals as they were all sent in, but without changes to anyone's at this point in time. But ultimately, National Marine Fisheries Service, Secretary of Commerce, basically, has the decision of whether to move to approve an EFP or not approve an EFP, an exempted fishing permit.

COMMISSIONER JONES: But who's pulling the lever? That's what I'm getting at. Who's behind -- who's pulling the lever?

MR. RIECHERS: Behind asking for an EFP? I'm trying to make sure I understand your question so that I parachute down in the right place.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So let me be specific. Immediately prior to the Council meeting, MF -- NMFS preferred -- announced that they preferred that all states have the for-hire group in their EFP or, I assume, all states have their for-hire group out of EFP?


COMMISSIONER JONES: So -- yeah. So who at NMFS makes that decision?

MR. RIECHERS: I would say that decision has been in consult with the Regional Administrator of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center and also the current Director at National Marine Fisheries Service and they are the ones at National Marine Fisheries Service who have shared that -- those comments back to us at the Council.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Where are they from?

MR. RIECHERS: Where are those individuals from?

COMMISSIONER JONES: Yeah. Where are they from?

MR. RIECHERS: One is from Tampa-Saint Pete in Florida, where the Southeast Regional Science Center is located. The other individual is now in Washington, DC. He's fairly new in that role, and he was at Alaska with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council before that.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Does -- okay. Does -- somebody's got those guys' ear. That's where I'm going with this and I'm trying to figure out who that is because somebody has got their ear and I'm trying to figure out how we get their ear. I don't want to sit on the sideline and let somebody else dictate what happens to us. If there's something going on that we need to be a part of, then we need to talk about that. Maybe not right now, but at some point.

And then they informed everybody at the Council meeting that NMFS wanted to use recent two years to set the landing's allocation. Is that something we're okay with?

MR. RIECHERS: No, Commissioner. I think we believe that using the two years that they're suggesting, both penalizes the Western Gulf because the time of the year when we've had our seasons -- and those are very shortened seasons -- and those of us in the Western Gulf know that we can blown off the water during that period of time and, you know, you're just not having an opportunity to fish and so we don't think those are good years to use.

And went back to kind of a historical approach where we weight it by both the long-term weighted average where we weight that by 50 percent and we weight some more current years by 50 percent, recognizing that there has been changes in the fishery across the Gulf and we were looking at a way to account for both of those kinds of issues. So we think that's the more appropriate way.

I will also add that it's a little bit of an inconsistent argument in that they're not saying the same thing for the private recreational landings, where people have used different percentages; and they're not suggesting to use only last year's in that respect. So a little inconsistent in that respect.

COMMISSIONER JONES: Well, again, somebody is pulling the levers; and I'm trying to figure out who that is so we can get our turn at the trough pulling the lever, so.


COMMISSIONER SCOTT: In -- and in furthering what Bill's talking about, where does -- what did Louisiana turn in? Something comparable to us, or something totally different?

MR. RIECHERS: Louisiana turned in something very comparable to us. They used a long-term average, just like we have done. They also are keeping their charter for-hire sector. Included the one difference between us and them, is they're going to recognize -- or they're suggesting that they would like to recognize that there is a sector separation option inside of their EFP. Meaning, that whatever poundage their charter for-hire caught in that long-term average, they would give them that; and then the private recs from off their own vessels, would get their percentage share.

And in our proposal, the difference is we lumped them all -- we're treating you the same whether you're an angler on the back of a for-hire vessel or whether you're an angler on the back of your own vessel or off a jetty or pier or what have you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Do you have data that shows the poundage caught by the person fishing with a guide for-hire or just a recreational fisherman? Is it a significant difference?

MR. RIECHERS: There is a significant difference. We do split -- you know, we do account for that data as it comes in under those different platforms; and there is a significant difference. You know, our charger for-hire fleet and our -- what we call our head boat fleet or party boat fleet, the Wharf Cat, the Scat Cat, etcetera -- those vessels, you know, catch a lot of fish. They're very efficient at what they do; and percentagewise, they catch a larger percentage share in Texas.

COMMISSIONER JONES: So one other thing. The two years, which we think negatively impacts us, in addition to trying to figure out who's pulling the lever, I think what we might ought to consider doing or at least just consider it, whatever we think is fair, submit that or submit a supplement relating to that so there's something that they have in their possession that shows what we think is a fair assessment and a fair way to --

MR. RIECHERS: And that was the original genesis of the EFP that was submitted and published, but they just make note of those -- they made note to us, as well as they made note in the Federal Register document that they're dealing with those issues of whether charter for-hire should be included or not included and also this poundage issue of how to -- which poundage you should be looking at.

MR. SMITH: Yeah. Those disagreements are laid bare in the Federal Register, yeah.


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, our EFP does set forth our --

COMMISSIONER JONES: It sets forth what we think is right.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: What we think should occur, and that's what will have to be determined at the next meeting in mid April; is that right?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, that's a little bit of a moving target at this point, Chairman. We believe -- or at least based on comments at the Council meeting -- at the last Council meeting -- that the decision would be made prior to that Council meeting starting. Now, that may or may not happen; but that was what was said at the last Council meeting.

Something else I want to make note of when we start talking about the charter for-hire, the other part about this -- and we may have missed it in the presentation -- but that if they go under federal control and are pulled out all across the Gulf, our federal for-hire vessels then would get 51 days, as opposed to either the 64 days or even the greater sum of days that we would be able to provide them under our plan.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Which doesn't make any sense from their perspective to have fewer days; but I think that brings us back to one undercurrent that's clearly present, which is: Will this, if adopted, eventually lead to the use of IFQs for the charter and head boat sector, like you have now for the 51 percent allocation on the commercial side?

And I think as I understand it, fewer than 70 individuals in the U.S. control that 51 percent in the Gulf, which I think that's -- there's no question that amounts to privatization of a public resource and I don't think -- as I wrote in my letter to Chris, the -- is it Garcia? Not Garcia.

MR. SMITH: Oliver.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Oliver, sorry. Mr. Oliver. That I don't think anything -- that any steps should be taken that would further privatize any of the reef fish in the Gulf, including snapper. And so that's -- we just have to be mindful of that, that that may be what's at play here by some members of the industry who would like to get a forever royalty on a certain amount of the pounds that are allocated in the Gulf.

But Robin and Lance have worked really hard and Carter and team on trying to continue to pursue what's fair for Texas. It is frustrating that they're using, I guess, only 2016 numbers or proposing to use 2016 numbers to allocate our poundage when you've got to look at it over a longer period of time and certainly not the first part of June when it's super windy and only when we've had a year when we had just a few days of fishing.

So it's hardly -- I can't imagine that that's solid empirical data on which to base a decision, but that's some of the challenges that Robin and Lance are pursuing and that there is the next Council meeting scheduled in mid April in Gulf Port and I'm going to try to go for at least a day or two of that and sit in and see what happens. And, of course, we'll have the three scoping meetings next week and we'll take Robin and Lance and team will bring that back to Carter and then we may have to make some strategy adjustments about what to do, if anything, with our EFP as proposed. I think I said that correctly.

MR. SMITH: That's it.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But at least the EF -- certainly, we think the EFP that we've proposed is a step in the right direction and consistent with the mandate in the Budget Bill, which is to try to transition management of the Gulf fishing in federal waters to state management because I think we're better suited to manage that and not manage the Western Gulf like the Eastern Gulf. They're two entirely different fisheries. They're not an homogenous area.

So I know it's a complicated set of circumstances; but hopefully, we keep working at it, we'll make further progress on it.

Any -- or do you have more? I think you have more, don't you, Lance?

MR. ROBINSON: Just request --


MR. ROBINSON: -- permission to --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Before you make the proposal, I wanted to ask this question -- and we may need to get G.C. Sweeney here.

Should this be broadened and can it be broadened to give the Exec -- to provide that it wouldn't be limited to implementing plans approved by the Secretary of Commerce, but to -- so it necessarily follows action by the Department of Commerce, but should it be broadened to give the Executive Director authority to implement a plan that is ultimately approved? In other words, it has to be ultimately be approved by Commerce; but it's not necessarily one before the other, if I'm making sense. I'm suggesting we think about giving the Executive Director a little more discretion there to have some flexibility we may need. Does that make sense to you?

MR. SWEENEY: I think what you're saying is to sort of have a preemptive or anticipatory -- this is Robert Sweeney, the General Counsel, for the record -- or anticipatory element in that, which I think we can do.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: I would like to suggest we try to expand it, as permitted, and --


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So that the Executive Director could approve an EFP, so long as it's ultimately approved by Commerce.

MR. SWEENEY: Right. I -- the speed with which this can be done, I think allows us to act after the Secretary of Commerce approves. I mean, that's -- so the premise of this rule is to really streamline the Executive Director's ability to act subsequent to a final decision by the Secretary of Commerce.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: But suppose Carter wants to approve a modification before it's been approved by Commerce and they say, "Would you approve Plan A," and he says, "Yes," and then they say, "Okay, we approve that," that's the reverse of what's here.

MR. SWEENEY: I think we can do that.


MR. SWEENEY: I think we can do that, yes.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. I suggest we do that to try to give our Executive Director a little more flexibility in dealing with this, if everybody is okay with it.

MR. SWEENEY: Excellent. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: So with that tweak, Lance.

MR. ROBINSON: Yes, sir. We'll take care of it, yes, sir. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: All right. I will authorize staff to publish the Red snapper exempted fishing permit rules, as tweaked, in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Work Session Item 14 -- don't go anywhere, Lance. We need to hear about Oyster License Buyback Program Rules, Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register, not Ranger.

MR. ROBINSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. Another simple fishery that we deal with, oysters. What I would like to do is kind of give you a little bit of background and then kind of walk you through what a -- what we're proposing here is to go forward with the program rules -- if you will -- for a voluntary license buyback program.

The oyster fishery is certainly an important fishery in the state of Texas. Most recent landing's numbers put it at about second or third, depending on if you're looking at weight or value of the fishery in the state of Texas. There was a license moratorium that was implemented in the oyster fishery in 2005, whereby the number of licenses were capped at the level that existed on August the 31st of 2005.

That legislation also created an Oyster License Moratorium Review Board, which was made up of industry participants. They're voted on by members of the fishery; and they serve a role of reviewing appeals, if you will. If somebody was left out of the fishery, was not able to renew their license and they have some particular -- provide some cause, I guess, as to why they couldn't get that renewed, the Review Board looks at those cases and will make a recommendation to the Department as to whether or not that license should be granted back to that individual or not.

And then fast-forward to 2017 and House Bill 51. It included language in the bill that would allow the Department, the Commission, to establish a buyback program for the oyster fishery. Much like we have for our three other commercial fisheries in Texas: Shrimp, crabs, and finfish. The purpose of the buyback program is to help stabilize fishing effort in the fishery. As Robin alluded to earlier this morning, that there's a lot of fishing effort, a lot of boats fishing on a very limited amount of resource right now; and, therefore, a buyback program could -- can help stabilize that fishery.

It's not an overnight solution. It takes a number of years to get that effort down, but it's certainly a tool that can certainly help in the long-term management of the fishery. Just to give you a little bit of perspective of the license that we're -- license that we're talking about, as you recall, I mentioned that the moratorium was implemented in 2005 and you'll see that there was a sudden spike in the number of licenses that occurred in 2005.

That's an artifact of how the Bill came about. It was signed by the Governor in June and the language in the Bill said that as long as you have a license by August of this year -- the end of August -- then you're in the fishery. That led to a run on licenses, where we went from about 350 to -- 350 or so licenses, suddenly at the end of August, we were at 760 licenses in the oyster fishery; and they were licensing pretty much anything that would float in some cases.

So over time, you'll see that there's been some natural attrition. The way the moratorium works is that you have to renew that license every year to be eligible, to maintain the eligibility of that license. So if people -- I think some of these may be speculators thinking the license was going to be worth something at some point, hung onto it for a while, and then decided to let it lapse. And so you'll see some natural attrition there.

The blue line that you see on that graph, represents vessels that are actually reporting landings through our commercial landing's program. So those are the active boats in the fishery. The difference between where that blue line lies and everything above the bar above that, represent licenses that are basically latent licenses. They're not being fished. They're just sitting out here. And the concern certainly from a long-term management strategy of having all of that potential latent effort sitting there, is that as the resource recovers, if those latent licenses become active, now you've kind of delayed your recovery. It just kind of pushes that recover further and further down the road. And so the idea with a buyback program, hopefully, would be to not only reduce some of the active license perhaps, but --

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Lance, I've got a question for you. Is that -- are those license -- if I have a license in '05, is that sellable? Can I sell it to another --

MR. ROBINSON: Good question. Yes, sir. Under the language in the moratorium, there were no restrictions placed on the transferability of that license. So if you're a license holder in 2005 and you've maintained that license, if you want to sell that license to another fisherman -- right now, the only way that a new entrant into the fishery could occur, is they have to buy a license from somebody who is willing to sell it to them. So you can sell that freely. It can be sold not only as a resident license -- you can take a resident license and sell it and it becomes a nonresident license and the only difference is, is that new -- the buyer, if they're a nonresident, is going to have to pay the higher fee for that nonresidence; but it can go back and forth.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So this decrease, this natural attrition you called it, that is -- you assume those are people who had a license, but could not sell it? There was no market?

MR. ROBINSON: They either chose not to sell it or just let it lapse. Yes, sir.


MR. ROBINSON: There's a very limited -- I mean, there -- the price for these licenses -- at least what we hear on the street -- are petty low right now. So, you know, I don't know if that's --

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: But they do trade --

MR. ROBINSON: They can, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: -- on some basis? Okay, thank you.

MR. ROBINSON: So the buyback program, as stipulated in HB 51, takes 20 percent of the license fee, whether it's a resident or a nonresident license; and that fee then is pulled aside and is used for the buyback program. The Bill language also included the opportunity if private donations came in, that those funds could be used specifically. If they were dedicated for buyback, they could be then used for buyback -- the buyback program.

It's a voluntary participation in the program. The fishermen decide if they want to sell their license or not. The goal would be to -- and the plan -- the program would have either -- at least one round a year, per license year. And it's a reverse bid process, in that the fisherman will submit their bid to us and would stipulate what they're willing to accept for that license. Then we would go through a series of evaluations on criteria that we would apply to determine and rank those bids.

And so the Department is considering some of these parameters here in making that criteria interpretation and ranking those vessels and it could be the size of the vessel, the number of boats that are in the fishery, bid offers from previous license years, buyback periods, and then certainly established open market prices, and there may be other factors that may be incorporated into that determination.

These come from, you know, the shrimp buyback program that we have in place that's been existence for 20 years and so we've been working through that system for a long time and a lot of the metrics or a lot of the parameters in the oyster program, are really taken from what we've learned and what we're using in our other buyback programs.

So once the bids come in, they will be ranked according to those criteria. The Department would then look at purchasing those licenses, buying them back from that highest-to-lowest ranking, and then notify those applicants within 45 days of either their acceptance of their bid offer or the rejection.

The seller, you know, then has to determine if they're going to go forward with that sale and they'll enter into a contract with the Department. Anybody who submits a bid that is not accepted, they are free to resubmit a bid the next time there's an open round. So they could modify their bid if they so chose and come back with another bid the next time a cycle occurs, an open round occurs.

So with that, staff would request permission to publish a proposed new section, 58.7, concerning the oyster license buyback program in the Texas Register. And I'd be happy to try to answer any questions you may have regarding this program.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: The funds generated from 20 percent of license fee, was that in the Bill that was appropriated? The funds were appropriated to us?

MR. ROBINSON: Yeah. The language in the Bill says it's 20 percent or a fee set by the Commission.


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Other members comments or questions?

COMMISSIONER JONES: I'm just curious. What is the market right now roughly for a license?

MR. ROBINSON: We've heard anecdotally from some folks -- just recently, a few weeks ago, we heard that somebody was asking 2,000 for their license and couldn't find a buyer.

COMMISSIONER JONES: And how much did they pay for it back in '07?

MR. ROBINSON: $441. So they've paid that annually -- if it's a resident license -- every year since then.

And one thing I failed to mention, I apologize, we also -- in anticipation of this presentation, we also visited with members of the Oyster License Moratorium Review Board, briefed them on this, as well as the Oyster Advisory Workgroup and the Coastal Resources Advisory Committee, to let them know and kind of get feedback. The one thing we did hear from industry as we go forward, they are certainly -- have been supportive of this program.

The one thing that they had mentioned, as we set the -- open up rounds for buyback, that we consider or look at opening it up to occur after the fishing season ends. Because the way these programs work, when you initiate a buyback program -- when you enter into a contract with the Department to sell that license, you surrender that license at that time to the Department. So what they were suggesting is that if somebody buys that license to make it new, an active license, they may want to fish that license until the end of the season; and then turnaround and sell it at the end. So they suggested that some of the rounds at least be open after the season ends.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. Thank you, Lance.

I will authorize staff to publish the oyster license buyback program rules in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Now, question for the members: Would you like to take a break and have a quick bite to eat before we hear from Craig Bonds on Alligator gar, or charge forward and have lunch after that?

COMMISSIONER LEE: Charge forward.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Senor Bonds, Alligator -- Work Session Item 15, Alligator Gar, Status of Science and Management, Craig Bonds.

MR. BONDS: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Craig Bonds, Director of Inland Fisheries.

And as a point of departure of what Angie is passing around to you right now, it's just a list of some of the research projects that our staff has undertaken over the past decade; and it also includes just some of the major research findings and highlights from those efforts. I'm not going to have time today to go over all of that. So I just wanted to provide you an overview to take with you.

Also, I want to note that this exact same information is going to be made available to the public as part of some of our public outreach efforts very soon; and I'll touch on that here in a little bit.

Texas is unique among the 50 states in that it presently has the best remaining Alligator gar populations in the world. That, in turn, provides fishing opportunities for one of the largest freshwater fishes on the globe. Alligator gar opportune -- I'm sorry. Alligator gar are enjoyed by an estimated 100,000 Texans, in addition to many non-Texans from around the world. Our gar populations are highly significant from not only an ecological standpoint, but are also economically important. Guides benefit from taking persons using rod and reel and bows out to pursue Alligator gar.

In 2009, the Commission undertook precautionary approach to protect our Alligator gar fisheries by accepting staff recommendation to implement a one fish per day regulation. This restriction was largely based on concern for large gar, rapidly increasing interest in Texas gar fisheries, and preliminary work outside of Texas that suggested these fish were declining throughout much of their native range.

Staff requested time to study Alligator gar populations and since 2009, we've learned a lot about our Alligator gar populations and our goal has been and remains to develop innovative, science-based management strategies inclusive of a variety of fishing methods that will sustain this unique resource for future generations of Texans, particularly the very large gar which take decades to reach those sizes.

The good news is that our Alligator gar populations appear to be in relatively good shape. We know how much more -- we know much more about this fish, including its abundance, reproduction, and population dynamics. We also understand its habitat needs, how recruitment can be infrequent and tied to flooding events, and where populations exist across the state.

This precautionary approach has allowed TPWD the time needed to research Alligator gar biology and ecology, as well as gather data about populations throughout our state. Since 2009, scientists at TPWD have become national leaders in Alligator gar research, publishing 19 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals to date; and those are listed in the handout that was passed around to you.

However, to appropriately manage this fishery, we need to know more about those who pursue Alligator gar. The past couple of years, we've been transitioning our research efforts to focus on understanding who they are, where they fish, and how they fish, as well as what their preferences are.

Because Alligator gar are long-lived, mature late in life relative to most species, and because they don't successfully reproduce -- absent good spawning conditions -- it's very important that harvest is kept within sustainable limits. We've presented information before about history of gar; but just as a quick refresher, in Texas, fish over 40 years old are not uncommon and we've aged fish over 60 years old in both the Trinity and the Brazos River systems. And the otolith, the ear bone, in the lower right-hand of that slide is a picture of the 98-year-old Alligator gar world record out of Mississippi; and that aging technique has been validated through research.

Successful reproduction generally occurs only every five to ten years or so in river systems, which should -- absent overharvest -- be adequate because of how long the fish lives. It's important to note that this is considered normal for a periodic life history strategist like gar, similar to other long-lived species like sturgeon and to some extent, paddlefish.

Spawning is tied very closely with large spring and summer floods, and gar spawn over flooded terrestrial vegetation. In the Trinity, we've been fortunate in the past decade or so and have two very strong year classes in both 2007 and 2015, that should help sustain that population into the future.

Our investigations have shown Alligator gar populations can exhibit differing population characteristics, depending on whether they reside in rivers or reservoir lakes or in our bays and estuaries. Localized fishery management objectives, therefore, vary; and, thus, it is appropriate to fine-tune harvest strategies for specific populations of Alligator gar. And although Alligator gar are desired by some as food fish and are safe to eat in some areas of the state, it is noteworthy to mention that the Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a no consumption advisory for gar in the Trinity River. Basically, from Dallas/Fort Worth down to Highway 90 near Liberty. And this is due to extreme levels of PCBs and dioxins. These fish are also highly contaminated with mercury.

While we have a good understanding of Alligator gar, we have limited information about those who pursue Alligator gar. Based on statewide surveys, we know about a hundred thousand Texans pursue Alligator gar and at this time, we're unable to quantify the number of nonresidents; but acknowledge that they do compromise a substantial portion of guided fishing trips.

They are diverse. They have diverse interests, methods that they choose to fish, numbers of fish that they choose to harvest or release, and the types of -- and the sizes of fish that are sought. In spite of our current data, we need more information on their practices and preferences. We believe their input and buy-in are important components to compliance and ultimately, conserving this valuable resource.

Since implementation of the one fish per day bag limit, we've estimated harvest in both the Trinity and the Brazos Rivers, as well as Choke Canyon Reservoir between the years of 2008 and 2013. After accounting for likely levels of non-reporting, we've estimated that exploitation ranges between 2 and 4 percent of the population annually. And I want to explain a little bit about how we've derived those estimates because it is fairly important.

Those exploitation estimates are typically derived through a tag and reporting type study. And what we did, is we tagged a number of Alligator gar in these systems; and then as those reported harvests come into us, then we can estimate what exploitation is. But the scientific literature is replete with these types of exploitation studies and one important factor is: How many are not reported that are caught and harvested?

And so that can be actually measured or you can use assumptions based on the reported literature. And how we did it, is we combed through the literature and we used a fairly liberal assumption of non-reporting. Specific to the Trinity River estimate, we used a 50 percent non-reporting rate; and then for the Choke Canyon estimate, we modeled various different non-reporting rates of anywhere from 20 to 80 percent. So I just want to make that fairly clear; and also, I want the Commission to understand that these estimates have been published in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Based on our population modeling of those estimates, the level of harvest should be sustainable; but to prevent a substantial reduction in large gar, harvest should not exceed 5 percent annually. That's pretty important. In the Trinity, population continues to offer opportunities to take very large fish based on anecdotal information from guides that we regularly communicate with; and sampling in the Lower Trinity River below Lake Livingston as recently as 2015 as part of a separate study, revealed a robust size and age structure, which was not indicative of a population that was experiencing excessive exploitation in that area.

We recognize that current regulation could allow overharvest if exploitation increased above 5 percent. However, we've been working to educate the public about this fishery; and our hope is that it will help drive greater conservation and less harvest. Public forums are also changing perceptions about gar and are influencing angling activity. We know that several guides that have either fully or partially converted to catch-and-release-rod-and-reel fishing.

And another important point that I want to make is these fisheries, these Alligator gar fisheries, particularly in some of these remote river reaches, are fairly tough to monitor. So getting an accurate, realtime, strong signal coming back to us on the number of fish coming out of those systems and the angler effort is very challenging.

To understand how low levels of harvest can dramatically alter gar populations, we're using population modeling techniques. Here, we provide an example from the Trinity River where we model an adult population of about 10,000 fish. Which I'll remind the Commission that back in 2010, our population estimate of the Middle Trinity from DFW down to Lake Livingston, was about 8,500 fish or so. So this is what an average, unfished population may look like. And fish over 6 feet, which are the most recreationally valuable fish, make up about 23 percent or about 2,300 fish of the population and these fish, as a reminder, are 20 to 60 plus years old typically.

Under no length limits, which is our current regulation, and at 3 percent modeled annual harvest, we see that the population is stable. And as a reminder, we've estimated that 3 percent annual harvest reflects what we believe is the current status of the Trinity River population. But as we model harvest at 5 percent across all size classes, the population does decline; but it is still considered sustainable. We still maintain some of those largest fish, and it is reproductively still viable; but above 5 percent, you start to get into a danger zone and I want to show you what happens at 10 percent harvest across all ages. In each year, the population becomes at risk of being overfished.

At this point, the population is reduced by almost 60 percent and only 12 percent of those large fish remain. In addition, reproductive potential may be insufficient to fully rebuild the population at 10 percent exploitation.

And to prevent overharvest, we can look at alternatives to our current regulation. One alternative could include the use of length limits. By protecting large size classes of fish, we can actually allow greater harvest of other size classes. If we start with no harvest and 10 percent harvest with no length limit as kind of bookend references on this slide, we can see how different types of length regulations will affect the population.

So starting with a 6-foot maximum length limit -- so this would completely protect the largest, oldest fish above 6 feet -- we see this type of regulation really gives little added protection to the population and this is because at 10 percent annual harvest, most fish are harvested before they reach the largest sizes and few fish are left. Remember, it takes about 20 years for most fish to exceed 6 feet in length. Another downside of this potential regulation would likely be unpopular with many of those who seek to harvest the very largest gar. We currently do not know what proportion of anglers fit into this group.

In contrast, if we were to apply a 6-foot minimum length limit -- so protecting fish under 6 feet -- we can see that even at 10 percent annual harvest, most of the population -- about 85 percent -- would be protected and retained. We even sustain about 35 percent of the fish over 6 feet. Because fish less than 6 feet are protected, the reproductive capacity of the remaining fish would likely be sufficient, even at elevated harvest rates.

The advantage of such a regulation, would require limited monitoring and oversight. However, there is a major downside and that is that such a regulation focuses solely on a trophy fishery objective and would be likely unpopular by more harvest-oriented anglers and poses challenges for bow fishers to judge the size of fish before shooting -- choosing to harvest.

An alternative to length-base regulations is to consider requiring all harvest of a gar -- of Alligator gar -- to be reported. If we find harvest is getting too high, we can respond with greater restrictions, such as limiting the number of fish per angler per year through permitted-take opportunities. The main benefit of such a system is that we can gather needed information and also more closely monitor harvest throughout the state or in specific locations.

The potential downsides of such an approach are that they may be viewed unduly burdensome by our anglers, and it would require greater oversight and coordination within our Agency.

Moving forward, we've planned to before inform our public, seek input from our constituents, and seek guidance from this Commission body. To address this need, we've been developing a media blitz that will inform our constituents what we've learned. Following this effort, we plan to launch a survey to gather additional information that we need about our constituents.

The media blitz has been scheduled for this spring to coincide with the gar fishery and will be followed by a survey this summer. The goal is to better understand the diversity of persons pursuing Alligator gar and their preferences, as well as non-anglers that are also interested in Alligator gar.

We've also been working to develop and launch a long-term monitoring program. With this species, our focus is on monitoring reproduction and harvest. Basically, the fish coming in and the fish leaving the system. We plan to use a combination of angler and TPWD collected data to monitor this elements. To better monitor this unique fishery, we do need a better way to identify anglers and know what is being harvested and where.

For some time, we've been exploring the use of a permit and/or a harvest reporting system. This potential process would require additional administrative coordination with other disciplinary expertise within the Agency. And finally, we're looking for guidance from this Commission on fine-tuning our management strategies for conserving Alligator gar in Texas.

That concludes my presentation. I'd be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: If you can't eat these fish, is there any reason to really harvest them, take them out of the water, the fishery?

MR. BONDS: That's an excellent question, Commissioner Latimer. And I would answer that simply by saying there are other motives for harvesting a fish than just consumption.


MR. BONDS: There could be someone --

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: -- if you want a trophy, can you not do like other catch-and-release if you want to keep a trophy? Weigh it, measure it, take it?

MR. BONDS: There are multiple ways that you can keep your -- or have a trophy fish to remember. You could have a skin mount of the actual fish, or you could make a fiberglass replica of the fish. Taxidermists can do both. There are a suite of harvest motives for anglers out there; and I think in the past and typically, our Division has tried to serve the diverse anglers -- types out there -- and try to maintain as many opportunities as possible, while keeping an understanding that we want to make sure that it's sustainable over time.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Do you want to say anything?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Well, I just -- my interest is protecting from the terminal catch methods, these fish that are 6 feet or longer. And according to your model here -- and I -- is this from actual sampling or...

MR. BONDS: I'm trying to find the slide.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: It's the one with -- the one before that. Keep going back. Go back one more. One more.

MR. BONDS: This is the 6-foot maximum foot length.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I'm just looking at your -- at the current population slide; and 7-footer, you've got 750 of them in the fishery?

MR. SMITH: It's the 10,000 fish. It's where we kind of start with -- yeah, right there.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, there you go. Am I reading that right?

MR. BONDS: Oh, in that one, I believe we have about 2,300 fish over 6 feet out of 10,000.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, I'm looking at 7-foot or more. Because what worries me is the 7-footer, the 8-footer are the target of a terminal method of harvesting in an area where you shouldn't eat the fish anyway. Those are the ones that I want to protect because if you can shoot one a day and you've got 750 of them, you could go through -- I realize it's not as easy as it may appear; but you could harvest a good number of those big fish who are 30, 40, 50 years old, and that's what I want to see protected. And I just don't know -- I mean, that's the direction I want to go or would like to go.

MR. SMITH: Understood.

MR. BONDS: I hear your concern, and I want to state that we share your ultimate goal so that we can conserve across the broad size structure of those populations to provide opportunities for folks into the future and to keep those very largest fish around.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Yeah, Because it's just not sustainable. I mean, I don't need too many studies to -- common sense will tell you it's not going to -- we're the only state left, I believe, that have these big fish. Is that not true?

MR. BONDS: That's an accurate statement, especially at the abundance that we have them. There's certainly large, very large Alligator gar in other states; but I think Texas is truly the stronghold for big fish.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: So catch and release is not a problem, but -- and I don't want to get off on the bow hunting, but that really is the area that is of the most concern to me. So some sort of permit system where you can only shoot one a year? I don't know what it is.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: You know, Reed, to follow up on what you're saying, perhaps we're looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps we need to do an education process and let everybody know about all the PCBs and about what all they got and perhaps that would just kind of take the interest out of wanting to catch those big ones and kill them, you know?

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: That's my two cents, so.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Well, Craig, I want to say that -- to kind of echo the Vice-Chairman's comments -- that Texas is in a -- as you started off -- in a unique position in this country where this fish is actually been extirpated, I think, in the Ohio River system, maybe the Illinois River system, a bunch of Midwest systems this fish used to -- big fish, like we have, used to be there and they're not there at all. And while Louisiana has large numbers of Alligator gar, they're small in comparison to what we enjoy in this state and given all of the challenges this fish has to recruitment that's uneven over -- it may not -- they're may not being spawn for years because the conditions don't exist and it takes so long to get to these sizes and we have so few of them, that I don't -- I join Reed in saying we want to make sure we don't risk an overharvest of these very large, fabulous, historic fish.

And so I would like to ask you and your team to come back in the next regulatory cycle with a plan on how to add more protection in the Trinity River system for these large gar, including evaluating whether we go to a draw system for so many gar, whatever the appropriate number is determined to be, and a mandatory reporting for any take and that's so easy with today's cell phone technology and our other reporting systems.

So if you will, this fall, come back with the beginnings of a plan that would do -- that would add more protection, ways to assure that we don't risk overharvest of these very large fish. And I don't know whether that's 4 feet and above or 5 feet and above. That's where your expertise comes in.

And by the way, I do want to commend you and the others for the great work you've done. You're obviously respected by peers across the country for the study and science you've done on this. This is a magnificent fish, and we don't want to wake up five years from now or ten years from now and have this one a day result where we're down to three fish that are over 7 feet in the entire system.

MR. BONDS: Yes, sir. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, I hear your concerns; and I'm hearing the direction that you would like for us to take. There are models outside of Texas where states and Canadian provinces have used some type of permitting system and mandatory reporting systems for species such as sturgeon, paddlefish. Arkansas has a permit system and mandatory reporting for Alligator gar.

What our staff will do, is take a very comprehensive look at those various different models and administrative structures. We'll visit with our various different disciplinary expertise within the Agency to look at what type of challenges we would need to overcome from just a logistical and administrative standpoint to implement something like that, and we'd be happy to report back to you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Okay. We'll look forward to hearing something maybe at the November meeting on where you are.

MR. BONDS: Okay.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: One more comment.


COMMISSIONER MORIAN: I like the educational aspect. I mean, letting these people know that if they're going to arrow an 8-foot fish that it might be 100 years old. Ninety-seven, was that record that --

MR. BONDS: Ninety-eight.

COMMISSIONER MORIAN: Ninety-eight. Because I'm not sure how widely appreciated that is, but I like that component of it.


COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: That's -- I mean, look at Tarpon. I don't know anybody that catches a giant Tarpon and kills it. Anyway, but because we're in a unique position, we need to do what we can do to better protect these large gar from overharvest. So we'll look forward to getting a plan, a couple of ideas from you on how we do that.

MR. BONDS: Okay, thank you.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Thank you so much for all the time you've spent on this.

Okay. Everybody still want to charge ahead with land issues?

Okay. Work Session Item 16, Acquisition of Land, Brewster County, Approximately 16,000 Acres at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area -- Stan David and Billy Tarrant. Sorry, I forgot to introduce you.

MR. TARRANT: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission. My name is Bill Tarrant. I'm the -- excuse me -- Region 1 Director for the Wildlife Division out in far West Texas. This morning, I would like to brief you -- or excuse me, this afternoon almost -- I'd like to brief you on the important potential acquisition for our Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. And, obviously, Stan David is going to help me out in that regard.

Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, immediately east of Big Bend National Park in Brewster County, is our largest WMA and consists of about 103,000 acres of rugged ridgelines, canyons, and desert flats, including some 15 miles of frontage on the Rio Grande. Elevations range from roughly 1,500 feet above sea level on the river to well over 5,500 feet in some of the higher terrain.

The diversity in topography, elevation, soils, and vegetation, make this WMA home to numerous species of indigenous West Texas wildlife, including species of special interests for conservation, such as Desert Bighorn sheep and Black bear. A contiguous block of approximately 16,000 acres of GLO land is adjacent to Black Gap WMA. This block is currently leased to the Texas Bighorn Society and includes approximately 11 miles of boundary in common with the WMA and more than 7 miles of frontage on the Rio Grande.

This map illustrates the surrounding binational properties that are recognized for significant conservation value and are protected. In this slide, the proposed 16,000-acre acquisition from GLO is outlined in light blue. I want to note that the property directly to the south of this tract is the El Carmen Land and Conservation Project, owned and managed by Cemex USA. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department manages a conservation easement on this property, and it is protected from development.

The importance of preserving this region goes back to conversations between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho in 1944, shortly after the establishment of Big Bend National Park. In both 2011 and 2014, representatives of both countries signed cooperative agreements recognizing this area as biologically important and supporting ongoing binational conservation initiatives in the region. This partnership is comprised of 11 protected areas in Texas, Coahuila, and Chihuahua, which provide essential habitat for native birds, mammals reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

This GLO portion -- this GLO-owned portion is currently managed by TPWD Black Gap WMA staff and is noted for its important wildlife value. Data from recently released Bighorn sheep and Mule deer, indicate that the area is used extensively as both a movement corridor and is home range for both species. Black bears are frequently observed in this portion of the WMA; and recently, reintroduced Gambel's quail have been noted here, as well. Important public access to the river is afforded through this tract, and it is known by public quail hunters as an area with consistently strong scaled quail hunting. Other public use, such as hiking and horseback riding, also occur on this portion of the WMA.

Water availability is critical to Chihuahuan desert wildlife; and over the years, TPWD has partnered with organizations, such as the Texas Bighorn Society and the Mule Deer Foundation, to construct over 50 water guzzlers on this wildlife management area. On the GLO-owned portion of the WMA, several areas have been designated as future sites for new guzzler construction.

This portion of the Rio Grande that borders the GLO tract, contains exceptional scenic value and has been designated part of the National Wild and Scenic River System. The National Wild and Scenic River System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. This Act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development. This segment of the Rio Grande is also recognized as an important habit -- as important habitat for the federally endangered Rio Grande Silvery minnow.

Acquisition of this important tract of wildlife habitat is not expect to result in any additional operating expenses, as staff have already been managing the property as part of Black Gap WMA.

MR. DAVID: Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name's Stan David. I'm with Land Conservation. I'm going to just go to the highlights of the actual deal, possibly some ranges on what the actual cost will be.

This just highlights it's a 16,000-acre tract of land. It's currently leased by Bighorn Society. It's 11 miles of boundary in common with our WMA and 7 on the Rio Grande. Staff's in discussion with GLO now on terms and conditions of a fee acquisition of the tract. So we have to have an appraisal done before anything goes forward as far as the transaction is concerned and anticipated price per acre is 450 to $500 per acre. So which could be, like, 7.2 million to $8 million for a total purchase.

Staff proposes to use Pittman-Robertson funds for 75 percent of the purchase price. Match will be raised by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation through donations. And as Billy said, the tract is already managed by WMA staff. So there would be no additional resources required for operations or the management of it. And staff requests permission to begin public notice and input process, and we'll try to answer any questions that you might have.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Members, questions or comments?

Commissioner Latimer.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: How long is the Bighorn Society's lease for? Anyone know?

MR. TARRANT: It's five years at a time, and we were just discussing that. I think we've got another two years left on that lease right now.

Is that right?

MR. DAVID: Yes, I think so; but I don't know exactly.



COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any other questions or comments?

Thank you. I'll authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process regarding the acquisition of land in Brewster County.

With regard to Work Session Item 17, Acquisition of Land in Aransas County, Approximately 214 Acres at Newcomb Point Coastal Management Area, does any Commissioner have any questions or comments?

Okay. I'll place that on the Commission Meeting agenda for tomorrow for public comment and action.

Work Session Item 18, Grant of Easement, Jefferson County, Approximately 9 Hours -- 9 Acres at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. Mike Rezsutek, welcome.

MR. REZSUTEK: Good morning, Chairman and Commissioners. My name, for the record, is Michael Rezsutek. I am the Wildlife Division's Project Leader for the Upper Coast Wetlands Ecosystem Project. My purpose here today is to give you a bit of a context and a background for this easement and its importance in conservation of the coastal wetlands, and Mr. David will talk about the specifics of the easement.

Salt Bayou watershed is located in Jefferson County on the upper Texas Gulf coast. It is found within the Chenier Plains of Texas and consists of fresh, brackish, salt marshes, fresh-to-brackish lakes, ponds and bayous and coastal prairie habitats. When I talk about the Salt Bayou watershed for the Watershed Restoration Plan, I'm referring to the area outlined in this photograph. The area is in the Chenier Plains, a unique wetland system that represents the largest contiguous coastal marsh in the state. The watershed itself is approximately 139,000 acres.

This map shows the lower section of the southern section of the watershed and was compiled from aerial photography from 1938. Basically, it shows you the condition of the marsh. At this time, most of it was still within a good condition -- what we consider to be good condition -- with very little interior open water; but mostly open water being contained to the large lakes, rivers, and some of the larger ponds.

By the year 2012, you can see on the eastern side that the interior marshes begun to degrade and turned to open water. Measurable losses have also occurred along the shorelines. In some cases, as much as 200 feet set back out toward during that time. Most of this conversion is occurring on the eastern side, where the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area and the Sea Rim State Park properties are located.

The Salt Bayou Workgroup focused -- or formed to focus the -- identifying the drivers of marsh loss in the southern portion of the system and stopping or reversing the conversion of emergent marsh to open water. The workgroup was compromised of representative of these -- of these agencies and nongovernment organizations. The workgroup identified an altered hydrology, not just saltwater intrusion, as the primary driver for marsh conversion in the Salt Bayou System.

These alterations include a large reduction in freshwater to the southern marshes, an excess of freshwater in marshes north of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, and increases in saltwater input spread about by natural and manmade changes to the landscape. The plan uses the best available science and environmental modeling to identify solutions to the problems caused by drastically altered hydrology.

Historically, the pattern of drainage was what you see on your slide here. Water from the western side of the county flowed to the south. It hit the beach ridge. It followed the rivers, bayous, and ponds; and then flowed north again to enter Sabine Lake. Water, under these conditions, was sufficient to keep the saline waters from Sabine Lake at bay, so that most of the marshes remained in their fresh-to-inter-immediate condition intermediate condition. By "intermediate marshes," I mean marshes that are characteristically low in salinity, highly productive with a lot of plant production, and having little open water in the interior and having thick organic soils.

The biggest drivers to change have been -- have had their root in human activities. The Gulf Intercoastal Waterway cutoff freshwater flows to the southern end of the marsh complex. It severed natural channels and opened several entry points for saltwater that had not existed prior to the dredging. At first, these newly created entry points had structures to prevent saltwater from passing through them and into the fresh and intermediate marshes.

However, over time, these structures eventually failed and were never replaced. Now, these areas -- when they were constantly opened -- would allow significant increases in salinity in the historically fresh-to-intermediate marshes. This increase in salinity caused stress in the marsh plant community, which eventually leads to loss.

Currently, the Salt Bayou watershed is undergoing severe and long-term impacts to these coastal marshes. Mostly, it's the salinity is now reaching up to near seawater strength at times. We have a loss of productivity because of the stress of the saltwater on these marsh plants loss, increasing the open water areas. We have loss of organic soils, and some loss of fish and wildlife species because of the changes that are happening in the marshes in this area.

The restoration plan works to mitigate damages brought by our altered hydrology in these four different ways. The first three actions are considered direct actions to try to restore the altered hydrology at its source; and these actions include reducing the inflow of Gulf waters through the Keith Lake Fish Pass, restore historic -- the beach ridge and sand dune system along the Gulf shoreline; increase freshwater inputs; and then, finally, using beneficially dredge material to restore elevations to eroding marshes in the Salt Bayou unit of the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area.

Two of these projects are already complete or almost completed. The first, Keith Lake Fish Pass was completed in March of 2015. This project basically was a rock weir or what the locals like to call a "baffle." That constricted the Fish Pass back to its original historic cross-section. When first dredged, it was about 150 feet wide and 5 feet deep. By 2012, it had eroded to over 300 feet wide and over 12 feet deep on average. By doing this project, we have reduced the volume and the velocity of saltwater entering through the Sabine-Neches Ship Channel into the system.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with Jefferson County, has rebuilt a clay berm from basically the Sea Rim State Park, all the way into Chambers County. This berm is designed to keep the normal tides from the Gulf from overtopping and going into these sensitive freshwater-to-intermediate marshes. The next step is to put sand in front of this berm and protect the berm long term by letting the sand absorb the energy of the waves and act as a buffer to keep the berm viable for the long term.

I'm happy to say with Harvey, the berm and the dunes that they had done as a pilot project, had faired very well; and it looks like the project itself will provide the protection that we are hoping for.

The third is a set of siphons. One set of siphons on the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area, and another on McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge towards the south and west there. These siphons are an attempt to get the excess freshwater north of the Intercoastal Waterway, back under the -- and into the south marshes and try to re-establish the proper salinity regimes and gradients and restore the marsh plant community.

This is the siphon. It's the engineer schematic. Basically, it works just like any other siphon; only instead of going up and over the bucket, we go underneath the bucket and come out the other side. On the north end, there's consistently about a half a foot of head pressure that, as time goes through, will allow water to flow underneath and into the other side, into the south side of the Intercoastal.

Sorry. A little bit of detail: The siphons itself are going to be a set of four high-density polyethylene pipes that will be directionally drilled underneath the Intercoastal. They'll be 36 inches inside diameter; and on the north end, they'll have a controlled structure that basically has a set of stop logs that we can set the water level. And on the south side, it's a set of flap gates so that if the tide on the south side rises higher than the water level on the north side, the flap gates will close to prevent saltwater from backing up into the freshwater marshes to the north.

The hydrologic studies that have been done in association with this system, have shown that there's a consistent head of at least a half a foot on the north side of the Intercoastal -- sorry, okay. The four pipes will carry at least 60 cubic feet per second through them at a half a foot. And, again, as the -- if the head goes higher, like, after a storm or after Harvey, the amount that it will carry through will increase until it maxes out, I think, at about 540 cubic feet per second.

The system is designed to move about 1,929-acre feet over 16 days, which is an average of about 120-acre feet per day or roughly, 39.1 million gallons. That seems like a lot of water; but when you consider there's over 60,000 acres on the marsh on the south side of the Intercoastal, it's really a drop in the bucket literally. But there will be enough of a flow coming through it consistently that it will create zones of decrease in salinity from a high that we're hoping to be about ten parts per thousand near the Keith Lake Fish Pass to near zero at the discharge point of the siphons.

And here is a diagram of how we expect the site -- the salinities to work themselves out. The brightly colored pastels on the south side represent different bands of salinity, with the yellow representing zero parts per thousand and each band working towards the south and each representing about a 1 percent rise in parts per thousand to about nine or ten parts per thousand at the Keith Lake Fish Pass itself.

These bands will vary in width based on the amount of freshwater coming through from the north, the amount of saltwater coming through from the south, rainfall patterns, drought conditions, that sort of thing; but over time, we are hoping to hit a consistent ten part per thousand or less in Keith Lake itself so that we can re-establish the vegetation north of the Keith Lake and where it's mostly degraded.

Research by some colleagues at the Lamar University on the WMA, have documented that right now with just the Fish Pass project in place, we are hitting our goal of ten parts per thousand about 50 percent of the time. This just reinforces the need that we need to add more freshwater in order to maintain or improve these conditions; and we're hoping that with the addition of this siphon and the siphon from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's side, we can get an 80 percent or more target rate per year of ten parts per thousand or less within the system.

MR. DAVID: Chairman and Commissioners, for the record, I'm Stan David with Land Conservation. I'll go over the subject easement in just a brief highlight.

As he said, there's going to be siphons, 36-inch diameter. The easement is going to be on the north side and the south side of the Intercoastal Waterway. Jefferson County will construct the siphon system. Access to the siphons will be via the Intercoastal Waterway. An easement covering approximately 9 acres is needed to provide the required access area to Jefferson County.

The white boxes are the actual area needed for the easement so they can get on the ground with their equipment to direction drill, lay out pipe, do all the construction work they need to do be able to get the siphons under the Intercoastal Waterway. And we request that this item be placed on Thursday's agenda for public comment and action. If there's any questions --

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Members, questions --

MR. DAVID: -- we'll be happy to answer.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Members, questions or comments?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: One comment. As y'all know, I'm pretty familiar with all that and we've -- Carter -- between Carter and all of the County people down there, including the judge who is a good friend, they have put a lot of money and effort and the local -- all the people that live out in that marsh and fish it and hunt it, support all this stuff a hundred percent.

So this project ties in with the bigger project we're working on to get the sand dune stuff offshore.

MR. SMITH: Dune Ridge, yeah.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Yeah. You know, so long story short, they've got a long-term vision to repair this marsh and to get it back doing what it's supposed to do and it's a very -- you know, everybody is very happy with us for what we do to help it.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Good. That's good to hear.

Anyone else comments or questions?

Thank you. I will place the grant of easement, Jefferson County, on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Work Session Item 19, Acquisition of Land, Harris County, Approximately 23 Acres at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, Trey Vick.

MR. VICK: Good afternoon, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Trey Vick. I'm with Land Conservation. Brent Leisure is also here to answer any questions about this transaction, if needed. What I'm going to present today is an acquisition of approximately 23 acres at San Jacinto Battleground.

It's located in Harris County. Sits about 20 miles east of Houston. As you can see, here's an outline of the State Historic Site. You can see the encroaching petrochemical industry. The first tracts were -- of the State Historic Site -- were protected back in the 19th century. We currently hold about 1,200 acres. The entire Historic Site is surrounded by the petrochemical industry, Houston Ship Channel, and dredge boat containment sites.

The Historic Site contains much of the Texan camp, all of the Mexican camp, the site of the April 12th skirmish, and the April 21st route of the Mexican army. The goal of TPWD is to protect all undeveloped land associated with the Battleground.

The 23 acres consists of two tracts. It's surrounded by property that we manage as the San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site. Tracts were purchased by the San Jacinto Battleground Conservancy to protect them from development. TPWD and the Battleground Conservancy propose that TPWD purchase these two tracts. You can see outlined in red the 23 acres, how it fits into the Battleground site.

The terms of purchase would be LC -- LWCF funds. The match would be the equity in the land. Land would also be protected by a conservation easement that would restrict any subdividing, no transfer or sale, no substantial structures or facilities; and it would allow for restoration of some of the marshlands and allow for low-impact education and recreation. TPWD will seek the Conservancy's input for site restoration.

If there's no questions, Parks and Wildlife would -- staff would request that this item be placed on Thursday agenda for public comment and action.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Any questions or comments from the Commission?

Thank you. I'll authorize staff to begin public notice and input process regarding the exchange of land in Washington County. Right?

MR. SMITH: Uh...

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: No, I think I skipped ahead.

MR. SMITH: Harris County.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Sorry, I misspoke. I will place the acquisition of land, Harris County, on the Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Which then takes us to Item 20, Exchange of Land, Washington County, Approximately 1 Acre at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site. Trey, please make your presentation.

MR. VICK: Thank you. Commissioners, Mr. Chairman, my name's Trey Vick with Land Conservation Program. This project is an exchange of land, approximately 1 acre, at Washington-on-the-Brazos -- Washington -- Washington County. It's about 7 miles southeast of Navasota.

Washington-on-the-Brazos sits along the Brazos River. It's where the 59 delegates met to make formal declaration of independence from Mexico. The initial site was 50 acres, acquired by the State in 1916; and it was preserve the original Washington township. Today, the site consists of about 290 acres. It includes the reconstructed Independence Hall, the Star of the Republic Museum, and the Barrington Living History Farm.

It's been a goal for the park to grab more land up around the entrance. I brought a 4-acre acquisition to the Commission last year, and I believe Commissioner Jones pointed out that there was a little gap between this 4-acre tract and the park boundary. This transaction would clean up that gap. So in order for the 4-acre tract that we're currently working on to be contiguous with the park, we need to swap about 1 acre with a willing neighbor.

You can see here outlined in yellow is the 4-acre tract that was approved last year; and this is a rough estimate of what this 1-acre swap will look like.

We would be getting the area shaded in red in exchange for the area shaded in yellow. And if there's no questions, I'd like to request permission to begin the public notice and input process.

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: Members, questions or comments?

Okay. I'll authorize staff to begin public notice and input process regarding the exchange of land in Washington County.

Work Session Item 21, Red Snapper, Oysters, CWD Litigation Updates will be heard in Executive Session, as will Boundary Issues Update for Blanco State Park.

So at this time, pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 of the Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an Executive Session will be held at this time for the purpose of seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation and we'll also deliberate real estate matters under 551.072 of the Open Meetings Act. So we'll stand adjourned in recess for Executive Session at 1:07 p.m.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

COMMISSIONER DUGGINS: We will now reconvene the regular session of the Work Session on March 21, 2018, at 1:53 p.m.

Work Session Item 21, Litigation Update was heard in Executive Session. No further action is required at this time.

Work session Item No. 22, Boundary Issue Update for Blanco State Park, this item was also heard in Executive Session. I authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process regarding boundary issue update at Blanco State Park.

And I now declare the Commission has completed its Work Session business and we are adjourned for the today and we will resume tomorrow with our regular meeting. Thank you.

(Work Session Adjourns)



I, Paige S. Watts, Certified Shorthand Reporter in and for the State of Texas, do hereby certify that the above-mentioned matter occurred as hereinbefore set out.

I FURTHER CERTIFY THAT the proceedings of such were reported by me or under my supervision, later reduced to typewritten form under my supervision and control and that the foregoing pages are a full, true, and correct transcription of the original notes.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Turn in date _____ day of ________________, ________.


Paige S. Watts, CSR, RPR

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: December 31, 2018

7010 Cool Canyon Cove

Round Rock, Texas 78681


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