TPW Commission

Work Session, March 24, 2021


TPW Commission Meetings


March 24, 2021






CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Good morning, everyone.

Before we -- before we begin, we'll need to take roll.

Chairman Morian present.



CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer is present. Commissioner Patton is present.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Thank you very much. This meeting is now called to order at 9:31 a.m.; but before proceeding with any business, Mr. Smith has a statement to make.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. A public notice of this meeting containing all items on the proposed agenda, has been filed in the office of the Secretary of State as required by Chapter 551, Government Code, referred to as the "Open Meetings Act." I would like for this fact to be noted in the official record of the meeting. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Commissioners, as a reminder, please announce your name before you speak and please remember to speak slowly for the court reporter.

First order of business is the approval of the minutes from the previous work session held January 20th, 2021, which have been distributed.

Is there a motion for approval?



CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Seconded by Latimer.

Again, I'll next call roll for the record. All in favor, please say, "aye."

Chairman Morian, "aye."

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Aplin, "aye." Excuse me. Aplin, "aye."




CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are there any opposed? Hearing none, motion carries.

Please be advised at the conclusion of Work Session Item No. 1, we will consider the possibility of an emergency rule to address the fish kills caused by the 2021 winter storms.

Next, we will have Work Session Item No. 1, Update on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Progress in implementing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Land and Water Resources Conservation and Recreation Plan.

Mr. Smith, please make your presentation.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners.

For the record, my name is Carter Smith.

Andra, if I could get the presentation, please. Next slide.

Okay. Just as a point of departure, I've got an announcement to make. I'm very pleased to let the Commission know that we have selected Mike Durand to be our next Director of Internal Affairs. Mike was selected after a -- out of a very competitive pool of very talented applicants. Mike, as some of you may know, has had a long history with the Department and law enforcement. He was a game warden in Val Verde County. He was a lieutenant instructor there at the Game Warden Training Center, a captain down in Laredo, joined us as a captain and then assistant commander in our Internal Affairs; and he's been our acting director for the last few months and has done a terrific job. And so excited about this promotion and opportunity for Mike; and I want to formally congratulate him on this -- on this promotion, which takes -- takes effect immediately. So -- so, Mike, well-done.

Next slide, please.

And speaking of promotions -- and, Commissioner Abell, I think I had a chance to mention this to you -- Chris True was selected as our regional director for state parks over in East Texas; and Chris has got a terrific background with the Department, been with us for about 25 years, 20 years as superintendent of Lake Ray Roberts State Park, one of our busiest and most complicated state parks. He's a park police officer. So he's got a great management, law enforcement, stewardship-related background, really a very well-known leader; and I think he'll do a terrific job over in East Texas overseeing our -- the colleagues and our parks over in that important part of the world.

And so I look forward to all of you getting the chance to get to know Chris better and meet -- meeting him; but, Commissioner Abell, in particular, hopefully y'all can get together soon and have lunch or something. So great, great guy. So congratulations to -- to Chris.

Next slide.

I'm really pleased to announce that Jason Hardin, one of our wildlife biologists and our turkey-program leaders was selected for the Henry Mosby Award. This is arguably, probably the most prestigious award that a turkey biologist can receive throughout the whole country.

Dr. Mosby was really one of the pioneering researchers and authorities on wild turkey and wild-turkey restoration. He was out of -- out of Virginia and the award named in -- in -- in his memory posthumously just recognizes, again, those turkey biologists across the country that are really making a difference, and Jason has done that in spades across Texas, working with private landowners to facilitate habitat restoration, leading all kinds of research with various universities throughout Texas and beyond.

Of course, he's also been leading our efforts back in East Texas to restock the turkeys in that part of the world to various bottomland, hardwood-related habitats, and associated uplands. And just very, very proud of Jason. It's a -- it's a well-deserved recognition for his decades of -- of hard work and -- and effort as a -- as a leader for us. And so kudos to -- kudos to him.

Next slide.

I also want to also acknowledge Cody Jones. Y'all know Cody, our Assistant Commander in law enforcement, oversees our water safety and boating-safety-related efforts, really one of the thought and practice leaders in water safety across all of the -- all of the country. Cody just wrapped up a turn as Chairman of the National Association of Boating -- or Boating Safety Law Administrators and did that, of course, during this time of COVID. And I received a number of very thoughtful and complimentary letters on Cody's leadership during that time.

He led NASBLA as they had to, of course, transition away from in-person training and education to online and virtual-related, training-related modules. They were moving their headquarters to another city. Meanwhile, he continued to facilitate important partnerships with the Coast Guard and others. And Cody's just been a real steady hand and leader and proud of him for his leadership on the -- on the national level; and I know that many people across the country were grateful, again, for -- for his time as Chair particularly, at this particular time in our -- our history; but again, Cody continues to do a great job here and beyond.

So thank you, Cody.

Next -- next slide.

Sandy Heath, y'all have had a chance to hear from Sandy. She's our Accessibility Coordinator here at the Department, doing a remarkable job helping to make sure that our facilities are made accessible to people with disabilities and impairments and, you know, whether that's helping to work with field staff on, you know, public hunts for individuals with disabilities or, you know, how we can improve kayak launches or trails or interpretive opportunities, again, for folks that have got some form of -- of disability. Sandy is just really doing a great, great job.

She was recently selected to serve on this national counsel for therapeutic recreation certification, and that's basically accrediting or certifying body for therapists that want to be certified in how to use outdoor recreation to address various physical or emotional or psychological-related ailments. And certainly, as we learn more about the important medical-related powers of outdoor-related therapy, Sandy is very well-positioned to help influence things on the national level and certainly bring that home to our important work here in -- in Texas. And so excited about her participation in this national board.

Next -- next slide.

I think as all of y'all are -- are aware, we've got a terrific partnership with Texas Monthly. We do a lot of things together, not the least of which is their publication of the -- the Outdoor Annual. You will undoubtedly recall that last year for the first time in our history, we did not have a printed version of the Outdoor Annual; and it was an artifact, clearly, of the -- unfortunate artifact in -- in convergence of the timing of COVID and the challenges of securing sponsorships at that -- at that time. And so we had to make that very difficult decision not to have a print version of the Outdoor Annual. Obviously, we had a digital version and an app and will continue to develop and expand and evolve those digital-related means for our hunters and anglers and outdoor enthusiasts to access that information.

But I'm pleased to let you know we're going back to a printed version, thanks to Chevy Silverado, who came in to be the title sponsor with Texas Monthly. They now have got the revenues secured to -- to go to print, and so I wanted to share that bit of -- bit of news with you. We certainly heard from certain folks, particularly in rural parts of the state, about concerns about not having a printed version of the -- of the Outdoor Annual. And so having the -- the printed and the digital form back in play, I think, will be very well received by the sportsmen and women of Texas. And so I'm -- I'm excited about that coming to fruition. I wanted to let you know.

Next slide.

I think y'all are all familiar with our important conservation license-plate program. That's a partnership of our communications' team and our various resource divisions. We've got ten different conservation plates that people can buy to put on their vehicles to help raise money, whether it's for coastal conservation or inland fisheries or big game-related management or wildlife diversity-related considerations or state parks.

We've been doing these special plates now that we sell through, you know, county appraisal-district offices or our own website or through the DMV. Basically, for $30 somebody can have a customized plate of their -- of their choice and 22 of those dollars will be restricted and dedicated to invest in the specific fish or wildlife or park-related program.

We're launching our tenth plate on monarch butterflies, you know, capitalizing on the -- the very real concern with the precipitous decline in monarch butterflies across North America. We got a great partner in the National Wildlife Federation. This particular design was -- was chosen in an online-related contest, and thousands of different participants ended up choosing this one with the monarchs flying off -- off the -- off the plate, as you can -- you can see.

And certainly, those Fall and Spring migrations are something that I know all of us who remember the -- the days of yore when monarchs were really pouring through Texas as they funneled through, going to their wintering grounds or going back up to their breeding grounds. It is a beautiful, beautiful sight. So hopefully, we can raise some more funds with this -- this plate, and we're excited about the launch of it in -- in -- in April.

Next slide.

I wanted to give a -- give an update on what's happening on the legislative front and talk a little about where we stand budgetarily, as well as statutorily, on matters of importance to the -- to the Department. Obviously, a lot going on and -- and I will say that activity has picked up quite a bit in recent weeks.

Andra, next slide.

As I reported in January, we're actually starting off in a much better place budgetarily than I and -- and -- and likely, many others would have predicted. Y'all will recall that when we submitted our Legislative Appropriations Request, or -- or LAR, back in -- back in October, it was during a time of considerable uncertainty; and we were very concerned what about the rollout versions of the budgets were going to be in the -- in the House and Senate.

In comparison -- in comparing them here, you -- you can see that basically, the House and Senate versions both contemplate a little less than a 3 percent reduction for the Department, which again, is considerably less than what I was -- I was thinking about in -- in potential reduction. So again, a good place to start from.

Next -- next slide.

As we had contemplated the -- the likelihood of, you know, an inevitably challenging climate, we had proposed to the Legislature that some of our extra or additional priorities, that we go ahead and deal with that in our base budget, by changing and re-prioritizing authority to spend cash on additional needs that we, otherwise, might have to ask for a special, exceptional item request of; and this table gives a list of examples of those kind of needs, whether it's cyber security or local park grants or additional equipment and transportation for -- for law enforcement, fish, and wildlife, et cetera. And you can see what our request was in the -- in the base and then the ultimate amounts recommended in the House and Senate base budgets. And -- and the long and short of it is that while, perhaps, not every one of our additional requests that we had proposed to be in the base budget was granted, a fair amount of them were, at least in part. And so that's -- that's, again, a very helpful start from -- for us as we work through the budget process with the -- the Legislature.

Next -- next slide.

As we had been working with Senate Finance and House Appropriations and the various subcommittees on the -- on the budgets, we really focused on, I would say, four primary areas outside of the -- the budget riders, which I'll talk about in just a minute. Two specific exceptional item requests, requests for things above and beyond the base budget and then two method-of-finance or revenue-projection-related issues, No. 3 and 4. The first two were exceptional item requests, the first one being an additional helicopter for the -- for the Agency.

We currently have one helicopter, a 2014 vintage helicopter, to serve the entirety of the state. So think about all of our fish and wildlife-related enforcement for 254 counties, you know, going out to 200 miles, all the border-related work, you know, to deal with trespassing and poaching and night hunting and so forth and commercial fishing patrols; but also, that includes the operations that we participate on border-related enforcement, as well as life-saving emergency response, and being on-call to local-related authorities when there's a need for a search and rescue, a manhunt, an escaped felon, something where we would have the ability to get some eyes and ear quickly to help either rescue or apprehend somebody that needs apprehending.

That current helicopter will fly 140 to 150 missions a year of all of those different types, including some contract work for TCEQ on specific environmental-related missions on -- on rivers and different parts of the -- the state; but also, that helicopter will be down for required maintenance, you know, whether it's the hundred hour or 600-hour required checks for five to six weeks a year. So one helicopter to serve the state, we just simply can't do it. And so we're asking for an additional helicopter, and we're proposing to pay for that out of existing Fund 9 dollars. And so high priority for us.

The -- the second one, the acronym CAPPS, you'll -- you'll remember hearing that before. That's the -- the statewide-mandated Centralized Accounting Payroll and Personnel System that the Comptroller is having all of the agencies implement. We're one of the first agencies to go through the -- both the HR and the finance-related systems. Just because of the nature of our work and the complexity of our financing, the CAPPS system really wasn't designed to accommodate or anticipate an agency like ours where we may have projects or time of individuals that are funded by lots of different funding streams.

And so a lot of different manpower that has to go into integrating our financials into this new system. And so we're asking for $1.7 million to help fund ten FTEs that currently work for the department managing CAPPS so that that can continue to function seamlessly. So again, another important item for us. So those are our two priority, exceptional items that we've been spending time talking to the Legislature about.

The last two items on this table really have to do with disparities in revenue estimates between what the Legislative Budget Board has presumed will be available in the base budget versus what the Comptroller has recently estimated will be available. The first one -- URMFT -- stands for Unclaimed Refund Motorboat Fuel Tax. So if somebody buys motorboat fuel and they pay sales tax on that, by law they can submit a request to be refunded that sales tax. If they don't, it goes to the State; and it's used to fund our law- enforcement-related operations, as well as our aquatic vegetation invasive species-related efforts across the -- the state. And right now in the base budget, the Legislative Budget Board is estimating about $2.2 million more in available funding than what the Comptroller's recent estimate of revenue suggests. So if that's not reconciled somehow, that would be a 2.2-million-dollar cut to the Department and specifically to -- to -- to law enforcement that we'd have to figure out. So we -- we've been talking to the Legislature about that because clearly, that's not their intention.

The last one is really the -- the -- the flip side of things. The Comptroller's most recent biennial revenue estimate presumes that there's going to be about $68.1 million more in revenue generated from sales tax collected on the sale of outdoor-related goods and equipment than what was presumed in the Legislative Budget Board's estimate, which, to be fair, came out before the Comptroller's most recent estimate. So the question is, what to do with that additional $68 million; and obviously, that's a question that is the Legislature's purview. They'll ultimately decide what buckets to put it in; but we have given them some suggestions of -- of priorities and I'll -- I'll quickly go over those.

Andra, next -- next slide.

These are the -- out of four major categories

that we have proposed to utilize that $68.1 million in additional funds. You can see them there at the bottom. Land Acquisition, we've proposed 3-and-a-half-million dollars a year to help with acquiring inholdings in -- in lands adjacent to existing state parks. We haven't had a state-funding stream to help finance those kind of critical land acquisition-related needs for the Department; and so as the state has grown and the demand for park space continues to grow and grow and grow, looking for ways to be able to strategically acquire land adjacent to or within existing state parks is going to be a critical strategy.

You can see the $9.2 million, again, coming up

from the bottom for additional funding for local park grants to provide additional recreational-related needs and services in communities around the state; $22 million to help address the continued backlog of deferred maintenance across the system; and then nearly $30 million over the biennium to go into state parks, to do everything from adding additional FTEs out in the field. So this will be everything from park rangers to park police officers to maintenance specialists to fee clerks to, again, staff inside the parks to help make sure that we're doing the best job stewarding those parks and providing the best high-quality experience that we can.

Some of the funding would also go to address

some of the compensation challenges that we have talked to the Commission about before. Our turnover rate inside state parks is about twice that of the Agency average; and as is with our state parks out in the field, we're -- for a lot of our positions, we're competing against much higher salaries, you know, for example, utility-plant operators that can go work for small municipalities or the maintenance specialists that can go work in the oil field, et cetera, or fee clerks or custodial staff that have opportunities, you know, in retail and other places. And so to deal with that, that retention issue and compensation challenge, we propose to set aside some funding for -- for that, our park police officers, our park rangers, et cetera.

So number of different needs there.

Ultimately, it's the Legislature's call as to where they put that revenue, and there'll be a lot of discussion with the -- among legislators about where best to put it. But I wanted to share that -- that with you.

Next slide.

Also, with each biennial budget comes a series

of budget riders; and these are basically kind of 2-year riders that govern how certain funds can be expended within years of the -- of the -- of the biennium or in some cases, how we might anticipate the need to move funds across biennia. And these are some examples: Budget riders that we're talking to the Legislature about. I'll mention a couple of them. Rider 14 on this sporting goods sales tax. What this does is: Let's say we get into next biennium and we have a similar phenomena as what we're seeing right now where the -- the amount of revenue collected on the sporting goods' portion of the sales tax exceeds the revenue that's been appropriated to the Department. So there's more potentially available and because of the constitutional amendment, that would have to come the Department.

One option would simply be to allocate that on

a pro forma basis in a proportional way by which the Legislature has already appropriated, or plans to appropriate, the sporting goods' sales tax among, you know, capital construction and repair and local parks and state-park operations. Our suggestion was, hypothetically, if this situation would come to fruition, that it might be in the State's best interest simply for the Legislature to consult with the Department to just have a discussion about what the priorities might be in the next biennium for where those dollars should best be invested. You know, maybe we've had a hurricane and we've got some major repair need that's become a -- a crisis that we need to fold more money in to help -- help address. And so a simple pro forma allocation based upon on the existing allocation may not be the best way for the Legislature to invest those dollars. So we just proposed being part of that conversation, and we'll see how the Legislature decides to -- to address that or not.

The -- the next three, 435 and -36 really have

to do with the possibility of moving unexpended balances, money that was collected in the next biennia into -- or this biennia into the next year of the following biennia; and it just has to do with the time in which cash comes in and the time in which it needs to be expended to address, you know, a specific priority that the Legislature has set up. And again, it could be the life cycle of a capital construction project, which as y'all know, will extend four to five years. It could relate to, you know, the collection of MLDP fees that we're going to be collecting here in April through the end of this fiscal year; but we won't likely know exactly how much funding we will collect through the new MLDP fee program and there may be some dollars that we can't get expended this biennium. And so we're requesting that we be able to carry those over into the next year or the next biennium to expend them on the purposes by which the Legislature and the Commission has authorized us to expend it. So again, just some of the granularity of the budget process that we're having to -- having to work through.

Next slide, Andra.

Okay. Transitioning into, you know, some of

the statutory-related considerations; and I have to say that Allison Winney and David Eichler, Cidney, and -- and other members that are supporting the Intergovernmental Affairs team are just doing a terrific job working through what is, undoubtedly, a very unique session; but of the roughly, let's say, 7,000 bills that have been filed by legislators, you know, there's about 1200 that we're tracking that affect the Department in some form or fashion. You know, admittedly, a fair amount of those are more general. They might be general law enforcement or criminal-justice-related bills that would affect us, as well as all police departments or bills that affect the operations and activities of all state agencies; but there are, you know, well over a hundred that are just unique to Parks and Wildlife.

Some of them, of course, are priorities that

we have identified with the Department; and the unquestioned top of that list is the Sunset Bill for the Department to reauthorize the Department for another 12 years. As y'all know, the Sunset Commission has adopted their recommendations. Some of those were management recommendations that we're already working to adopt, and then some them were proposed to be changes in statute. The Sunset Bill has been filed in both the House and the Senate, on the House side by Chairman Cyrier and on the Senate side by Vice-Chair Buckingham.

We have our first Sunset Bill hearing in the

Legislature tomorrow morning inside Senate Natural Resources Committee. And so I want to let all the Commission know that at least for the start of the meeting, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman and myself will not be here for tomorrow's meeting as we go to -- to that hearing to -- to talk about the Sunset Bill. That bill is filed, has a number of recommendations. Some of them are what are called kind of across-the-board recommendations that affect all state agencies going through Sunset, mandatory training for Commission members on an annual basis that they want us to do a process for handling complaints about the Agency, which our Internal Affairs has, I think, largely already implemented some change in statutory language to accommodate what is called "Person-First" language, particularly when referring to people or individuals with -- with disabilities.

So -- so -- so there's some -- some

language or vernacular changes; but then there's some Parks and Wildlife specific proposals in the -- in the Sunset Bill that, again, are germane just to us. Really, two primary ones as you'll recall, one having to do with basically a recalibration of the Land and Water Plan that the Department develops to track and set goals and expectations and outcomes for conservation and recreation-related issues across the state. And then the second one has to do with a -- a -- a new to be determine -- to-be-determined Commission Policy governing a risk-based prioritization scheme for how we conduct inspections on the roughly, 84 or so non-recreational permits that we issue across the state. So those will be everything from educational permits that we issue to zoos and other individuals to possess fish or wildlife, scientific permits, bay and bait shrimp dealers, oyster-boat captain license, you know, a raptor-related permit, aquatic vegetation permits, triploid grass carp. I mean, it -- it is really a smattering of different permits but the -- but the notion, again, is that the Commission would set up a policy that uses a risk-based matrix to direct the Department as to the frequency of our inspection of those permits and, you know, largely directed around concerns about protecting natural resources; and so that'll be something that we work with the Commission on.

And then, again, a number of other bills here.

I won't go into them, just in the interest of time that address a number of priorities for the Department, a couple of which have already been passed out of Senate committees, SB 599 on the removal of abandoned fishing devices from state waters, as well as SB 675 from Kolkhorst, which addresses some additional Veteran days for waterfowl hunting; and those two at least have been passed out of the -- the Senate committee. So we'll keep you posted on other bills.

Andra, next -- next slide.

Just another grouping of various priority

bills that we have worked with various Legislative sponsors on, and we'll keep you posted as those progress or not through the -- through the system.

Next slide.

And as I mentioned, I -- you know, there're --

there're well over a hundred or so other bills that affect the Department in some form or fashion. I tried to just kind of lump these by general category. Obviously, the appropriations-related bills, y'all know about on the House and Senate side. There's a variety of bills that contemplate fee waivers for various demographics. Maybe it's Veterans. Maybe it's individuals with disabilities. Maybe it's first responders; but there's a variety of those. Those, of course, have some fiscal impact to the Department. We've got several bills relating to deer-breeding-related considerations, some on various fisheries and wildlife-related issues, one on the -- on the Texas Water Trust to help basically, kind of amplify the important role of the Department in having input in -- in management over -- over water that's deposited -- water rights that are deposited in the State Water Trust for conservation. So again, a number of bills that we're closely tracking and paying attention to.

Next -- next slide.

Okay. I had provided a couple of reports to

the Commission following the February storm events, both on the impacts of facilities and operations that Clayton and team had put together, as well as a report that Robin and his team had put together on the impact to coastal resources. I would be terribly remiss if I -- if I did not again, just emphasize to the Commission just how proud I am of the entire Parks and Wildlife team for how they handled that winter storm event. You know, we had upwards of 500-plus game wardens and state park police officers around the state that were on-call throughout the duration of that storm, helping with the emergency response, wellness checks; you know, taking food and water to people that couldn't get it; going into remote places that other first responders and agencies couldn't get to; and just did a remarkable job serving the citizens in their most vulnerable times and really proud of their -- their efforts. And I know y'all were as -- as well; and candidly, that goes to many other Department employees, not just our law-enforcement personnel that were doing that in their neighborhoods and communities, as well.

Thankfully, we didn't suffer a lot of damage

to our facilities. I mean, there was lots of, I guess, small amounts of damage across the system and to be expected, given the size and scope of all of our facilities around our state; but our staff and our wildlife management areas and hatcheries and parks and offices, I think, did as good a job as they could trying to winterize and anticipate the impacts from that storm. And so I think to a large degree helped to attenuate, or minimize, impacts to the facilities. It, candidly, could have been -- could have been a lot -- a lot worse. So I was really proud of them.

Meanwhile, here at headquarters, our IT and

Support Services staff and others worked overtime to make sure that our support systems, communication, IT systems across the state were still going strong in the wake of power outages and so forth that all of you undoubtedly experienced in your own homes and -- and -- and cities. And as, certainly, the Vice-Chairman knows, there was a late-night scramble one night to try to find fuel in the middle of the night to keep a -- a back-up generator going. And our IT team did a -- just a masterful job of making sure that our IT system was not brought to its knees because of the lack of power and I want to acknowledge Jim Arnold and Arnold Oil down the street, who delivered fuel to the Department, I think, at 2:00 a.m. in the worst of that winter storm to make sure that we had enough fuel to continue to run the generators. Again, our IT team did a -- did a masterful job. So I'm really proud of the team and while we certainly had damages across the system, you know, our preliminary estimates were around half a million dollars across the state. So considerably less than I would have otherwise estimated.

Next slide.

Clearly, there were a lot of concerns about

how this storm event affected fish and wildlife and natural resources across the -- across the state and -- and no doubt, there were localized impacts everywhere. You can't talk to somebody without, you know, somebody talking about a -- a bird kill or an animal kill in their area. You know, we did see some areas of -- of localized impacts across the coast, an area where, you know, we had a -- a big bat freeze event and lost over 8,000 bats in places. In parts of the Hill Country. Land owners reported some very significant losses for particularly exotic animals, a black buck, an axis, in particular that were really, really hard on some Hill Country wildlife-related operations because of the -- because of the losses.

Our Wildlife Team put in place an

iNaturalist-related application where landowners and others could also report fish-and-wildlife-related kills to the Department so we could help, you know, track particular losses in different parts of the -- of the state and areas and by species. And so we continue to figure out how we can better utilize those -- that kind of citizen-science-related reporting to help us track kills across the -- across the state.

Certainly, outside of the fish kill along --

along the coast, we didn't lose a lot of fish in our inland waters. Those that we did were really, primarily, bait fish. We're certainly hoping with the significant freeze event that it might have done some good, knocking back Hydrilla and Hyacinth and Giant salvinia. Particularly, in our East Texas lakes, those really intensive, longer-spanned freeze events can really help with giving us a head start to help manage and control those exotic plants on -- on lakes. So hopefully, it did some good on that front.

The sea turtle issue really was -- was one of,

I think, of the -- the silver linings in all of it and just an extraordinary public/private partnership led by the Sea Turtle Stranding Network. And many, many, different partners, including our coastal fisheries' biologists and game wardens that were out collecting cold-stunned green sea turtles during the -- during the storm. The State Aquarium, the National Park Service, the Coast Guard, private guides, individual boaters, you name it, people were out trying to rescue green sea turtles in the -- in the bays. According to Dr. Donna Shaver, who helps to coordinate that stranding network, this was the largest cold-stunning event that's ever been documented in North America. Almost 13,000 turtles, both live and dead turtles, that were collected during this event, thankfully many rehabilitated at places like the Texas State Aquarium or the South Padre Island Convention Center where, you know, literally a thousand green turtles were taken to warm up before our biologists and game wardens and others carried them out into the Gulf to warm enough water to -- to survive. But overall, three times as many turtles that were collected as the previous large event in Texas back in 2017 and 2018 and twice as many turtles as collected as the largest event across the country before in Florida. So again, an extraordinary effort and lots of citizen interest and concern about the welfare and -- and well-being.

Interestingly, our biologists and game wardens

continue to pick up dead -- dead turtles in the bays and probably will, really, Robin, through the -- the end of this month and -- and -- and, perhaps, even into early April. First couple of weeks of March, I think, in the Laguna Madre nearly 600 additional dead Green sea turtles were -- were -- were collected. So again, we may continue to see some additional, residual impacts from turtles that just, for whatever reason, were put in a weakened condition or had -- had died and we hadn't been able to find before. So significant on that front. Obviously, the -- the big story for many was the coastal fish kill.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I would propose

to turn it over to Robin and let him walk the Commission through the data that we've collected and -- and -- and talk about any proposals or action that the Commission may want to take.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Perfect. Thank you, Carter.

MR. RIECHERS: Thank you, Carter, and Commissioners, good morning. For the record, my name is Robin Riechers. I'm the Director of Coastal Fisheries.

Next slide, please?

So as we look at this event, there's more -- you know, certainly is more similar to the events that we saw in the 1980s in terms of magnitude. Many of you recall the 1983 freeze and, of course, the two freezes in February and December of '89 that impacted the coast quite heavily and -- and this one is more closely related to those than the freezes that we've seen more lately in -- in terms of impacts to overall fish mortalities. All of those events before were coast-wide events, and this one has that same magnitude that we'll discuss further, really impacted the mid to lower coast more.

This event for us, of course, started heading into that weekend of February 13th and 14th; and by the 14th, we were already receiving turtle-stranding calls, as well as fish-kill notifications. And as soon as our biologists could get to their respective work and duty locations starting on even over that weekend, but then certainly more Monday and Tuesday, they were out on the water trying to begin those assessments.

Next slide, please?

That assessment did continue all the way for two more weeks, basically, to the 28th and then we were even -- actually, after the 28th, we did make a couple of runs based on reported calls and -- and tried to get back out and just check a couple of spots; but basically, a two-week period there after the kill, where we were trying to assess that. As we were looking at these fish kills, as you can see there on your screen, the -- the fish kill in '21 had 3.8 million mortalities associated with it as compared -- not -- not near as large as the '89 December freeze, nor the '89 February freeze and certainly not as large as the '83 freeze. You know, freezes in Texas are not uncommon. They happen every three to six years, based on the last 40 years of data; but the first account of a freeze in Texas occurred in 1527 by a Spanish explorer at the time. If you read back through his travels, he talks about a fish kill off the Texas Coast at that point in time.

Next slide, please?

As we go into these types of freeze events, we've now used our fishing thermal closures a couple times. And so certainly, as we're looking at this event, we -- we enacted those 21 thermal refuge-area closures. We did that, spanning for a 2-day time period, basically, closing for the 15th and the 16th. In addition to that, our TPWD biologists began coordination with the Gulf Intercoastal Canal Association, which resulted in the voluntary and temporary suspension of -- of total operations in that Intercoastal Waterway from the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway south of Port Isabel. And that lasted the 15th, 16th, and even up until almost -- well, 10 o'clock on the 17th.

Again, a -- a great partner there with the Gulf Intercoastal Canal Association in that they've now worked with us on several freezes, really starting after the '89 freeze and -- and have been working with us to -- to do that temporary or voluntary suspension of barge traffic in an attempt to basically be a good partner and -- and not have as many fish and turtle mortalities. As this event wore on, there was concern of the for -- regarding the section of the ICWW that's between Rockport and Ingleside. And it basically, prompted requests to us to divert that barge traffic to the Lydia Ann Channel; and we discussed that with the GICA leadership. And they also put out that call during the event to try to divert that particular traffic during that timeframe, as well.

From a response-activity perspective, just want to share with you that we use the American Fisheries Society guidelines in determining the level of these fish kills; and we would use that same sort of procedure basically -- whether it's a pollution event, whether it's a freeze event, or a red tide. Now, you know, we can go ahead and discuss the -- the -- the issues with a large-scale event like this, as well. I mean, obviously, in a large-scale event coast-wide, you know, what see on one day after the event when you're trying to make an assessment with -- with both wind and tides, et cetera, may not be what you see on that beachline or that shoreline the next day or two days later. And so, you know, we certainly recognize that and -- and -- and what we believe this is, is a minimum estimate. Depredation starts occurring immediately. Some of these fish float. Some of them will -- will float for a little bit and then sink. And so, again, this is not a perfect science when we go about trying to estimate these fish kills; but we do place some rigor in it and some approach so that it's systematic in the way we go about it.

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So when we look at this kill from a total -- total estimate standpoint -- again, as I indicated before, 3.8 million fish -- 91 percent of those are what we consider non-game fish or forage fish. You know, I don't want to minimize the importance of that, though. As we move forward, we're going to talk mostly about the game fish or what -- it's not really our legal definition of game fish but -- but a recreationally important species, which was only 9 percent of that kill, over 300,000 fish but -- but I -- I -- I want to, you know, go ahead and recognize that the -- the nongame fish are such a foundation for the ecological and ecosystem approach that we have in -- in the ecology in our bay systems that, you know, that -- that loss is not unrecognized by us and -- and it's important, as well but -- but as -- as normally happens, we do end up focus -- focusing more on those recreationally important species.

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So when we look at the game fish estimates -- and this slide is really a depiction of the percentage of game-fish mortalities as experienced by each bay system. And so what you're looking at there -- and much as I indicated earlier is that the upper-coast bay systems bore less of the brunt of this cold front than did those lower, mid-coast and lower-coast bay systems. Very little impact that we documented in Sabine and Galveston, with more impact as you went through those mid-coast bays; and then when you reached the Upper Laguna Madre and the Lower Laguna Madre, really had over 80 percent of the total impact to game-fish species as we looked at those two systems.

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Then when we try to break this down a little bit further and I'll -- I'll explain the -- the -- the -- the pie chart there, if we can. This is basically trying to break this down by key species or game fish or recreationally important species. Of those five species that we saw the most of -- the Spotted sea trout being in blue; Red drum being in the orange kind of color; yellow being Sand sea trout; the -- the purple, or magenta-looking color, is Sheep's head; and then Black drums represented by the black pie -- slice of pie, as well. And so as you are able to -- to look at that, you can see how there are differential impacts depending on which bay system you are at and, of course, as we try to assess the impact, which species we saw the most of.

And so, for instance, I'll -- I'll use Corpus Christi Bay there. It's a deep bay. It has good habitat for Sand sea trout; and you'll see the predominant species that we saw there as yellow is Sand sea trout. As you get to the Lower Laguna Madre, of course, much as we documented a lot of the overall fish kill in the Lower Laguna Madre has -- has -- proportionally was made up of Spotted sea trout; and when you add the two Laguna Madres together, you can see that -- that -- you know, a considerable amount of Spotted sea trout were killed in both of those.

As many of you may know, the Upper Laguna Madre is also known for its Black drum fishery. We have a commercial fishery there, as well as a recreational fishery. Very high abundance in Black drum, maintains a high level of abundance in Black drum; and as you might expect, the mortalities associated with Black drum in the Upper Laguna Madre, are shown, as greater there. What I will add here is that when we add up the Lower Laguna Madre and the Upper Laguna Madre, you add up the two Spotted sea trout or the mortalities in both of those, when we compare that to the '83 freeze, it is only about 20 percent less than what we saw in the 1983 freeze in the Laguna Madre.

When we compare that to the two freezes, if you combine those in '89 -- even though there was season of spawning in-between those two kills -- but if you combine those two together, it makes up about 25 percent less than -- than the kills that we saw in '89. So certainly, a significant impact there in the Lower Laguna Madre and the Upper Laguna Madre on Spotted sea trout.

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This basically is providing some of those same characteristics that we just showed you, comparing those -- or that we just discussed -- comparing those freezes between '83, the two '89 freezes and the '21 freeze. The '21 bar is in yellow. The two '89 freezes are in the green and the blue, and then the kind of orange or yellow in -- in -- in the graph here is more of the -- is the '83 freeze. And it just allows you to basically compare across those different systems and see how those different systems were impacted by the different freezes. As -- as we talked about in the February of '89 freeze, it was mostly from East Matagorda with a -- with a pretty big impact in East Matagorda and Matagorda Bay and South; and this shows up here, as well as when you look at Aransas Bay for that '83 freeze, you can see the -- the -- the significant impact of Spotted sea trout; but then as you look at Upper Laguna and Lower Laguna and you add those together, you can see that the -- the bars from the -- the yellow bars will start to -- to be almost equivalent, as I just explained, to the '83 and both of the two '89 freezes, as well.

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So I'm -- I wanted to show you this graph because it's instructive in a couple of ways. One is: These are our spring gill nets, and it's instructive in the fact that this is kind of where we were coast-wide heading into this -- this freeze event. Now, I might note that unfortunately, due to COVID-related issues and not being able to sample in the Spring of 2020, we do not have 2020 represented here; but we are on track to, of course, be sampling again in 2021. So we're -- we're looking forward to -- to -- to doing those sampling. What you can pick up in this slide, if you look at that 1983 point, it's the highest point on the graph. And then after that freeze, you can see where it went to, in '84, a significant decline. Our spring gill nets picked that up very clearly. If you go to the '89 point on that graph, you can also see the decline going into 1990 and so you could pick that up with our spring gill nets, as well.

Much as I already indicated, those freezes in the '90s were -- were not as significant and so basically, it's just the normal variation in our gill nets that you can see. Some people may be picking up that very sharp decline from 2015 -- really, it's 2016 heading into -- to 2017 in our gill nets there. What we equate that to is we were in a fairly severe drought on -- on -- part of the coast in the early parts of '13, '14, and '15; but again, as many of you recall, late in '15, the monsoons came basically. And we believe that that basically caused us to lose a year of recruitment that next year, which then showed up in our gill nets, basically in that 2017 year. And so you can see that decline there but -- that's -- that's what we attribute that to, as well.

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So when our current Spotted sea trout regulations -- I just wanted to refresh everyone. Obviously, our daily bag limit currently today is 5-fish bag, minimum length of 15 inches and maximum length of 25 inches, and then there can be one fish retained over the 25 inches that counts as part of the current daily bag.

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So as we go forward here, we certainly are going to continue monitoring the overall fishery, not just Spotted sea trout but -- but -- but all of our fisheries; but really from here on, we are going to focus mostly on -- on the discussion regarding Spotted sea trout. But the first thing comes to mind is our spring gill nets, which really will tell us more about the subadult and adult populations. Those are set to begin in the second full week of April. They run ten consecutive weeks, and so we will be finishing up that data in June and probably have those results by early July.

Our bag seines and our trawl data go on every part of -- each -- each month of the year; and, in fact, during the last assessment week of this freeze event -- even though we had lots of bodies on the water doing assessment, we were able to collect all of our bag seine data and our other troll data in that same week. And so we didn't miss any samples there. And then from a harvest monitoring standpoint by each bay system, we will be looking at the landings that are brought across those public boat ramps that we estimate and also the angling fishing pressure that goes on in each of those systems routinely.

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So this really does leave us at a crossroads or a decision point, fork in the road, however you would like to -- to -- to term that. And it basically is that we continue monitoring. We get our spring gill nets. We reassess where we are in terms of fish population in July. Now, you know, that -- that certainly is an approach that we can take and -- and certainly, we've already shared with you some of the magnitude comparisons that we know can also be informative regarding fish kills just basically comparing it to those past events.

The other approach would be to take an emergency action at this time. It could be species specific. It could be area specific; and again, either way, you would reassess upon getting your gill-net data in July. If you wanted to take that -- that emergency rule action and certainly, James can -- can elaborate more on this; but an emergency rule can be taken by the Commission or the Executive Director. It can last up to 120 days; but it does not have to last that long. And it -- and it can be extended one time for 60 days if -- if needed or warranted.

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So I would also like to just point out a few management considerations as we go into the next part of this discussion; and the first of which is, you know, we do recognize that in some of these past freezes and through time, there's been bag-limit reductions and/or size-limit reductions. After the '83 freeze, the bag limit was changed from 20 to 10; and, of course, we know now that we're at 5 fish in Spotted sea trout concerns. After the 1989 freezes -- or '88 freezes, '89 freezes, the increase in minimum size limit went to 15 inches. And so that was -- was -- was -- '83 was done by emergency action. '84 was not. I mean, '89, '90 was not but -- but we do recognize that we have lower bag limits than we had in those previous freezes.

The other part that we'll recognize here is that we believe that the catch and release practice regarding Spotted sea trout and -- and putting more Spotted sea trout back out in the water is certainly practiced and used more than it was in 1980s. The other part that we must consider is the actual angling fishing pressure. And certainly, across our bay systems from the '80s to the '90s, we saw increasing fishing pressure. We have had some flattening out of that fishing pressure; but it can shift by bay system. We certainly know -- and as we -- as we look at the Lower Laguna Madre, for instance, in -- in the most recent seven or so years, that angling fishing pressure has increased quite a bit. In addition to that, that increased fishing pressure is just manhours on the water. It's does not take into account that boats can go further and get there faster and probably go into areas that use not to be fished as heavily; and it also doesn't account for the electronics and the efficiency that some fishermen may have based on -- on better technology than they might have had in years past.

The other thing to note here as a management consideration is that from a spawning-season perspective, Spotted sea trout spawn -- typically, it's based on warming water temperatures starting in and around April and spawn until August or September. They're -- they're back spawners, and they can spawn multiple times in any given year.

As we cover the next couple of slides, and it's -- it's -- it's noted up here -- our reproductive metric for -- for population recovery that we're going to discuss here explaining stock biomass and basically, as we've done in -- in most fisheries' presentations to you, most recently, we've talked -- we basically model that population. We talk about it in terms of basically a -- a-- a mortality reduction or a fish-landed reduction that increases by the population or spawning stock biomass in the metric. What we're going to talk about here is the spawning stock biomass. Now, those -- to -- to -- to have the full value of the spawning stock biomass, that fish has to go through a full generation under this new rule. So that's not necessarily what we're going to be talking about here when we think of an emergency rule; but it does provide us a way to talk about the relative differences between the different options that we're talking about here.

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So I thought it also would be important before we go into some of the management options to share with you what the current catch rates in the different -- with the five-fish bag limit are and that will explain why when we talk about at least bag-limit reductions, you may not see the amount of reduction you might expect if you were just thinking, "If I go from five fish to some lower amount, I -- I would expect that to decrease proportionally." And it -- it truly doesn't quite work that way because as you can see here, on a private angling boat, not a guide trip, 70 percent of the people catch one or two or fewer fish with 50 percent of them catching only one fish. That's the yellow bar that you see there. If you look at the guided fishing trips and look at the blue bar, and I will reverse that kind of discussion. If you look at three, four, and five fish being captured on a guided fishing trip, if you add those bars up, it basically is a little over 50 percent then catch three, four, and five fish.

Overall though, because we have so much more private angling pressure as compared to guided fishing trips, you know, the overall impact when we think about bag limits, you know, really, you don't get a -- a huge increase in overall spawning stock biomass unless you start severely reducing bag limits.

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So then, I'll explain how this slide works. Just if it -- if it -- if it's confusing at all, starting at the axis there, basically we're at a five-fish bag limit now. So the axis represents first off, a four-fish bag limit and you can see there then the percent increase in spawning stock biomass and then it goes up to three fish, two fish, and one fish. And, for instance, if you took three fish there, you would see that the basic equivalent of a three-fish bag limit reduction would be about 6 percent increase in your spawning stock biomass. Now, I might add -- and the question often comes up -- "Well, have you considered release mortality? Because if you, basically, are throwing back more fish, are you going to take that into account some way?"

And, yes, our modeling here does take that into account. Of course, when we've talked about Spotted sea trout in front of this Commission before, we've explained that -- that really, there's a high degree of survivability; and we've done various studies on that survivability and that is included in this as -- as we go further with these discussions regarding bag-limit changes, as well as size-limit changes.

Next slide, please?

Okay. The -- the same -- I'll -- I'll try to explain this slide just a little bit because it's a busy slide here; but basically, if we're starting at the axis where we have the 15- to 24-inch slot, as I previously indicated, we're at -- we're 15 inches now with the minimum size limit and a 25-inch maximum size limit. So this incrementally, basically, walks you through the benefits that you would receive in spawning stock biomass if you went from -- to a 15- to 24-inch slot limit, which is about a 4 percent increase, all the way up to a 15- to 20-inch slot limit, which is closer to a 20-inch -- a 20 percent increase in spawning stock biomass. And then the two upper bars, the yellow and the blue, then basically start -- also, in addition to the suite of -- of alternatives on the upper end, bringing the -- the -- the slot limit down from 25 inches, it also starts increasing the lower end, as well, showing you the 16 to 20 -- 16 to 24 and then on up to 16- to 20-inch, as well as 17 to 24, all the way to 17- to 20-inch.

And -- and as you would expect, as you both increase -- or as you decrease or increase the minimum size limit, decrease the maximum size limit, the more you do that on either end, you're keeping more fish in the water. And so your benefit becomes greater as you move forward, you know, anywhere from -- as I indicated below, the 4 percent and 15 to 24 inches to as much as a -- slightly greater than 35 percent increase in spawning stock biomass, if you went to a 17- to 20-inch slot limit; which is a -- which is a fairly narrow slot; but, you know, illustrated here for the purposes, that we -- you know, so that you can consider them.

Next slide, please?

So -- so as indicated before, at -- we're at

the point where either we go forward with an emergency action or not and -- and the staff recommendation, if you were to choose an emergency action, at this point based on what we know about the fish morality of the event in the Laguna Madre -- the Upper Laguna and the Lower Laguna -- as compared to past freezes, we would recommend a -- a -- a change or emergency rule dealing with the Laguna Madre only. We would recommend that it deal with Spotted sea trout as we discussed only. We would recommend a 3-fish bag limit and a 17- to a 23-inch slot limit. And, of course, the 27 percent increase spawning stock biomass, those are additive when we compare these two together; but again, I would suggest that -- we're not getting that full benefit -- that's the full benefit -- going across the entire generation.

You get that benefit, basically -- you get

about 60 percent of that benefit in the first year when you enact those rules, as we've talked about before on other species. And then it rises to almost a full benefit by year three or four. But what -- what -- you know, again, for -- for illustrative purposes and comparison-relative purposes, it allows you to compare those different operations but -- but by taking this type of action -- it's a precautionary action. It's targeted towards where we feel like we have the most impact; but what it's really doing is keeping fish in the water for this spawning season, as we try to determine and assess what the impacts are through our gill nets and through other sampling but it -- it basically is keeping fish in the water right now to spawn.

Next slide, please?

So, obviously, we are probably are going to go

back and have more discussion possibly on -- on that; but I did want to go ahead and share with you some additional future plans. Obviously, and as we've indicated here, we're going to continue to assess the impacts of our fish populations, and we're going to compare those -- continue as we get more information to compare those to previous events but -- but I also wanted to go ahead and highlight that we're going to evaluate our winter-freeze-related procedures on a -- on a number of fronts, basically.

Certainly, we've now used those thermal

closures on -- on -- on a couple of occasions. We believe that there's both a place to look at maybe adding some additional areas. When we first put those in, there was some worry that we would extend too many locations during that timeframe. And so there was at least some effort to limit the number of sites that we included, and since then certainly, we've had people approach us about including more sites. And we certainly have had some new issues arise on the coast where we think there may be some sites that we would like to add there.

In addition to that, some of the data that we

can now receive almost real time regarding water temperatures is probably better than what we had at the time we enacted that. We enacted that, and we put that in -- in the Texas Administrative Code. We were looking at -- really looking at air temperatures, trying to relate that to water temperatures and we believe that there may be some additional metrics that we can add there for -- to think about, not only closing, but also opening. And we -- we think there -- there's a place for us to have that conversation, also.

Lastly, as Carter mentioned, as -- as the

Wildlife Division was able to -- to use a -- a previously used tool that they had to -- to bring in citizen science, we believe there a's place for citizen science here, as well. We get these reports from -- from our individuals. They go to game wardens. The go to biologists. They come in on our hotlines; but we believe that there may be a way to use citizen science to help collect that data from individuals during these types of events and -- and basically help us determine where we spend our efforts and where we, you know, go check hotspots, et cetera; and we think -- we think that's a tool and -- and at least a dialogue that we need to have.

Lastly, there has been a lot of discussions

about the voluntary suspension of the barge operators. We're on a working group that includes Padre Island, National Seashore, Coastal -- CCA Chapter members from down in the Corpus, Upper Laguna Madre area. TAMU Corpus Christi's involved in that working group because they do some of the monitoring for when that should close or when that suspension should go in. And we're going to continue and -- and review that work, as well, and -- and continue to work with that group on those voluntary suspensions and how those are enacted and -- and ways for us to do that.

And then lastly, of course, all of you know

about our enhancement program. And, you know, we're going to look for every opportunity to make sure that we're producing as many Spotted sea trout, both this year, as we can. Obviously, some of that cycle is already in process; but we're going to try to do as much of that as we can in and move to do that again next year as much as we can. And we -- and we're -- and we're going to, you know, do our best in that respect; but we normally raise about 3 million Spotted sea trout. We would hope that we're going into this year. We have done some rotation of broods fish and we hope that we're going into this year where we might be able to beat some of those production numbers and do a little bit better than we have in -- in more recent years because -- because we've already taken steps moving into this year that should allow us to do that.

So with that, I'd be happy to answer any

questions. Like I said, those are kinds of the suite of future item plans but -- but would happy to answer any other questions that you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, Robert. I just want to clarify. We would -- you would still be allowed to keep one over 25 inches; is that correct?

MR. RIECHERS: The -- the way the -- the effort and modeling was done, there was basically -- and it's really because it's an artifact that we get so few of those fish anyhow-- but it -- it basically, didn't consider doing that. If you would want to consider doing that, that is still an option. You're still going to save fish because there's not going to be that many that -- that reach that size.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And it's both the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre; is that correct?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes. That -- that's what we proposed. Yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

I'll open it up for discussion now and comments. Anybody have any suggestions, ideas, or --

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Robin, I have a question. On the length of the closures, when you close, like, this habitat, it has typically, the deep water where the fish go, you've got water temperatures -- [inaudible].

MR. MONTEMAYOR: You're cutting out. I'm sorry.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Excuse me. Robin, on the length of the closures, talk me through that. How is that determined and --

MR. RIECHERS: It -- it's fairly general in the -- in the current proclamation, basically, that lays that out. It was basically gauging being below 32 degrees for a length of time. And so it -- it basically -- now we look at that and when water temperatures or air temperatures start to warm up during the day, you know, we basically, in the past -- and, like I said, we've only used this a couple of times -- but we -- we've then -- that's when we lifted the closures. We think there are, certainly now, as we went through this closure, we can get real time water temperatures in many of these bay systems now, which we -- it was available before; but it wasn't real time. You couldn't go out on the website and get it in a way that you could look at it daily.

And so now, we do believe there's some different metrics there that we should be looking at and -- and frankly, probably be extending the length of these closures to some degree.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And so you're -- you're monitoring the air temperature, the water temperature but is -- is the goal to try to wait until some of those stressed fish leave that area that they congregated by the bunches? Are -- are you waiting for them to kind of get back to normal -- normal life? Is that the concept?

MR. RIECHERS: That -- that would -- certainly, based on the discussions when the rule was put into place that -- that is the concept because those thermal refuge areas, those deep holes, would stack a lot of fish into them. Sometimes they're in locations that are very easily accessible by bank. And -- and literally, as the temperatures would start to warm up and people could get out, they would go into those areas and -- and at the time, there would be snacking -- snagging and other -- other ways to get those fish and they would not just catch them by hook and line.

We've since then eliminated the ability or made it against the law to do it with the exception of hook and line and -- and appropriate gear but -- but, you know, the -- the goal would be to let them get moved back out of those refuge and get into more of a normal stable state before we would allow fishing to go on on those areas again.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Okay. Thank you. Another thing is a comment. I understand the barge traffic is voluntary; but I heard a lot of good things about -- about them doing a really good job of trying to reduce the traffic flow because it's there commerce. I mean, it's what they do; but I think they understood how devastating it is to churn that water. And -- and so the relationships y'all have seem to be working. It wasn't perfect; but it was pretty dang good. I heard a lot of good stuff about it.

MR. RIECHERS: Yeah, on our last two -- and I'll just, if you don't mind, comment on that.

On our last two freeze, those individuals have been very receptive. They worked with us -- and I think Carter can attest to this one -- people were still tied up, even though the 10:00 o'clock had come; and he heard from some individuals asking, "Can we go?"

And they were waiting for us to kind of say, you know, basically say, you know, "Here's what we -- we've heard so far before -- before they left. So no, I think the partnership has been very good. They are trying to do the right thing. They are trying to work with us and -- and certainly, as you suggest, it -- it's commerce to them; but they are -- they are attempting to be good stewards of the resource.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: I don't know if we have an opportunity but it -- it may be nice at some point to -- to recognize some -- some of those and have them in --

Carter, and I don't know if that would be appropriate.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, I think there's something we could, you know, contemplate is doing something in front of -- the Commission, could also have a formal letter from the Commission, you know, acknowledging those efforts. So why don't we talk about that in terms of what's appropriate; but I -- I agree, it would be nice to thank them for those voluntary contributions and also encourage them as we go forward because we're going to have one of these events again.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Well, thank you.

So I've talked a lot, and I've also talked -- because of living on the coast, I've talked to a lot of coastal people and, you know, it's sad to see what we saw; but this is nature at work. And I, for one, am -- am glad that we had an opportunity to jump in and do something if the Commission decides from an emergency standpoint to protect the spawning for this upcoming. So I'm -- as one, I'm interested in doing some -- some restrictions that are designed to increase the spawning and the rebound for the -- for the speckled trout. So let everybody else talk, but I'm certainly in -- in favor of doing something along those lines.


MR. MONTEMAYOR: Mr. Chairman, you're muted.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you. I think we need to act. Any other comments?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Chairman, this is Commissioner Abell. I would just say I'm in favor of the proposed emergency action; but as far as enforcements of it, I would want the -- the game wardens to use a lot of warnings because just knowing that -- that the people will probably be -- there will be a lot of people fishing out there that don't know the rule has changed.

MR. SMITH: Yeah, that's a great point, Commissioner. And I think, you know, we would definitely work with our law-enforcement team to maximize the exercise the discretion on that and again, look at an educational opportunity, which is, you know, what is our -- frequently, what is our course particularly when there is some new rule that has been passed by the -- by the Commission. So that would be par for the course but -- but, yes, please expect that from us.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Latimer?

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: This is Commissioner Latimer. And I agree with the staff recommendation that we as a Commission, I feel always have tried to err on the side of caution to protect any resources and this is just something that I -- I feel needs to be done for the interim to -- to help protect that spawning biomass.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you. Any other comments?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I'm Mr. Scott. I've got still a lot of family and friends down on the coast, as everybody knows. And the -- the response that I have gotten and -- and the feedback I've gotten is that for this spawning season, everybody seems to be pretty much in favor of doing something. I like -- I know and I've been here so long now but the 120-day deal, you know, what we're doing is not anything permanent or anything. And -- and -- you know, it's easily changed back to however we want to do it. So I don't have any problem with doing what we're talking about. Thank you.


Commissioner Patton?

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Patton. Could you define, you know, specifically, the boundary -- I mean, I generally know the Laguna Madre boundary and I'm guessing on the south, it goes all the way to the -- to the U.S. Texas border; but I'm curious what point north it would be. And then I'm also curious, will it include, you know, at least what I call the "base surf," which is, you know, the outside of the Barrier Island where, you know, really I think your bigger sea trout typically are?


MR. RIECHERS: Yeah, sorry about that. It was on mute. No. Yeah, I will try to answer both questions. As far as whether it incorporates the bay -- the -- the beachfront, if you will, we could -- you know, that's really up to you-all how you want to -- to address that to us. It -- it could incorporate that or obviously, could stay inside of the bay system proper. When we -- we had this issue somewhat when we also did 5-fish bag limit originally whether to do that on the bay-front side or the Gulf-front side, as well. So that's -- again, that's really up to you-all in that respect; but I would assume if we're thinking about fish that are in the Laguna, in that area, you may want to include that boundary going out on the beachfront, as well.

As far as the boundary goes, I would say that -- and -- and certainly, we can rely on law enforcement here and they may want to -- to chime in here, as well but -- but upon at least a quick discussion with them, certainly, a -- a clear line of delineation for many people in that area is the JFK Causeway.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: [Inaudible] I'm muted. So JFK Causeway, of course, is North. And can you tell me exactly where that is?

MR. RIECHERS: I'm -- from a map perspective, I'm going to have to --

Carter, do you want to help here? You or -- or Jarret?

MR. SMITH: You -- you're talking about the JFK Causeway from Flour Buff over to Padre Island?

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Okay. All right. I actually didn't know that's what it was called.

MR. SMITH: Okay.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Okay. So that's it?

MR. RIECHERS: Yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: All right. And then so you do have a number of cuts that will get you out into the bay surf and then, of course, you know, the circumvention's going to be anglers, you know, if they have a big fish or they have five, they're going be like, "Oh, I caught two out here and three in here."

So it probably would be, you know, what -- something to consider, I guess, particularly --

MR. BARKER: Commissioner Patton?


MR. BARKER: This is Jarret Barker, Assistant Commander in the Law Enforcement Division.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Oh, hi. All right. Okay.

MR. BARKER: Good morning. So if -- if you did want to consider something on the beachfront, I would suggest the reference point there in the city of Port Aransas and you could use the southern jetty as the beachfront marker, if that was desired. That would be a fairly close cut to the JFK. It's a bit further north than where the JFK connects to northern Padre Island; but, you know, it's a -- it's an easy, identifiable location.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Right. But then you have expanded it, you know, on that side but not including the bayside. So, you know, I -- I don't think I would be advocating that; but I certainly, would advocate whatever the northern-most cut within the Laguna Madre -- the proposed Laguna Madre area would be.

And again, you know, as you get further north, I don't think you've got the same issues that you do in the -- in the south, particularly around Port Aransas, which is, you know, where -- where I operate my marina and have at least, you know, some, I would say, proprietary information the -- that the speckled trout fishery seems to be fine, as a -- as a personal, professional comment.

MR. BARKER: So another suggestion could be the Packery Channel, which is fairly close to the JFK. It's a little bit further south.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: I -- I -- I would agree with that. That would be -- for that bay surf area, that -- that would be -- that would be the next cut. I agree.

MR. SMITH: And so, Jarret, this is Carter. Just to clarify as to frame it for the Commission if they contemplated that beachfront extension, you'd be looking from Packery Channel, south to Boca Chica? Would that be the area in question?

MR. BARKER: That sounds like a good -- I would say if you're talking about the beachfront, the -- the Packery Channel south to the Rio Grande River --

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Yeah. That -- okay.

MR. BARKER: -- on Boca Chica Beach.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Right. And that's not just going to -- I mean, that's going to help because, you know, on the beach, obviously, you've got a whole different class of angler, which are going to -- you know, not your bay fishermen in a bay boat or a guided boat; but you've got the -- you've got your -- your beach rigs and the people that are, you know, kayaking out the -- the -- the baits in that area, which, you know, they're -- they're efficient -- they're efficient fishermen, very highly, highly, skilled.

So they -- if we're really trying to protect it, you know, we've got look that way, too, I think.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, we're including the beachfront. So...

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Well, I -- you know, if we're going to -- if we're going to do it, we might as well do it right.


COMMISSIONER PATTON: You don't want to give them a backdoor.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: This is Aplin. I agree with Bobby. I mean, if we're going to do it and there's so many people that surf fish, I just think it would be a huge confusion; and we did that on the five fish when we did that. I mean, I think it only makes sense that it's the surf, the beach -- the beach and the bay and -- and I don't have any input on the boundaries. I don't know the areas good. I mean, I just -- but I -- I do support the emergency action, as recommended.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Is there any other discussion?

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: This is Commissioner Latimer. So I guess it's a question for James.

Is this put as staff-recommended with the parameters as discussed on the agenda for tomorrow, or what?

MR. MURPHY: Yes, Commissioner. Hi. James Murphy, General Counsel for the Department. And that -- that action that we're proposing today would be a -- a decision today. We have a quorum of the Commission, and we are, under the Open Meetings Act, allowed to have a action item today to support a motion, or to support staff's recommendation and a motion, which we would then condense your recommendations and your motion down to rule text and provide a reason, a justification for -- that would be included in the emergency rule adoption that would, then, be filed with the Secretary of State for publication in the Texas Register.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Let's make -- let's be clear on the motion.

Commissioner Patton, you -- you seem to be familiar with the northern boundary. So would you restate the -- the --

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Well, I -- I do feel -- Commissioner Patton. I do feel like we're talking about it still in general terms; but on the bay side, you've got a bridge that has been used and it's certainly a very good linear demarcation point and then again, if we take -- you know, you don't really have a jetty or proper jetty like you've got in Port Aransas; but this Packery Channel, particularly the southern boundary of it, for the bay -- for -- I'm sorry. Yeah, again, for the beachside would be a good -- would be a good point. And it's, you know, not really subject to confusion here. You're not going to drive a vehicle across that Packery Channel, for the most part. And -- and then -- and so I do think it's clearly identifiable. It'll be specific and, you know, should probably -- should probably be effective. So...

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yes. I'm familiar with the bridge. I don't know the cut, but I'll --

COMMISSIONER PATTON: They're very close. They're --


COMMISSIONER PATTON: -- it wouldn't overreach too far one way or the other; and it's probably the only really good point that it would -- that would be -- and it's also right there by the Mustang Island State Park. So...

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So are you -- you're familiar with the two -- well, two demarcations. One is the bridge. One's the cut. And south to the Rio Grande. Any other clarification that we need? If not, with that, I'll take the motion and ask for a vote.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Hey, This is Patton. One more -- what would the effective date of it be? Would it be today, April 1st, for a 120 days or for 90 days or -- I mean, I'm in favor of 120; but effective when, immediately?

MR. SMITH: So -- so it would be effective for 120 days or unless rescinded sooner by the Commission? That would go into effect when filed with the office of the Secretary of State --

MR. MURPHY: That's correct.

MR. SMITH: -- James?

And so that's likely going to take a couple of days at least to make sure that we're notifying people on the coast and doing the appropriate press releases. So we're going to need a few days to be able to exercise this. And so I think realistically, we should probably look at first part of next week. Is that --

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Can we get to -- can we get -- if we get to April 1st, then you've got April, May, June, and July; and then you can -- with an extension, you're going to be able to catch Labor Day, which might be important.

MR. SMITH: Sure.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: But you're definitely going to catch Memorial Day and July 4th. And this -- these are not rateable fishing over the 120 days. They're definitely, you know, hammer times and --

MR. SMITH: Right.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: -- and other times, it -- it'll lay down.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: This is Aplin. Bobby has a good point. It gives you a little longer to communicate it, to get it done. And April, that's only, what, six, seven days?

MR. SMITH: I'm sorry. It would be, what, next -- Wednesday or Thursday of next week, James, April 1st?

[Multiple speakers simultaneously]

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Yes. Seems like next Thursday to me. I agree with Bobby.

MR. SMITH: That'll certainly give us plenty of time, Robin and James, to be able to develop that and communicate it. Wouldn't you agree?

MR. MURPHY: I agree, Carter.

MR. RIECHERS: I agree, as well. I would like clarification, though, Mr. Chairman, on the 25 inches. Do you want to include still the one over 25 be allowed; or would you prefer not to allow that at all?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, I think --

COMMISSIONER PATTON: This is Patton; but I think your -- your limit's 23, as recommended. So there -- there wouldn't be, by definition --


COMMISSIONER PATTON: If I'm -- am I reading that right? I mean --

MR. SMITH: You -- you are. And that's -- that's the way it's worded. I think the question is, you know, would you want to allow for some trophy fish? If the answer is, "No," then we just need to be very clear about that.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Yeah, Patton. For Patton, the answer's, "No." The limit's 23. That would be your trophy.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So you would not keep the fish over 23?

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Well, apparently, it would be against the emergency action if passed; and if the limit's 23, it makes the issue of 25-inch fish moot. Right?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I think the question is: Do you allow anglers to catch one -- to keep one trophy fish of some length greater than 23?

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Well, my -- for Patton, I would say, "No."

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Robin, I see the recommendation, but it didn't address the big trophy fish. I don't know the -- Robing, I don't know the -- I guess you're left -- you're leaving that debate up to us, aren't you?

MR. RIECHERS: Well, when y'all brought -- as far as the modeling goes -- and again, it would be inconsequential what the results are here because so few fish get to that size -- though obviously, the Laguna Madre is a place where we see more of those fish get to that size; but -- but certainly in the notion of a precautionary approach in a -- in a leave as many fish for this spawning season in the water. And certainly, those big fish have more reproductive capabilities than the smaller fish. You know, you can certainly justify the -- the closure there, as well; but the reason why I wanted the clarification was, Mr. Chairman, when you brought it up earlier, I just didn't want there to be any confusion in my response about that nor when we try to do the emergency rule, what -- what it is we need to -- to do there. So...

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Well, I -- if everyone else is in favor, I'm certainly in favor to taking those large fish. So 20 -- 23 will be your trophy. And that -- that's the consensus I'm hearing. So I think that's great. Okay?

Any other clarifications or questions? Then I'll call for a motion? I think Mr. Patton made the motion. Is there a second?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Do I have a second?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Abell, thank you.

All in favor say, "aye."

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And I guess we know --



Scott's, "aye."

Abell's, "aye."

Patton, of course, made it.



CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Morian aye. So it passes. Thank you very much. I think it's a great move. And again, I would emphasize, Carter, that this is a maximum of a 120 days.

MR. SMITH: Maximum of 120 days.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: If my data comes back either positive or negative, we'll readjust it at the time; but this is just a stopgap measure that --

MR. SMITH: Sure. No, that's important and I want to --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- until we get our data back. So...

MR. SMITH: You may want to elaborate on this, Robin; but, you know, our biologists will be out collecting data from basically April through the first couple of weeks of June, and then we're going to need a couple of weeks to be able to analyze and QAQC see that. And so I think the timing of it works well with what y'all contemplated on the 120-day rule. But as we have material information that relates to this, we'll definitely come back and share that with you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: When we have more science, we'll adjust accordingly. Okay. Thank you, Robin. That's some -- that's some good input. Okay. With that, I'll go to Work Session Item No. 2, the Financial Overview.

Mr. Pegues, please make your presentation.

MR. PEGUES: Good morning, Commissioners. For the record, my name is Reggie Pegues, Chief Financial Officer. I've been given a financial overview of revenues through the end of February, which corresponds to halfway through the fiscal year and also a summary of present adjustments from the prior Commission meeting in January until now.

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I'll be providing summary of the three main revenue sources for the Agency; and in order of amounts collect.

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Beginning with license revenues through February, revenues through February are 85.1 million with about 45 percent of annual revenues being collected in the first month of September and about 65 percent of those revenues through December.

This is a -- this is our typical season pattern where revenues are high with the beginning of the fiscal year and they tend to peter off during the winter months. Focusing specifically on February, as mentioned previously, there was a winter storm that had a slight impact on revenue. With February being a slow month, it was pretty much a negligible effect; but it did bring down revenues to that point in the fiscal year.

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Taking a look over the last five years, we see that revenues are -- are pretty much level for the prior four years, with the current year, Fiscal '21, there's a slight uptake. And again, that's the residual effect of the COVID activity that's kind of been going on for this current fiscal year and the tail end of the last fiscal year. And so we're currently outpacing last fiscal year by approximately 8 percent.

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This is our 2-year comparison of revenues by our revenue source. The biggest driver is resident fish, an increase of 21.4 percent versus last year. And that translates into roughly about 3 million through February. And again, that's -- that's without the impact of the winter storm, these amounts would be a tad bit higher.

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Moving on to the State Park's revenues. Through February, we collected total revenue of $28.8 million, with January and February typically being the busier months since we can -- we can order in advance for the summer months, we can basically preorder. So this continues our regular trend. And much like license revenue, there was a slight impact in February because of the winter storm. So for the month of February, revenues were about 30 percent lower, which translates into about 1.5 million; but again, the effect, overall, is negligible and we're still doing pretty good in terms of the fiscal year.

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This is the 5-year comparison of our revenue. And our revenues are -- are trending up over the last few years with the most current year about 11.8 percent higher. Again, without the impact of the winter storm, we're looking at around 20 to 25 percent higher throughout the same period versus last year.

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This shows a breakdown by our revenue types with the best increase being in interest fees, about 14.4 percent. This translates into $1 million.

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Moving on to boat revenues, boat revenues through February are 8.8 million. This distribution represents a typical season pattern with revenues bottoming out around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then starting to ramp up as we get into the summer months. Again, for the month of February, revenues were about 6 percent weaker due to the winter storm; and that translates into about $96,000 for the month.

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Again, this is our 5-year comparison of boat revenue. For the FY '17 through '20, we were around 7 million through February; and you'll notice we're up about 8.8 percent up through February for -- through this point in the fiscal year. Again, that's -- that's across all lines. And this is roughly about 26.5 percent higher on the year-to-day basis.

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And here's a breakdown of the boat revenue by revenue type with the largest increase being in the registrations and titles. They were up 33.8 percent and 11.2 percent; and that's the breakdown of the 1.8 million.

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That concludes the revenue summary. Next, I'll be going over the financial overview for budget adjustments. And just a brief note, during the last Commission meeting in January, there were some questions over particular budget adjustments. This is the reasoning behind the adjustments and why they weren't included in the original budget. At the conclusion of the Commission, maybe, some of us will be meeting with Commissioner Hildebrand to -- to go into more detail on just the specifics of those budget adjustments. For the purposes of this presentation, I will be showing the adjustments from the last Commission meeting, which was through December through February. So there's going to be smaller adjustments from that ending through that period.

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At the end of January, our adjusted budget was 63 -- 6 -- $635.8 million. There was $32 million of adjustments in the months of January and February with the biggest increase being in federal funds. And then I've got $24.6 million in federal funds. 13 million were land and water. Under recreation funds, 5 million is sport fish restoration, and 5 million in the CARES Act, the Corona Relief Fund. And we received 5 million of our reimbursement from the Federal Government. And we should receive more during the next period. Just detail on the Federal, we typically budget our federal funds based on what we know to be available at the time. So as we ramp out through the fiscal year, we'll receive additional amounts and we also adjust, that accounts for the 24.6 million.

Operation Noncapital UB, we have a rider in our bill pattern that allows us to move unexpended balances from the first year of the biennium into the second year of the biennium. So this particular adjustment only occurs from the first year into the second year of the biennium. It's approximately 4.1 million.

We had a small $2.2 million in Capital Construction Rider UB. And again, typically construction funds, we allow them the first year and we UB into the second year. And the small adjustment were Department fringe for unemployment. These small amounts are adjusted around our retirement, insurance, benefit replacement plate. Those are -- those are just based on, basically, employee salaries at the point or percentage of those -- those [inaudible] benefits. So we're constantly adjusting those throughout the fiscal year to make sure that we have enough budget to process the payments. This concludes my presentation at this time. If there are any questions?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions? Thank you very much for your presentation.

With that, I'll move on to Work Session Item No. 3, Internal Audit Update.

Ms. Brandy Meeks?

MS. MEEKS: Good morning. Good morning, Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Brandy Meeks. I'm the Internal Audit Director. This morning, I would like to update you on the fiscal year '20 and '21 audit plans, as well as talk about our ongoing and completed external audits and assessments.

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So this and the next slide shows the status of our '20 internal audit plan. As you can see, all or our performance IT and Cyber Security audits are now complete.

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This slide shows the status of our 25 fiscal-control state-park audits on the fiscal year '20 audit plan. As of today, 23 projects are complete. One is in quality assurance phase, and one is in the reporting phase.

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So this and the next two slides show the status of our revised year Fiscal Year '21 Audit Plan. As you may remember, during the last Commission meeting, I proposed changes to the fiscal year '21 audit plan, due to an auditor vacancy and a potential opportunity to purchase and implement new audit software this fiscal year. Thankfully, the audit software has been approved, as were the revisions to this year's plan. Those changes are described in the notes on the bottom of this and the next slide.

So this slide shows the status of our performance, IT, and follow-up projects; and all of our projects are in various stages of the audit process except for the audited selected contracts and our social media sites' audit. Those two have yet to be started.

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So as you can see from this slide, we have ten state park fiscal-control audits on our revised plan. Two are complete. Three are in various phases of the audit process and five have not yet started.

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This slide shows the special projects and administrative tasks we've been working on so far this fiscal year. As mentioned two slides back, and as shown on No. 4 under "Special Projects" above, new audit software has been approved by executive management and we are now working to finalize the purchase and map out the timeline for installation, implementation, and training.

For No. 4 under "Administrative Duties Event," we are still working to fill our auditor vacancy. We are planning -- or we are performing our last bit of due diligence on our final two candidates.

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And then lastly, I'd like to update you on the external audits and reviews currently in process. As you can see, the Deepwater Horizon and Sport Fish Restoration Grant audits are still in process.

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And this slide shows the completed external audits and projects since the last Commission meeting. The U.S. Coast Guard just finished a programmatic desk review of the Recreational Boating Safety Program. No issues were found. FEMA conducted a grant-monitoring desk review of seven Region 6 Port Security Grants. No issues were found with that audit. And the Comptroller completed the overpayment recovery audit and found one overpayment totaling $324.26. Recovery is currently underway for that overpayment.

Also, since our last Commission meeting, the SAO has completed a couple of projects that may be of interest to TPWD. And that's the single audit and a summary report on full-time equivalent state employees for Fiscal Year '20.

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This concludes my presentation. Thank you for listening, and I'm available for any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much.

Are there any questions or comments?

Hearing none, again, thank you for your presentation.

MS. MEEKS: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: With that, I'll move on to Work Session Item No. 4, Rule Review, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes and Completed Rule Review, chapter 57, Fisheries; Chapter 58, Oysters, Shrimp, and Finfish; and Chapter 65, Wildlife.

Mr. James Murphy, please make your presentation.

MR. MURPHY: Thank you. And good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. I'm James Murphy, General Counsel for the Department; and I'm here today to present our final set of rules proposed for adoption to pursuant to the Periodic Rule Review.

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MR. MURPHY: I know we've been through this a few times over the last few meetings; and then I'm pleased to announce we're -- we're almost there for this 4-year cycle. As you know, this comes from Texas Government Code Section 2001.039. "All state agency rules must be reviewed no less frequently than once every four years. This must include an assessment of" the -- "whether the reasons for initially adopting a rule continue to exist." We -- "Notice of the Proposed Review is published in the Texas Register for public comment." And then we must readopt -- or adopt the with changes, or repeal the rules based upon the review.

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We usually break this Rule Review into a chapter-by-chapter approach. It usually occurs over three meetings. The first meeting is Notification of the Commission of the beginning of Rule Review process. Again, that is published in the Texas Register.

Our second meeting seeks permission to publish any proposed rule changes or repeals resulting from the review. Again, this is published in the Texas Register with a 30-day comment -- public comment period.

Our third meeting is seeking adoption of any proposed rules and repeals and then we also seek adoption of the completed Rule Review, which means retention of the remaining rules that have not been changed.

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Just to orient you here on the schedule, we are highlighted in yellow. The three chapters for consideration, and we are, as you see in the bottom, right corner for adoption of -- of any changes to these chapters.

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So we propose no changes to Chapter 57 on fisheries or Chapter 58 on oysters, shrimp and finfish. We do have some proposed changes to Chapter 65.

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The first is to Subchapter H. This is our Public Lands Proclamation. This is just a change to the gathering of social security numbers for these competitive hunting-dog events or field trials. Previously, we had sought a Social Security number from all the participants in that. We are now changing that to just the applicant for the field trial permit. I just want to emphasize this is conducted on Parks and Wildlife lands -- wildlife management areas.

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This is a small, just a typo, essentially change on -- in Subchapter O on Commercial Nongame Permits. We are removing an unnecessary internal reference that we caught during the rule review.

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Since this slide was prepared, we've had two additional comments in support for a total of six comments in favor. We have one public comment opposed without explanation.

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And these are the motions that will be for your consideration tomorrow during the Commission meeting. I'm not going to read these for you today; but we'll go through those tomorrow. Certainly, if you have any questions on that, please let me know; and with that, I'm available for any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you, James. Any questions or comments?

With that, I'll place the item on Thursday Commission Meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Now, moving to Work Session Item No. 5, 2021 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes.

Mr. Ken Kurzawski, and, Mr. Dakus Geeslin, please make your presentations.


MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Commissioners. I'm Ken Kurzawski of TPWD's Inland Fisheries Division. Today, I'm presenting the proposed changes to the freshwater fishing regulations along with a summary of public comments.

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Our current statewide regulations for blue and channel catfish consists of a 12-inch minimum length limit, a 25-fish daily bag, which combines both blue and channels. We have multiple exceptions in place, such as on the border waters with Louisiana and Oklahoma. We also have reduced bag limits, five fish per day on a community fishing lakes and similar, smaller water bodies.

We also have exceptions for specific populations around the state to address population characteristics in those locations. A team of our biologists over the last two years reviewed how we manage catfish. We also use information from previous surveys of anglers and gathered additional input last summer. Anglers told us they wanted to protect catfish populations but also want to harvest fish. Those were our guide poles as we began our evaluation of -- of existing regulations.

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Our proposal is to remove the 12-inch minimum length on our Blue and Channels. We would retain the 25-fish combined daily bag limit; but of those 25 fish, anglers could harvest no more than 10 fish 20 inches or longer. Impacts on anglers of the graduated bag will be minimal. From our angler harvest surveys, we know few anglers harvest 20 fish; and even fewer harvest more than 10 catfish over 10 inches -- excuse me -- over 20 inches. Most anglers said they would rather catch catfish to eat and this regulation is designed for that, while also providing some protection for larger fish to improve quality and big fish potential. This regulation will be used for most waters statewide.

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We did receive a number of comments on -- on -- on this proposal and of the fair number of them, they will disagree with the -- with this -- the new statewide proposal. Those in agreement expressed that this was a good choice to protect the populations and allow for harvest. Even though the -- the proposed new statewide is more restrictive than the current regulations, we did see a substantial number of comments in disagreement; and most favored more restriction -- more restrictive regulations, either a limit of 1 over 30 statewide or lower bag limits.

We do see some benefit of restricting harvest of fish 30 inches and greater; and that was -- that is what we propose for the next -- the next proposal, which covers 12 reservoirs with high-quality catfish populations. We do believe the limit of 10 fish 20 inches or greater is more appropriate as the statewide regulations.

We have looked at minimum length, though, for catfish and do have a -- and do have a few reservoirs with no minimum length limit, where we are trying to encourage anglers to harvest smaller fish to reduce the population abundance. Anglers do seem to select for larger fish, 12 inches and greater, for harvest. So a minimum length limit will have minimal benefit.

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This is exception is similar to the statewide regulations for blues and channel catfish, no minimum limit and 25-fish bag; but as noted in yellow, modifies the number of fish 20 inches or larger that can be harvested from 10 fish into two categories: 5 fish over 20 inches; and of those, only 1 fish 30 inches larger. This regulation directs harvest to smaller, easily replaceable fish and protects larger fish while allowing -- watching -- allowing the harvest of one large fish. While it is designed to improve blue catfish populations primarily, it'll also maintain quality in channel catfish populations.

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We have -- we propose 12 locations for this

category. In the first column, the six locations are noted in white, are all currently statewide regulations. In the next column, Kirby and Palestine currently have a no-minimum-length limit, a 50-fish bag and a limit of 5 fish over 20 inches. Louisville, Richland, Chambers, and Waco currently are under the 30-to-45-inch slot. Tawakoni consists of a 25 bag with limits of 7 fish over 20 -- excuse me -- 7 fish over 20 and 2 fish over 30.

As noted, we received fewer, specific comments

for these; and these comments were similar to what we received for the statewide proposal. Many respondents made similar comments for each of those locations. Just a few of the comments addressed that this could be a little more complex regulation.

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The final proposed exception for blue and

channel catfish is a 14-inch minimum length limit and a 15-fish combined daily bag. This regulation will be used in situations where there are concerns about limited spawning, sometimes combined with high harvest, which could damage the population, or for reservoirs that have experienced a catastrophic -- catastrophic event, such as a fish kill, and the population needs to be rebuilt.

Next slide, please?

All these lakes are currently under statewide

regulation. Fewer individual comments and disagreements for these, around five to six each were received. Once again, few comments -- fewer comments were restricting of the harvest of larger fish and also some mention, in general, restricting use of jugging and trotlines.

Next slide, please?

We also propose to add two large East Texas

reservoirs, Lake Livingston and Sam Rayburn Reservoir, with similar catfish populations to an existing regulation category. Texas-Louisiana border waters currently have no minimum length limit, a 50-fish bag; and anglers are limited to having no more than 5 catfish 30 inches or longer. Livingston currently has a 50-fish bag with a 12-inch minimum and Rayburn is under statewide rules. This will have the benefit of having our three big East Texas reservoirs under the same limits, as anglers do fish all three.

Next slide, please?

We did see a -- we did see a few more

individual comments for Livingston on this one. Some of the comments were both for and against commercial fishing for catfish while they also mentioned the need for minimum length and have some questions about the higher bag limit.

Next slide, please?

Blue and channel catfish are the only game

fish that can be caught from Texas public waters and sold. We have a separate section for commercial regulations. So some exceptions that are proposed to be implemented in the areas of the state legal for the sale of catfish will also be listed in the commercial section to be enforceable. This would apply to the Texas/Louisiana border waters, Livingston, Rayburn, and in those smaller lakes with bag limits -- with bag limits that limit the harvest to five catfish. There were some individual comments here about -- for and against allowing the commercial fishing for catfish.

Next slide, please?

Finally, we need to standardize the

descriptions for float dimensions in the passive gear rules. We propose to standardize those as length and width rather than height and diameter. Also, we inadvertently listed the width of the float for minnow traps as 6 inches; and it should be 3 inches. Among the individual comments here, there was mention of -- of once again, further restricting some of the use of these devices and also that the float requirements were too onerous; but those did directly address the proposed -- proposed rules.

Next slide, please?

That's all of our presentation -- our

proposals for this year. If you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to take those now.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I have one. Why did you do away with height on the float?

MR. KURZAWSKI: We're just -- we're just changing that to -- to length, which we -- for that -- for that dimension. That -- that -- that encompasses it and really standardized it in most of our rules.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Instead of having -- I mean, why wouldn't you have length, width, and height?

MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, we -- we really don't -- I guess, with these we don't really have a height. We just -- you know, we have a -- you know, they're generally using a float. For these, that's -- that's, you know, 6 inches in the diameter and it just -- it doesn't have to -- for these, it doesn't have to be necessarily extending up above the water. It just -- it can be laying on the water. So...


MR. KURZAWSKI: So, you know for trotlines and jug lines. So then they're -- they're very -- if they're laying flat on the water like that, they're -- they're -- the height would be the width essentially, depending on how they're deployed.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: They don't need to be visible above water, is what you're saying?

MR. KURZAWSKI: Well, they're -- they're -- they're -- they will be floating on top of the water. They don't have to be -- you know, they don't have to be -- you know, they don't have to be extended up on any sort of -- there are some rules on -- seems like according to some of the rules on saltwater that -- that do specify.

I think it's for trotline buoys for saltwater, though. There are specific rules that they have to be visible so high above the water; but for all these gears, there's -- there's no such requirement.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Thank you. Any other questions? All right. Thank you very much, Ken.

MR. KURZAWSKI: Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All right. Next up, Mr. Geeslin.

MR. GEESLIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Dakus Geeslin. I work in our Coastal Fisheries Division. Today, I'm going to present our state saltwater fishing regulation recommendations and a summary of the public comments that we gathered for license year 2022, which includes potential regulation changes regarding crab trap fishing in Aransas Bay and a bag limit clarification item for Red snapper. These are the same recommendations we presented to you back in January.

Next slide, please.

As a refresher, our current regulations in Aransas Bay include prohibitions in both commercial and recreational use of crab traps in a currently restricted area. This regulation appears to have been place since the early 1960s. We're not exactly sure of its origins. The current regulation prevents waterfront homeowners and shore-based recreational crabbers from fishing for crabs with crab traps from their docks or piers, and their bulkheads. Just as a reminder, our coast-wide crab-trap regulations include a crab-trap limit of six traps per license for recreational use and restriction that limits the checking of traps during what -- what I like to term as the "legal shooting hours." The same period of day applies for moving traps and crabs from the -- from the traps themselves and that's that area that's the time period from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after the sunset, and they also -- once again, you must use a valid gear tag to a buoy or a pier.

Next slide, please.

This map on the screen here shows the current

restricted crab-trap fishing area indicated in the highlighted orange. This area begins in North at Hail Point, extends a half mile from the shoreline, down around Goose Island, to the towns of Fulton and Rockport and Ninemile Point, before ending near Talley Island.

Next slide, please?

Our intent with the recommendation before you

today is to create more recreational opportunity for crab-trap fishing as long as they're doing it from a shore, a dock or a pier, or a bulkhead, so a stationary object. We don't -- the recreational harvest from the additional opportunity is expected to be rather limited and we -- we don't anticipate this would impact the local crab population in the area.

Additionally, this would not open the -- the

restricted area to commercial crabbing; and there is no loss of opportunity for those commercial crab fishermen because that area is simply -- it's already closed.

Next slide, please

We recommend allowing the recreational use of

up to three crab traps in the currently restricted areas of Aransas Bay. The traps must be securely tethered to a fixed object, such as a dock, a pier, or a bulkhead. And again, this recommendation would not allow open-water traps.

Next slide, please.

The second item and recommendation before you

today relates to the red snapper bag limits. This is strictly a clarification item to reduce confusion amongst our anglers. Federal rule-making based on Amendment 50 of Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Plan for reef fish created state-based management programs for recreational angling.

States such as Texas are authorized to

establish season, bag limits, and size limits for Red snapper harvested from federal and state waters. Texas state waters are open year-round for recreational Red snapper fishing. However, by Federal action, the federal waters are closed until June 1 of each year. The state bag limit is four fish, and the federal bag limit is two fish.

Next slide, please?

The recommendation before you today would

clarify that those Red snapper -- the Red snapper bag limit of two fish caught in federal waters during the period of time when federal waters are open, that two-fish bag counts towards your four-fish bag in your state -- state water -- your state bag limit. I'm sorry.

This will hopefully prevent any confusion

amongst anglers; and we believe they can catch two Red snappers from -- this would prevent confusion amongst anglers who may believe they can catch two Red snappers from federal waters and then come back in and fish those state waters and catch an additional four Red snapper.

Next slide, please?

As part of our statewide stakeholder

engagements and public process, we held a public scoping -- a public scoping meeting in early December; and then in early March, we held a public hearing. Both of those were conducted virtually; and between these two meeting, the Coastal Resource Advisory Committee held a meeting in January. At each of these meetings, we heard support for both recommendations: both the crab-trap fishing in Aransas Bay and the red snapper bag-limit clarification, heard support for both of those items.

We also solicited and received comments through our public comment web portal, e-mail, letters, and through phone calls.

Next slide, please?

Then, I'll give you a summary of the public comments we received. In relation to the Aransas Bay crab-trap recommendation, we received a total of 77 comments. 61 percent of those were in support of the recommendation. Only 8 percent opposed. And some of the concerns we heard were related to the fixed-object limitation, concern over abandoned traps, and a perceived negative impact to other recreational opportunities. As a note, 31 percent of those that came to the public comment portal were neutral on the subject.

Next slide, please?

In relation to the red snapper bag-limit

clarification item, we received 77 comments. 67 percent of those were in support of this recommendation. 19 percent were opposed and some of the concerns we heard were related to a preference for increased bag limits, matching the federal and state bag limits, and increased enforcement. 13 percent of those were neutral on the recommendation.

This concludes my presentation. I'm happy to

answer any questions that you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much. Any questions or comments? Seeing no further questions, I'll place the item on the Thursday Commission meeting agenda for public comment and action.

Moving on to -- Work Session Item No. 6, Statewide -- 2021 Statewide Hunting and Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, Recommended Adoption of Proposed Changes.

Mr. Shawn Gray, Mr. Shaun Oldenburger, and Mr. Alan Cain, please make your presentations.

MR. GRAY: We're waiting on my -- my cover slide. Sorry about that.

Thanks, Andra.

MR. GRAY: For the record, my name's Shawn Gray, I'm the Mule Deer and Pronghorn Program Leader; and tomorrow, I'll be seeking adoption for the proposed pronghorn regulation changes that we proposed back in January.

Okay, Andra. Go ahead. Next slide, please? Thank you.

As I shared with you during previous meetings, the Commission adopted new pronghorn regulations in March of 2013 to allow landowners to determine their own harvest strategy for bucks through an experimental system in the Northern Panhandle.

This was a novel approach when it comes to pronghorn management. As in other areas, we use a limited quota system where permits are issued to landowners. Therefore, these regulations were proposed and adopted as a pilot project.

In March of 2017, the Commission expanded and extended the experimental system for another four years because staff believed that more data were needed over a larger area to better examine the impacts of the experiment. TPWD has conducted this pilot project over the last eight hunting seasons and staff have monitored populations through annual aerial surveys and mandatory harvest gestations. Staff have also used hunter-and-landowner opinion surveys to valuate support for continuing and expanding the experimental system.

Next slide, Andra, please?

Staff believed after the experiment, that data suggested minimal or no decline in pronghorn numbers, sex ratios, average buck age structure and hunter success, then no negative biological impacts would occur if the landowner controls system for bucks.

Next slide.

This map demonstrates current pronghorn herd units in the Northern Panhandle. The herd units in red are where the experimental season was initiated in 2013. The herd units in blue were added to the experiment in 2017. These experimental herd units were near Dalhart in the Northwest Panhandle and Pampa in the Northeast Panhandle. The experimental areas were representative of habitat, landownership, pronghorn population parameters, and permit demand and utilization throughout the Northern Panhandle.

Next slide.

Staff used mandatory check stations located in

Dalhart and Pampa to collect harvest data on the total harvest, age structure and horn growth of harvested bucks. Hunters were required to present their pronghorn at a check station within 24 hours of harvest. Also, annual population surveys occurred in these herd units to acquire population trend, reproduction, and sex-ratio data, which we compare to other similar herd units to help determine effects of the experimental season.

Next slide.

The population estimates for the Dalhart

experimental area and surrounding herd units are shown in this graph. The gray line shows the population estimate for herd units surrounding the Dalhart experimental area, with the left Y axis depicting pronghorn numbers for this line. The yellow line represents years prior to the experiment, and the purple line signifies years during the experiment, with the right Y axis depicting pronghorn numbers for this line.

Next slide.

The trend line for the surrounding area

symbolized by the white lines have a similar trend; however, in the experimental area, the population declined significantly from 2019 to 2020.

Next slide.

Formatted the same as the previous graphs, the

population estimates for the Pampa area are shown in this slide. The gray line signifies the population estimate for the herd unit surrounding the Pampa experimental area with the Y -- with the left Y axis depicting pronghorn numbers for this line. And again, the yellow line designates years prior to the experiment; and the purple line represents years during the experiment, with the right Y axis showing pronghorn numbers in the -- in the Pampa experimental area.

Next slide.

Again, the trend lines for the surrounding

herd units and the Pampa experimental area symbolized by the white lines have a slightly different trend, but are both declining. Similar to Dalhart, the population in the Pampa experimental area decreased more severely from 2019 to 2020 compared to the surrounding herd units.

Next slide.

Staff used population sex ratios as one guide

to harvest intensity. During the experiment, only bucks were harvested. So higher buck harvest rates have the potential to reduce buck numbers within these areas. This higher buck harvest can cause sex ratios to become more skewed toward those. Sex ratios are estimated when staff conduct aerial surveys in June and July of each year.

In 2011 and -- and 2013, average sex ratio

represented by the darker bars was estimated prior to initiating experiment in the Fall of 2013. The lighter bars represent the average sex ratio from 2014 to 2020, which is 7 years after the start of the experiment. In both experimental areas, the sex ratio has increased with a more drastic rise in the Pampa area. The PH category embodies all other herd units in the Northern Panhandle not included in the experiment. TPWD determines harvest quotas and issues buck permits for surplus pronghorn in these areas; therefore, harvest is limited. Because of this system, sex ratios were more stable and natural in these areas during the same timeframe as the experiment.

Next slide.

Age structure of harvested animals can be

another measure of harvest intensity. This graph illustrates the average age of harvested animals in each area, Dalhart and Pampa, as well as other areas in the Panhandle symbolized by PH. The dark bars indicate the average age structure of bucks harvested within each area one year prior to the experiment. The light bars show the average age of bucks harvested during eight years of the pilot project.

Age structure in both experimental areas is

becoming younger with more severity in Dalhart than Pampa. In addition, the average age structure of harvested bucks in both areas in younger than other areas of the Northern Panhandle within the same time period.

Next slide.

In a 2020 opinion survey, staff asked hunters

if given a choice, would they rather hunt for nine days under the experimental season concept or go back to TPWD issuing permits to landowners during the 16-day season, which would extend the current season by one week. Not a majority, but 48 percent of hunters liked continuing the current 9-day season with the experimental concept.

Next slide.

As with hunters in the 2020 opinion survey,

landowners were asked if given choice, would they rather have a 9-day season with the experimental concept, or return to TPWD issuing permits to landowners and extend the current 9-day season to 16 days. The majority of landowners within the experimental area wanted TPWD to issue permits and extend the season to 16 days.

Next slide.

Data indicate that the experimental concept

seemed to have little to no impact on pronghorn population sustainability. However, the intensive buck harvest for eight hunting seasons has had a negative impact on buck age structure and sex ratios within the experimental areas. With impacts to buck age structure and fewer bucks on the landscape, hunter satisfaction is decreasing; but hunters still like the concept.

This is contrasted to landowners whose

satisfaction and support for the experimental concept are declining. When given the option, the majority of landowners prefer a 16-day season with TPWD issuing permits and setting quotas over a 9-day season using the experimental concept.

Next slide.

Since staff have no biological reasons not to

extend the season by one week, and given landowners support for a 16-day season in experimental areas, staff sent out another opinion survey in November of 2020. Staff asked hunters and landowners their opinion on extending the season and used the survey to help determine how the extra week would fit into the current season.

As staff have no substantial biological

justifications on where this extension should occur, either by extending a week before or after the current season started in. Most hunters who have hunted pronghorn before, and landowners, preferred a 16-day season versus a 9-day season.

Next slide.

More hunters preferred starting the current

season a week earlier, while more landowners favored extending the season a week later.

Next slide.

Staff have intensively monitored populations

and propose to cancel the experimental season for bucks in the Northern Panhandle, based upon excessive buck harvest, causing younger buck-age structure and more skewed sex ratios. In addition, the opinion survey showed that landowner and hunter satisfaction has decreased within experimental areas, as well as landowner support for continuing in the current areas or expanding the season to new areas.

Also, when given a choice, the majority of

landowners would rather use that 16-day season with TPWD setting quotas than the 9-day season with the experimental concept. Staff also propose to extend the current season from 9 days to 16 days statewide, since staff issues pronghorn permits to set harvest quotas for each property and that most hunters and landowners in their recent opinion survey liked a 16-day season better than a 9-day season. For the one week extension, staff propose the season be changed to start the Saturday closest to October 1, which is the current opening and continue for 16 consecutive days, based upon the high response rate and opinions of landowners since there are no concrete biological reason on where this extension should occur.

Next slide.

This is my public comment slide. And numbers

have changed slightly but are -- are pretty much similar to -- to the numbers that I have put on on the slide; but the public comments made so far online indicate that 76 percent of the respondents agreed with the statewide hunting proclamation proposal with only 5 percent disagreeing completely. There were 12 germane comments disagreeing with the -- with extending the pronghorn season from 9 days to 16 days; and these commenters were mostly from the Trans-Pecos and believe that 9 days were long enough to hunt pronghorn, the extra week would put too much stress on the animals, and that TPWD does not have biological justification to extend the season.

Next slide.

And with that, I'd -- I would be happy to take

any questions that you might have at this time before we move on to Shaun Oldenburger.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much. Any questions, comments? That was a lot of information. All right. Well, again, thank you for the presentation; and we'll move on to Mr. Oldenburger.

MR. GRAY: Thank y'all.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Good morning, Chairman and fellow Commissioners. For the record, my name is Shaun Oldenburger; and I'll delay a second here for Andra to get up my next slide before continuing on with proposed changes to the Statewide Hunting Proclamation and Migratory Game Bird Proclamations. So tomorrow we'll be going, hopefully, in front of you to seek adoption of these proposed changes if approved.

MS. CLARK: Shaun, you're muted.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Shaun, you're on mute.

MR. OLDENBURGER: Oops, next slide, please? My apologies about that. I'll keep my hands down from now on.

I'm going forward with the recommended Upland Game Bird regulation proposed changes.

Next slide.

First, we'll start with the proposed change; and this is just for a simplification for season dates. This is for plain Chachalacas. We are the only state in the United States that does have a hunting season for these birds. They do start in the Central -- Central American/South America almost two-thirds of the way down to Central America; but their Northern end of the range is pretty much at the Southern tip of Texas and Rio Grande Valley. So we do have a few counties that are open to that hunting season.

Staff propose to change the opening day to align with quail-hunting day. That would be the Saturday nearest November 1st and then moving that to Saturday nearest October 28th. And once again, this is just a clarification or just a simplification of regulations to -- to have those things aligned.

Next slide, please?

And I'll just use this in front of you, the 2022 and the 2023 hunting calendars as an example. The current regulations, you can see there in green of the 2022 calendar, where the proposed opening day would be on October 29th and then in 2023 with the proposed change, it would be November 4th. And so in both those years, opening of quail would be October 29th in 2022 and then October 28th in 2023. And so this is, just once again, simplification of regulations. That would align quail and Chachalaca in the Outdoor Annual and make those seasons align for simplification. We generally don't have many Chachalaca hunters on our wildlife management areas and private lands in the lower Rio Grande Valley; but for the most part, this would just make simplifications moving forward.

Next slide, please?

We'll move on to the next proposed change with wild turkeys. We -- staff proposed to close the Spring, Eastern turkey season in Panola County. It has met the decision variables for closure as we have done in past closure counties. On average, less than one bird has been harvested over the past three spring seasons. Also, fewer than 50,000 contiguous acres are occupied by wild turkeys in this county, based on TPWD occupancy surveys.

Next slide, please?

This graph here dictates -- shows basically, the harvest over the last 20 years in Panola County. This -- these counties are actually mandatory reporting. So we do have good harvest data in these counties. You can see there in the early 2000s, we had, you know, 14, 8, 12, 10 birds harvested per year. We generally consider harvest in these counties to be fairly linear with population size. And so when you see this decline -- precipitous decline over time over the last 20 years, it'd probably be a good indication of populations of wild turkeys in this county have declined at the same time. You can see there in 2018 and 2019, we did not have any harvest in this county at all. That did bump up to 20 in 2020 with a couple of birds; but for the most part, it's very marginal harvest in this county.

So once again, staff propose to close the Spring-Eastern turkey season in Panola County.

Next slide, please?

Moving on to another proposed change for wild turkeys, we propose to have mandatory reporting in our -- what we call our "One western gobbler" counties. You see the map in front of you and on the slide? Those there along the Red River and then along Louisiana, those are eastern turkey counties. Those clumps in south central counties in the darker gray, those are the counties we're discussing.

We fairly, have fairly limited harvest and it's very difficult for us to make decisions with regards to where we should -- we should actually liberalize or -- or actually, do the opposite with hunting -- hunting opportunities in these counties. Currently, the season is April 1st to April 30th; and they only have Spring seasons. They do not have Fall seasons. So basically, when I look at this, one of those counties would be Bastrop County on the north end. They do have very good turkey habitats in portions of Bastrop County; but even with our small-game harvest survey that we have that we send out to about 25,000 people annually to estimate our harvest across the state with those species, you know, we're lucky if we get a response once every three or four years with regards to harvest in Bastrop County.

So that is estimated in -- in -- those estimates tend to be way off and doesn't have high confidence variables. So limited accuracy and limited precision. So this would actually improve that and help the Department make decisions moving forward. We do have support for Wildlife Management Associations in these areas and Wildlife Cooperatives in the respective counties. In most counties in this area, have actually recently transitioned to mandatory reporting for our doe days for White-tailed deer, and that occurred this last season; and there you can see the list of counties impacted.

Next slide, please?

Moving on to the final proposed change for wild turkeys, this once again, is a simplification of seasons, dates; and you can see here the north-and-south-turkey-zone boundary to make it consistent along Highway 90 and that would be across Spring and Fall seasons; and this was a Commission request a few years ago. And once again, we just have this along, following Highway 90; and I have a few maps here in the next few sides.

Next slide, please, Andra?

Here you can see the Fall zones across the state with regards to taking wild turkeys. You can see the ones there in green. It's what we call the north zone counties, and the ones in yellow being the south zone counties.

Next slide, please?

And this proposal would actually move some of those counties you see outlined. There are portions them in Gonzales, Wilson, Karnes, Goliad, and Bexar. That would actually move those to the north zone and actually would -- would actually open a little more hunting opportunity for them in the Fall with the addition of two weeks.

Next slide, please?

And here you actually have the current Spring zones. And you can see there in the green. Those are the North zones. Once again, in yellow, those are the current South zones.

Next slide, please?

And that would move basically those outlined counties in front of you from the South zone to the North zone. That would delay opening of Spring turkey by a couple weeks; but biologically, this actually aligns with information the Department and researchers collected in '80s and '90s. This would actually allow a lot of hens to be sitting on nests prior to the opening of hunting season. And this is consistent with recent regulation changes we've done with our Eastern Spring turkey counties, as well, to make sure those Toms get out there and breed those females and those females have an opportunity to nest before harvest opportunity occurs. And this actually would impact a portion or total of 26 counties with movement from North to South or South to North.

All right. Next slide, please.

Moving onto the final proposal that we have and the small-game program with the Statewide Hunting Proclamation. This is a proposal for squirrel hunting, and this would extend hunting opportunity in our closed counties. We currently have 46 closed counties in the state of Texas in regards to squirrel hunting. That's not a biological meaning, by any means. You can see two maps in front of you. And this is actually citizen-science data that's been collected through iNaturalist application that's been mentioned prior. You can see there on the right map, those are actually iNaturalist locations with regards to fox squirrels. And there on the left is an iNaturalist map with regards to gray squirrel locations in the state.

You can actually see in both -- both instances, we do have squirrel populations in both the Panhandle and Trans-Pecos. In fact, we do have gray squirrels in the Lubbock and -- and surrounding counties, Lubbock area, and that was -- those -- those species are actually far away from where they naturally do occur. So we've actually seen a range expansion of squirrels in the state. That would actually be consistent with what we've seen across the United States with regards to these two species, as well. A lot of these species have moved farther west -- from east to west -- across many states; and expansion has occurred.

So once again, we're just going to remove that regulation and that closure on those 46 counties; and it does allow limited opportunity for squirrels in some areas where there is currently populations and small areas of habitat.

Next slide, please?

And -- and generally, looking across the state, you know, most of our squirrel harvest does occur in the Pineywoods and kind of what I would call those east zone counties; but we do have limited harvest that does occur in some other counties. In Edwards Plateau, you can see that there's a chunk, as well; but even moving farther North into the Rolling Plains -- and you can actually see some harvest in those counties, as well. And so once again, we don't -- this is not a biological concern. Once again, just a simplification of regulations and allow a limited amount of opportunity where populations may have expanded to in the last 20 to 30 years.

Next slide, please?

With regards to the Statewide Hunting Proclamation and public comments, we had pretty much very limited comments with regards to what the proposed changes in front of you earlier were. We did have one person that recommended the -- the north/south boundary change should have occurred years ago; and we did get a couple of e-mail public comments regarding supporting of opening squirrel hunting in closed counties.

Next slide, please?

Next, we're going to transition into the '21, '22 Migratory Game Bird Proclamations with staff-proposed changes.

Next slide, Andra?

So in January Commission meeting, I did present some other additional slides to you that there was limited monitoring with regards to migratory game bird seasons last year due to COVID. And due to Fish and Wildlife Service unable to get to Canada to fly those surveys. They're still pending for this year. So we may be in the same boat we were last year; but they were able -- Fish and Wildlife Service was able to run some new models with predicting where population size would be to allow us to have hunting seasons and migratory game-bird seasons this next hunting season. And so therefore, there are no federal framework changes proposed; and so season lengths and daily bag limits would be maintained by the Department, as well, as proposed. Now, calendar progression for season dates for all migratory game birds.

Next slide, Andra.

We pretty much only have one proposed change to the migratory game-bird seasons for this next hunting season; and we didn't make a request this last Fall to the Service Regulations Committee of the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow us two extra days during the special white-wing dove days in the south zone and you can see a map in front of you there and now those special white-wing hunting opportunities actually occurred across all the south zones. That was a regulation change that we were allowed to do a couple years ago. This area has actually expanded in scope a number of times over the last eight years and once -- and currently, it's a 4-day opportunity before the regular season and afternoon-only hunting for white -- for white-winged doves.

Next slide, please?

And based on small-game surveys, what we've seen through time from the mid -- mid to late '90s, we've actually seen harvest increase substantially, white-winged dove harvest. That population has done very well in the last 20 years. It's expanded across the state. It's expanded farther north in Texas. Traditionally, this was pretty much a Lower Rio Grande Valley species, as well; but as we continue to expand, populations continue to grow, continue to colonize new cities and towns, even in South Texas recently.

And so population harvest has gone from, you know, under a hundred thousand birds for a 4-day season to the 19 -- 2019 season, we actually harvested over 500,000 white-winged doves during this special 4-day opportunity. And so expanding a couple more days once again, with a lot more harvest opportunity, allows folks to get out a little bit more, as well. In this last year, we actually had more participation in this season than we've ever had historically. So this continues to be a very popular hunting season in early September in the South zone.

Next slide, please?

As far as the Department's proposal, where we would have put those additional two days, you can see the map in front of you, as proposed for the next hunting season, with gray being the regular season. And once again, just a reminder to Commissioners, we cannot open this season any earlier than September 14th by Federal frameworks. And so that's where we would propose, once again, to open it up; but looking at those four days, traditional four days, where we would put them would be September 4th, 5th, the 11th and 12th. You can see in yellow. And the additional two days, as proposed, would be in orange, would be the Fridays before those two days -- those weekends. So that would be September 3rd and September 10th as proposed.

Next slide, please?

As far as public comment on the Migratory Game Bird Proclamation, this is going to be updated a little bit this morning at 8:30. We did see -- get 27 people respond online. 22 were in complete agreement. So that's 82 percent. Those folks that did disagree had some specific things they put down and that was a total of five commenters.

Next slide, please?

And nearly all of the disagree specifically were on the south zone duck season opener. That was the primary concern from some public comment. There were some folks that wanted to open it earlier. Some folks wanted to open it with deer season. One person wanted to eliminate the split. One person wanted to open it later. So you can that personal preference is all over the place in the South zone.

And with ducks, we did have some other suggestions, but they were outside of Federal frameworks or WMA regulations. For instance, folks want to hunt in February. That's not allowed underneath current Federal frameworks.

Next slide, please?

So with that, I'll be happy to take any questions you may have before Mr. Alan Cain presents.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I have a question. Would you go back -- go back to the calendar? You added two days in special white-wing season. What -- then you have to take two days off of the south zone? What days -- did you add?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Mr. Chairman, that's correct. And --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: What days -- what days -- did you take off?

MR. OLDENBURGER: We took those off the back end of the season basically. So -- so -- so basically, with calendar progression, the split is basically the same; and the opening in December with the second season, as they have seen, we took those two days off the season because towards the end in that second segment, that's where we see our least amount of hunters. And obviously, towards you get to the end of that second segment and that's really where you you see your least amount of hunters on the landscape hunting.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: So you took January 22nd and 23rd?

MR. OLDENBURGER: That's correct.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Thank you.

Any other questions?

And that is -- that is the entire south zone, correct?

MR. OLDENBURGER: Yes. That is entirely the south zone and a couple of years ago, we were able to do -- make that change with Fish and Wildlife Service approval. So yes, it is the entire south zone, yeah.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. Okay. Any other comments or questions?

With that, we will move on to Mr. Alan Cain. Please make your presentation.

MR. CAIN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Alan Cain, White-tailed Deer Program Leader; and this morning I'll be reviewing several proposals statewide big game harvest regulation, and hopefully seeking adoption of those proposals tomorrow. So it looks like Andra's got my slides up.

Next slide, please, Andra?

So the first change being proposed is a minor

housekeeping change to include crossbows in the definition of "lawful archery equipment." The current definition of lawful archery equipment includes compound bows, longbows, and recurve bows. However, in the archery section under "lawful means" in Chapter 6511 of the Texas Administrative Code, the regulation refers to lawful archery equipment and crossbows, rather than a single reference to all legal archery equipment. This oversight was simply an artifact left over from the time when crossbows were added as lawful means of take but never included in the definition of what lawful archery equipment was.

Next -- next, please, Andra?

In order to simplify the regulations and

provide some clarity as it relates to all lawful archery equipment, staff are proposing to include crossbows in the definition of "lawful archery equipment."

Next slide, please?

The next change being proposed is a

modification of the definition of a muzzleloader. The current definition in Chapter 65 of the Texas Administrative Code defines a muzzleloader as any firearm loaded through the muzzle. This definition is ambiguous regarding what must be loaded through the muzzle, whether that only be the bullet, or projectile; or would it require the powder be loaded into the muzzle, as well?

It's lacking clarity in the regulation. It

leads to questions from hunters and others as to what is considered a legal muzzleloader in Texas, especially with changes and enhancement to muzzleloader technology the last several years.

Next slide, please?

Before discussing the proposed change, the

definition, I want to take a few minutes to discuss the key distinctions of -- of the muzzleloader as compared to, say, a center-fire rifle. One of the primary differences is -- is that muzzleloaders use black -- black powder or some sort of synthetic substitute, whereas center-fire rifles use a smokeless powder. Additionally, ammunition for a muzzleloader, there are separate components. And it includes, like, a powder, primer, and a bullet; and each of those components must be loaded separately with at least the bullet being loaded through the muzzle. And you can see on the slide in the lower left there, you've got powder, whether it can be loose powder or pelleted powder or powder-enclosed in the plastic capsule, which we'll talk about in a minute and the primers. All that stuff is separately.

On the other hand, center-file rifle

ammunition is composed of a single cartridge that contains the primer, the powder, the bullet, in that brass casing; and that entire cartridge is loaded in through the breech of the center-fire rifle.

Next slide, please?

Muzzleloading firearms has changed

significantly through the years from Flintlock and Percussion. Muzzleloaders -- which some muzzleloader enthusiasts would consider the more traditional or antique-style muzzleloaders, as illustrated in the top two photos there. And today we have more modern inline or inline break-action muzzleloaders in use today.

We continue to see changes in technology, not

only with the muzzleloading firearms themselves, but with the ammunition and powder used with muzzleloaders. That's the clarification. The definitions is necessary to ensure the Department is keeping up with advancements in its technology, yet remaining true to the function of what a muzzleloader is.

Next slide, please?

Staff are proposing to amend the definition to

clarify that the bullet, or projectile, can only be loaded through the muzzle. Amending the definition would remove any uncertainty for hunters, firearm manufactures, and even our law enforcement as to what's legal and not legal in Texas with regards to muzzleloaders.

This proposal that staff is considering -- or

bringing to the Commission to consider was, in part, prompted by requests from Federal Premium Firearms. This past summer they brought it up -- brought up a request or needed some clarification whether the new muzzleloading system they have called a "FireStick" was legal under our current muzzleloader definitions. And since that request from Federal, we've had several other requests from hunters and others in the state asking whether the -- this new technology, this fire-stick system, is a legal muzzleloader, as defined by the Department.

Next slide, please?

This new FireStick technology that we're

talking about uses a polymer-coated capsule to enclose the powder. So it's essentially, a premeasured, self-contained powder charge. It's basically taking those little pellets that you saw on the previous slide and putting those in a plastic capsule.

Next slide, please?

This technology allows for loading of the

powder charge into the breech, as illustrated in the photo; and then the primer is placed into the end of the capsule.


The bullet, or projectile, must still be

loaded through the muzzle; and it's seated against the shelf and the barrel, as illustrated in the photo on the bottom. So then that polymer charge, the powder capsule, dimensions in the shelf of the barrel of that firearm that uses this technology, prevent the use of center-fire or shotgun cartridges being placed or fired through there.

Additionally, muzzleloading rifles that use

the fire-stick technology feature a recessed firing pen that's designed to only strike the FireStick or that red capsule with the powder. And it's not designed to fire any center-fire or shotgun cartridges accidentally or intentionally if they're inserted into the firearm.

After review of this technology, staff believe

this meets the standards for a muzzleloader; but clarification is necessary to remove any uncertainty as to the legality of such technology. Keep in mind, if we don't clarify our current regulation, it leaves room for interpretation by the hunters and the public, potentially leading hunters to unknowingly violate regulations if the Department were to decide the FireStick and traditional muzzleloader which uses this technology does not consider muzzleloader or -- by our standards and definitions.

Staff believe the system still meets the

definition of -- and function of what a muzzleloader is because the projectile, or bullet, is loaded through the muzzle. And just something to keep in mind: If you do a quick search on the Internet in popular sporting good or -- or outdoor stores that may sell muzzleloaders, you'll see the traditions firearm that uses this fire-stick technology advertises as a muzzleloader.

So this leaves some -- some questions among

hunters. If they go into a local store and buy one of these, and then -- thinking it's legal and then find out it's not, then that could create some issues. So we definitely need to find some clarity around this definition.

Next slide, please?

Texas is not alone in the review of this

technology. The photos on the slide depict where the FireStick is already legal. Those are the 15 states in green; and actually, I'll note that Missouri just adopted regulations making the FireStick legal during their muzzleloader season. And those reviewing regulations to create some clarification around the FireStick or make it legal, those are the ones in tan. There's 23 of those states; and it now includes Florida, Alabama, and Wisconsin, all in the process of reviewing their current muzzleloader definitions. And then other states such as Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia are all still in that process. And then the states in white, it's unclear whether those states are investigating or amending their definitions regarding this new technology.

Next slide, please?

The next change being proposed involves the

trailing of wounded deer with dogs in ten East Texas counties. In the 1990s this Commission adopted rules prohibiting the use of dogs to trail wounded deer in 34 East Texas counties, those in green here. And that change was necessary because dogs were being unlawfully used to hunt deer, which was causing depletion of the resource. In the '80s and '90s, dog hunting was pretty pervasive in these counties. And so we needed to -- to have this prohibition in place. And by -- by the year of 2000 --

Next, please, Andra?

-- the Department determined the practice of

using dogs to hunt deer had declined to the point of being nonexistent in some of those counties. And so we removed the prohibition in ten of those counties that are in that red color; and then in 2005, we lifted the prohibition in Hunt and Washington Counties. And in 2013, we removed to prohibition in 12 additional counties, those in purple.

And so the only -- the ten counties in green

were left with the prohibition in place; but that dog-hunting culture that was pervasive in the '80s and '90s is no longer a concern, and it's not problematic. And it's largely died out over the last 30 years or so.

Next slide, please?

Over the last several years, staff, both law enforcement and Wildlife Division staff, continued to receive requests to allow the use of dogs to recover wounded deer in these counties. And after further review, staff no longer consider illegal dog hunting to be an issue or a resource concern. In the last ten years there's been three incidents statewide with a total of eight charges for hunting deer with dogs; and only one of those incidences occurred in this group of counties and San Augustine County and the other two charges were in Duval and Grayson counties.

Staff believe it would be appropriate to propose removing the prohibition in trailing wounded deer with dogs in these remaining ten counties. So staff are proposing to completely remove the prohibition in six counties, those in between green, which include Angelina, Hardin, Nacogdoches, Orange, Shelby, and Tyler counties. And the four main counties in that yellow color -- Jasper, Newton, Sabine, and San Augustine -- staff are proposing to allow the trailing of wounded deer with no more than two dogs on a leash.

All staff believe the prohibition could be lifted in all ten counties. There's been some comments from hunters and landowners in those four counties to limit the trailing of wounded deer to no more than two dogs on a leash. Out of concern for potential resurgence of dog hunting, we intend to address some this public concern. Staff believe the best approach would be to make a gradual change in the remaining four remaining counties by allowing dogs to trail wounded deer on a leash so the dog handler has control and then come back and revisit this complete removal of that prohibition as remaining for four counties at a later date.

Next slide, please?

Like Shaun Oldenburger and Shawn Gray have indicated, we received some -- more public comments that I've just checked a little while ago. Up to 176 public comments via the Department's website; and approximately 76 percent of those comments -- or commenters support the -- all of the statewide proposals we're talking about. 24 percent disagree with those proposals -- or disagree on a specific item.

I think Shaun mentioned this -- Shaun Oldenburger -- but we did hold a public hearing on last Tuesday, on the 16th, via Zoom; and we had 38 participants with that. Of those 176 public comments, we received 68 written comments on various topics there.

Next please, Andra?

And I -- and I'll touch just on the -- those that disagreed with the use of dogs to trail wounded deer. There was concerns that dog hunting would be a resurgence, or they were concerned about trespassing issues across property boundaries; but that already occurs with hog dogs or coonhounds, things like that. There was one person that wanted dogs in all counties across the state to be on a leash; and then another individual commented that he liked the prohibition to be removed and allow up to three dogs to recover deer and remove the leash restriction in those other four counties.

Next, please?

With regards to muzzleloaders and crossbows, most of the written comments were favorable to the proposal that -- we had one comment recommend that muzzleloaders be defined as using any firearm using only black powder, rather than smokeless powder and not considered loading through the muzzle. One commenter suggest that muzzleloaders be restricted to a more traditional style, a flint lock or percussion. We did have several comments that specifically supported the FireStick technology and they cited gun safety and ease of use, especially when it comes to unloading muzzleloaders.

And I will note that I did receive an e-mail from John Zenell, again with the -- he's the conservation and youth shooting sports program manager for Federal Premium, CCI, and Remington Ammunition and they're in support of the definition change for muzzleloaders, as well.

With regards to crossbows, the -- those comments that were are provided that were in disagreement with the proposed definition change, they were not supportive of crossbows being used in an archery season at all. They were more traditionalist when it came to what archery equipment should be; but it was really not germane to the proposal since crossbows are already legal in the state during archery season. And we were just talking about a -- a cleanup of the language. So that concludes my portion of the statewide big game hunting proposals, and I'll be happy to answer any questions.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: I guess I have one question. This is Commissioner Patton. I -- I get it with the -- you know, we have -- I'm familiar, I guess, with archery season and people think crossbows may not be archery equipment; but they are. And I -- I guess I just don't know. Do we actually have a muzzleloader season or primitive-arms-only hunting areas in the state?

MR. CAIN: So we do have a muzzleloader season, and I don't remember the exact number of counties. It's about a 120 or so, 117. It generally aligns with the counties that have antler restrictions on them. And it runs -- it's a 2-week season at the end of the regular season -- and it runs concurrent with the special late season or basically doe and spike season in some counties and then you have muzzleloader season in other counties; but it's at the end of the general season in January.

COMMISSIONER PATTON: Okay. So they don't really get -- like, I associate archery often with getting an early start; but that's not really the case with any muzzleloader?

MR. CAIN: That's correct. Archery does obviously start early, gives them an advantage; but muzzleloader, it's just -- what does is allows folks in those counties where we have a muzzleloader season to hunt bucks -- branched angler bucks and basically, and does with a little bit longer timeframe but with the use of the muzzleloader. And, in fact, if you look at our big-game harvest surveys I think estimated harvest is .65 percent is done with the muzzleloaders. So there's really not a huge impact or -- and I think there's only 2.84 percent of the deer hunters based on the big game harvest survey, estimated to use muzzleloaders and it doesn't specify whether it's during muzzleloader season or if it's during the general season when they can use, you know, use a muzzleloader -- so, you know, very small percentage of folk.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Anybody else? Commissioner Bell?


MS. CLARK: Commissioner Bell, excuse me, I think your mic is muted.


MR. CAIN: Yeah, we're still not getting a -- I can't hear anything.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Standby, Alan. We're going to fix a microphone issue here.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Are you here? Can you hear me now? Okay. Thank you. I'm sorted out. You have to be smarter than the equipment. Obviously, I failed on the mission on this one.

The -- the -- the question -- just on the definition of muzzleloader, it seemed that you said everything had to be loaded through the muzzle. So with the new technology, part of that was loaded through the breech, I think. So is the definition accounting for that? Will the revised definition account for that, or did I misunderstand?

MR. CAIN: No. So the new definition will clarify that the only part that needs to be loaded through the muzzle is the -- the bullet, or projectile, itself. And so it allows some flexibility with this new technology, like, the powder basically to be loaded through the breech. In the inline -- they're currently legal, but inline will break open -- the inline, right now, you still have to put a primer in -- basically, in the -- in the breech there where there's a breech plug in the -- the current equipment. So there's just -- the current definition provides clarity.

So if we do have this technology where we'd allow somebody to load powder in a different method other than through the muzzle, it -- it handles that. And really, we're just clarifying that the bullet, itself, has to be loaded through the muzzle. There's no exceptions for that. So -- which makes it completely different from center-fire rifles. And still I think carries on with that -- the -- what we -- you know, what everybody believes the muzzleloader to function as, as loading something through the muzzle, being the bullet.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Okay. That squares me away then. I -- I understand now. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I guess I may be the only one that's troubled by this; but, Alan, to me the -- the purpose of having the muzzleloader season was so that people could use additional means, a historical means, not giving anybody an advantage; but giving them an opportunity to be out with antique arms. And here we have a breech-loading gun that we're supposed to declare as a muzzleloader. I think the definition ought to be everything but the cap should be go -- should go down the barrel. And if it's a -- if you can break it at the breech, it's breech loader. That's my definition. I mean, where does this end? I don't think the purpose was to end up with a modern, quote, muzzleloader that is the equivalent of a -- almost to the center fire. That just wasn't the purpose of this originally.

MR. CAIN: Well, --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Am I the only one that is troubled by this --


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: -- definition?

COMMISSIONER ABELL: -- I just -- I'd like to comment on that, too. This is Commissioner Abell. As the -- as the technology in muzzleloaders gets better and better, they become just as effective as a center-fire rifle at least to, you know, a hundred to 200 hundred yards, then I think that it's just a loophole and I think -- I'd go one step further and just say if we're only considering a hundred counties and an extension of a couple of weeks of the season, I think we're wasting a whole lot of manpower and hours in -- in trying to come up with definitions and we ought to just -- it ought to fall in line with the rifle season. I -- I -- that's my personal opinion. I have no problem with the -- with the -- the archery season, you know, getting an advantage; but maybe it would just be easier to say any form of -- any form of gun is a gun.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: That's one way to look at it; but -- I'm sorry. The definition, did it say -- Alan, did it say it had to be black powder or smokeless powder?

MR. CAIN: It -- it doesn't define it by powder, by definition anyway just -- I mean, muzzleloaders have to use black powder. It's just what they use. They don't use smokeless powder. And so you could define muzzleloaders in lots of different ways. And I think the function, as long as some component isn't loaded through there in -- I mean, we're certain whatever direction the -- the Commission wants to go with this, with regards to -- you know, we have some of these old, antique-style that you've mentioned whether it's flint lock or percussion, something like that; but some of these -- if you haven't seen them -- some of these more modern inline or break-open inline muzzleloaders, they look like a rifle. Put a scope on them. They shoot a 150, 200 yards pretty easily. And so...

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I've seen them. I just haven't seen one that opens up at the breech where you could put what looks like two 410 shells in.

MR. CAIN: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: This is Commissioner Latimer. I know in the past, we changed the rules on airguns to define them; but we had studies to show the lethality of -- at different yardages and distances. So you knew that you were going to potentially kill the -- make the -- kill with the shot and not have a lot of wounded game. Have there been any studies with these types of weapons to -- to determine that same sort of thing?

MR. CAIN: I suspect there's probably been some research on muzzleloader lethality, different distances. I'm not aware of any; but keep in mind, muzzleloaders, even if we didn't consider this FireStick technology and this baseless powder capsule definition, there's still these inline and break-open inline muzzleloaders that have today that are legal, currently in the muzzleloader season we have today that shoot 200 yards and quite effective. It -- it'd be lethal at those distances. And this -- the new traditions in muzzleloaders and this FireStick, really it's -- it's the similar -- very similar to these break-open inline muzzleloaders that are legal today. It's just the powder is loaded through the breech.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I don't agree that it's similar. I -- I -- if -- if you put the cap in at the breech. That's not, to me, equivalent of loading a -- the powder charge. I think that's a whole different step.

MR. CAIN: Yeah, I guess I should clarify. They're similar in what they look like, the lethality at the distances we're talking about, you know, that they shoot black powder -- or they use black powder -- but to your point, you know, how -- at what part -- how that powder is loaded is definitely different.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. Anybody have any solutions or suggestions?

COMMISSIONER APLIN: I don't have a solution, Mr. Chairman, but -- I mean, I understand what you're saying. It's a -- it's a muzzleloader and you'd like --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: It's ought to be a muzzleloader.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: -- it ought to be loaded through the muzzle. It -- it -- and I understand the recommendations of the definition. I think one of my biggest problems is the unsuspecting soul that goes to the sporting-goods store and gets sold what they call as a muzzleloader. And it doesn't pass our definition, I -- I agree with your logic on the definition. So I have a -- I'm challenged with that. You go to the sporting-goods store; and they say, "Look at this great muzzleloader," and you buy it and you go hunting. And I -- I -- don't know how to deal with that.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I think these people -- the ones I've known, and I don't -- only know two; but they're -- they're up to speed on what the rules are and they do it because they -- it's a challenge and they're -- they like -- they have to use old equipment; but I'd like to see the definition include the -- all the components except the cap, which is the detonator, go down the barrel; and that's the definition of a muzzleloader. If it's -- any component goes through the breech, it's a breechloader. Did I just make my own motion?

Carter, you want to throw your hat into this?

MR. SMITH: No, I don't think so, Chairman. Thank you though.


COMMISSIONER APLIN: Can he even make his own motion? I don't know.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I don't think I can.

MR. CAIN: Chairmen, can I -- may I suggest maybe if you want to alter the definition, then maybe state that it -- the -- the powder and the bullet, or projectile, be loaded through the muzzle; and that way, those are the two primary components that I think you want to have loaded through the muzzle. And that way we don't have to worry about the primer, the ignition source. I think that addresses it if you add the word powder back into that definition we're proposing.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I think that solves the problem with for me. And it's not really --

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well, Reed, I've got just a simple comment about all of this. What about all the people that have already -- this is Dick Scott -- what about all the people that have been buying these muzzleloaders and have got all this stuff now? Does that just mean that -- that they no longer have one then, right? They just got a rifle?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: And these are -- this is fairly new -- the FireStick is a fairly new --


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I don't think there are a lot of people that have already rushed out and bought it.

MR. SMITH: But I think to that point, I mean, Alan, right now, somebody who has purchased that rifle, they could use it lawfully during the general rifle season, could they not?

MR. CAIN: Yeah. I think -- like the Vice-Chairman pointed out, the only concern would be moving forward is that people that don't pay attention to regulations. They just know there's a muzzleloader season and they go down to the store and purchase one of these and go, "Oh, I got a muzzleloader," because it's advertised like that but that's -- I mean, people are just going to have to know the rules.

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. Just -- I think there's another way of looking at this. It's kind of like the argument they have over milk. Some people say, "If it's not dairy, it's not milk." You know, you have -- you have the other kinds of milk, like, people say, almond milk, dairy farmers will tell you it's not milk. Maybe we just in this case say to someone, "Just because you call it a muzzleloader doesn't make it a muzzleloader."


COMMISSIONER BELL: I mean, it's -- that's someone who's trying to maybe take advantage of the definition. I'm not -- I'm not strong in the opinion either way; but it is -- if we go with the current definition, then it's simply, "This is not a muzzleloader in Texas." Period. And -- or we change the definition so that it is.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: This is Commissioner -- this is Commissioner Latimer, and I would recommend possibly if people are using these new types and maybe you leave the definition; but is it really going to effect a lot of people, or do we have any comments that if you just didn't have a muzzleloader season that they just use their muzzleloaders during the regular season, is that more problematic or less?

MR. CAIN: Wow. So, I don't know -- so I guess to respond to the question, if we do away with the muzzleloader season, I'm sure there's some individuals that are going to use a muzzleloader during that general season. And I suspect we would hear some complaints from -- although it's a very small percentage of the licensed hunters out there that hunt with muzzleloader for deer during that special muzzleloader season.

I mean, I think big game harvest surveys only indicated about 22,000 hunters would use a muzzleloader. So it's not a significant impact on the resource. And so really it's up to the Commission regarding the definition. Whatever y'all decide is the -- the best direction for this.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: This is Commissioner Abell again. I -- I'm certainly not challenging that there would be some pushback on it. I'm -- I'm sure that there would; but in the spirit of being sporting, then I would argue that it's -- it's -- it would be far more challenging to shoot a deer with an open-sight 30.30 than it would be one of these, you know, modern muzzleloaders with a -- with a scope on it that's good out to 200 yards.

So and it -- it -- if the whole point is protecting the resource, then I think classifying a gun as a gun would be the easier way to go.

MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman, for the record this is Clayton Wolf. Just -- just to clarify, I visited with James; but if there's a notion of doing away with the muzzleloader season, that -- that likely, is not a logical outgrowth from this proposal that we published with the Texas Register but -- but -- but -- we would have -- we would have to consider that at a subsequent meeting if that's the direction.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah. That's right. That's a separate discussion.

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Clayton, I think that's -- I think that's good advice. I'm a little uncomfortable because there's new technology with the casing that we're talking about removing the antique, old-school, kind of go hunt with the -- you know, with the muzzleloader -- because new technologies come in and we can't decide what to do -- and I feel a little not comfortable with the people that embrace muzzleloading hunting old-school muzzle-load season. For me, I would personally rather just say, "muzzleloader, everything has to be loaded through the muzzle, the powder, the bullet." And then I would take away that opportunity for the -- for the people that it -- that that's important to. They don't get a lot of -- shoot a lot of deer; but it's a -- I think it's an important part --


COMMISSIONER APLIN: -- for them. And I hate Federal's new technology means no one can have -- lose a muzzleloading season personally. So I -- I can make a --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Will you make the motion?

COMMISSIONER APLIN: I'll make the motion and the Commission, and everybody do whatever they think.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: The shot and the powder goes down --

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Yes. So I make a motion that the definition for muzzleloader --

Alan, help me if I mess this up --

But that the definition is that the -- the powder and the projectile, or the bullet, both have to be loaded through the muzzle. And that would be the definition of a muzzleloader. And through the -- the breech, you can then load the cap or the primer or whatever the igniter source is, would be my motion.

MR. CAIN: And I -- I think that's good. I think maybe if we just stick with the powder and the bullet --

COMMISSIONER APLIN: Yeah. Well, I make the motion that the definition of a muzzleloader is "the powder and the bullet must be loaded through the muzzle."

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Do I have a second?


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Commissioner Bell?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: All in favor, say, "aye."

(Chorus of ayes)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Is there anyone opposed? Do I need to read the roll call again?

MR. SMITH: No, no. I think what you're doing is -- is changing the proposal for tomorrow, for which it will be voted on tomorrow as part of the statewide. And so we now have direction from y'all as to --


MR. SMITH: -- how to clarify the definition of a muzzleloader. And so we've got that clarification.

Alan, are you --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Got you. Thank you.

MR. SMITH: Alan, are you good? Because we will do whatever y'all want to do.

MR. CAIN: Yep.

MR. SMITH: Okay.

MR. CAIN: So we'll make that change tomorrow.

MR. SMITH: Make that change tomorrow.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Got it. Thanks. Okay. Thank you very much.

Going to work item -- Work Session Item No. 7, Commercially Protected Finfish Rules, Texas Register, Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register.

Mr. Jarret Barker, please make your presentation.

MR. BARKER: Good morning, everybody, Mr. Chairman, Commission Members. Y'all can hear me? I'm coming through? Okay. Once again, for the record my name is Jarret Barker. I'm the Assistant Commander for Fisheries Enforcement in the Law Enforcement Division.

Recently, the Agency received a letter from the Texas Aquaculture Association to fully repeal the -- the text within Chapter 57, Subchapter D that involves commercially protected finfish invoices. Staff felt a full repeal was not warranted; however, the request did prompt staff to evaluate the current Commission rules and balance resource protection against industry regulation. The following presentation should demonstrate how rules were -- these rules were once an important piece of regulation instrumental in protecting two saltwater species of fish.

Next slide.

In 1981, the 67th Legislature debated House Bill 1000 and passed legislation that ended the commercial harvest of Spotted sea trout and Red drum. Prior to the passage of that bill, it was legal to harvest Red drum and Spotted sea trout from the Texas Coast for commercial purposes. There was really no -- there was no need to distinguish what was wild-caught versus what was grown in an aquaculture facility. And at this time, aquaculture facilities were licensed and regulated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code and the Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Next slide.

With the passage of House Bill 100 [sic] and the creation of Chapter 66 -- or Section 66.201, that ended the commercial catch of Red drum and Spotted sea trout. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission was authorized to set up the framework to track the imports of these fish, as well as the sales of the fish by the aquaculture community.

Next slide.

The two sections that covered these sales were Sections 57.361 through 367. That encompassed the invoicing and regulations for fish-farm sales, and Chapter 57.371 through 375 established the specific invoicing requirements for those fish that were imported by the holder of an import finfish license.

Next slide.

In 1989, Chapter 48 of the Parks and Wildlife Code was renumbered to the Texas Agriculture Code -- Aquaculture was moved from the Parks and Wildlife Code and the authority of the Commission over to TDA.

Next slide.

Following that, the following Legislative Session in 1991, resulted in a full repeal of Chapter 66201; but it added Parks and Wildlife 66.020. The addition of this addition was to create greater clarity in the removal and the -- of the -- the Aquaculture Association and placement of them over into TDA authority; but it also added additional finfish species to the protected -- to the protected finfish list. During that same House Bill, it added Sections 47.0181 through 183; and those covered invoicing requirements for all the aquatic products that are harvested, wild-caught products that are harvested on the Texas coast: shrimp, oysters, other species of fish. Prior to this passage, the only two species of fish that really required any invoicing were Spotted sea trout and Red drum.

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In 1994 of -- the Texas Administrative Code was further amended to remove the reporting requirement for retail fish dealers and restaurants who would handle these aquatic products, the Red drum and Spotted sea trout. The reporting requirement at the time was deemed to be too cumbersome for those two industries. Every transaction, every order of fish that they received from either an aquaculture facility or from a wholesale fish dealer had to be invoiced. And then Alex actually had to provide a copy of that invoices to the Parks and Wildlife Department. They wanted to be removed from that reporting requirement.

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In 2013, Chapter 57.372 was amended to require electronic reporting for every imported, exported or intrastate shipment to the Department within 24 hours. And this was through an approved Internet application. The hope at the time was to do away with paper reporting, boxes and boxes of invoices. You can only imagine how many sales transactions occurred; and every one of those sales transactions was reported to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on a piece of paper.

So the idea was to move this cloud-based capture of information; and at this time, the only companies that are doing this are the wholesale fish dealers or the few wholesale fish dealers who handle these products.

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So let me talk to you a little bit how we, in the law enforcement division, really ensure that Chapter 66.020, this list of commercially-protected finfish, don't wind up coming up out of the water and how we truly protect them.

First and foremost, we're looking at the commercial fishermen on the Texas Coast that you see here in the slide. As they land their products, the Law Enforcement Division has a very robust team of game wardens that are inspecting their licenses, their catch, how they report, these wild products that come out of -- out of the bays.

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Another way that we look at and measure and ensure that these products don't come from the wild and don't wind up in seafood markets is, we do market inspections. For every aquatic product that you see under the glass there at this retail location, there's an invoice that accompanies the filets or steaks that are pictured there. We can track that invoice back to a lawful source. It's either going to go back to a fisherman, another aquatic dealer.

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As you see here, this really represents how seafood moves through the market, whether it be a commercially protected product or just a product that is regulated through wild catch. We have a fisherman on the left who is landing his catch of Black drum. We have imported shrimp that comes from other countries. We have imported fish from other countries; and there on the bottom left, you see aquaculture tanks where maybe they grow redfish for consumption at restaurants or maybe they grow baitfish to be sold further down the chain at a bait stand.

All along this chain, we look at the invoices to see where the products originate from, that the individual has a license to handle those products.

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So this is the -- these are the invoice requirements under Chapter 47. You can see that we have the invoice number, the name and address of the shipper. The receiver is listed. The dealer licenses number is on the invoice, and the license number is tied to the shipper. They're the seller of that product. And then you have the product species, the quantity of the product, and the volume and that could either be by volume or weight. And the copies of these invoices are maintained at the dealer locations by the seller and the receiver for one year.

So at any point during the year, we can come into a -- a retail fish dealer and look at their products that they have either in the freezer or under the glass, we can expect to see an invoice where they received those and who they received them from.

Under the -- Chapter 57, the specific invoice requirements for commercially-protected products, these invoices have to be generated by a TPWD Internet system; and it's done through a third-party vendor. This part of the process is very cumbersome for a big box company such as HEB, who wishes to handle Red drum, they would order a thousand pounds from an aquaculture facility. It's going to go to an HEB Distribution Center where they fragment that load of fish into maybe a hundred pounds of shipment that's going to go out the door on ten trucks to the individual HEBs where we would walk in the store and buy the fish.

Under the current regulations within Chapter 57, every one of those new loads of fish from the original shipment are required to be re-invoiced and they have to print an invoice from our system and then marry the invoice back to the truck that is going to go to that HEB retail center.

This is a very difficult process for these big box companies because they all have their own internal handling devices, whether or not they're shipping paper plates, fish, or steaks, they have their own computer system that's going to generate invoices. They're using scanners and bar codes. They're not printing pieces of paper to marry and stick on boxes. They just scan the box and they know that it is containing this and going on that truck.

Under the Chapter 47 invoice requirements, we do not require -- state law does not require them to use our system. They're able to generate their invoices and so there's no interference or a disruption of their -- their normal practice.

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So with these two -- these two checks and balances, that's how we measure -- or detect noncompliance. As you can see in the picture here, on the left, is some oysters that were intercepted. On the bags -- on the sacks of oysters, you'll see that there are no tags indicating the bay system that the oysters were harvested from or any information about the time that they were harvested. There's two containers of oysters that are shucked meat, that do not have any labels; and this load contained no invoices.

On the right, you'll see what is pictured as two recreational fishermen had -- had a great day. They caught a lot of redfish and they decided they were going to take the opportunity to sell these redfish. That would be in violation of Chapter 66. The fish will remain commercially protected. The way we detect or intercept these illegal shipments is through postings on Craig List, Facebook Marketplace. We're always going to find a certain amount of noncompliance where somebody had a good day, they caught too many fish; and they're trying to peddle them; but we don't have the type of slippage that would allow HEB to open an account and receive a large quantity of redfish. That's just not going to -- not going to change.

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So through our review, we discovered there is some redundancy within Chapter 57. Much of the language in that subchapter contains the exact same language as is listed in Parks and Wildlife statute; and through that duality of the language change, anytime the statute changes, it requires a Commission action to re-adjust the language.

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Additionally, we discovered that Subchapter D requires invoice reporting that is not being monitored or utilized by Department staff. The multitude of invoices that are generated by the companies that handle these products and report them to the Internet-based system, it's not being utilized or monitored.

These are not -- what is being reported, they're not wild-caught species. It's Red drum, Spotted sea trout that are grown in private ponds and then, in turn, sold. There's no biological need to monitor that. And then additionally, you know, we feel very comfortably that the statutes in Chapter 47 were created to establish traceability for all aquatic products: the wild-caught products, the shrimp, the oysters, the Black drum, flounder that are currently being harvested, wild-caught plus farm-raised, they -- those statutes offer adequate protection that we can ensure that they come from a legal source.

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So staff requests permission to publish changes amending Chapter 57 through 71, repealing text that is previously stated in statute and adding text to direct the regulated community to Parks and Wildlife, go to Chapter 47, that can -- that will basically, unify all of the invoicing into one standard. Repealing Chapter 57.372, Invoicing Requirements; Repealing 57.373, Packaging Requirements.

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And a repeal of Chapter 57.374, to delegated authority for the submission of invoices and labelings to the Department, as it would no longer be required. And we recommend no change to 57.375, Exclusive Economic Zone Regulations.

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And that concludes my presentation; but I'd be

happy to answer any questions that you might have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you very much. I have been assured that this does not open up the door for any -- any illegal activity. That it's -- it's -- we should be comfortable with it.

So any questions or comments? All right. Hearing none, I note for the discussion, I authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period and before I move on to Work Session Item No. 8, I must admit that I can top Commissioner Bell in that I did not notice our clock is an hour behind. So we've got two more -- we've got eight, nine -- and I think we can adjourn for executive session if that's agreeable to everybody.

Okay. Work Session Item No. 8, Public Lands Proclamation, Requests Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register.

Mr. Dreibelbis, please make your presentation.

MR. DREIBELBIS: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, my name's Justin Dreibelbis. I'm the Private Lands and Public Hunting Program Director for the Wildlife Division. I am here today to request permission to publish three proposed amendments to the Public Lands Proclamation in the Texas Register for public comment.

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So I hate to drag you back into the muzzleloader conversation here; but we had a proposed amendment here to alter the definition of loaded firearm to -- in the Public Lands Proclamation to go ahead and account for this new technology. We've heard the discussion here this morning, and we'll take our direction on tomorrow with what's decided on how we alter that. The -- the idea here is to align the Public Lands Proclamation with overall state regulations.

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The proposed amendment concerning youth hunting on public lands would eliminate a provision regarding the minimum age for participation in youth hunting during the Federal youth-only waterfowl season. Recent Federal action allows individual states to establish any minimum age for participation provided it is less than 18. Removing the current provision from this Public Lands Proclamation would allow the Department to have a uniform standard for participation in all youth public hunting activities, and that is 16 years and -- [inaudible].

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The last requested amendment is to change the name of the subchapter to the "Public Hunting Proclamation." Staff feels this change would more accurately describe the contents of the subchapter since TPWD public hunting activities are not restricted to public lands. For example, we currently have over a 110 private land dove leases across the state in our APH Program. We also draw numerous private land access tags through our public hunting draw system.

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And with that, staff requests the following motion: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff seeks permission to publish proposed amendments to Section 65.191 and 65.202 of the Public Lands Proclamation concerning the name of the subchapter, definition of "loaded firearm," and the minimum age for participation in the youth hunt on public hunting lands during the Federal Youth-only Waterfowl Season in the Texas Register.

With that, I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Go ahead, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: I'm con -- I'm con -- this is Commissioner Latimer. I'm confused. Is it a minimum age or a maximum age for a youth hunt?

MR. DREIBELBIS: It's a maximum age. I appreciate the clarification. And it appears -- it appears in two different places in our regulations. One has been corrected. One had not been corrected. Currently, the Public Land Proclamation says 15 years of age and younger, and we want to make it 16 years of age and younger to align across all of our public hunting regulations. Removing this one section there would -- would do that.

COMMISSIONER LATIMER: Okay. So the request needs to be changed to maximum age for participation.

MR. DREIBELBIS: Okay. Yeah. We'll -- good --

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: You're right.

MR. DREIBELBIS: That's a good point. Thanks for the clarification. We'll make that change.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Is there any other discussion? If not, I authorize the staff to publish the proposed changes as amended in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Work Session Item No. 9: Aerial Wildlife

Management Rules Request Permission to Publish Proposed Changes in the Texas Register.

Ms. Solis, and Mr. King, please make your


MS. SOLIS: Good afternoon, Chairman, and Commissioners. For the record, my name is Claudia Solis, and I'm the Deer-breeder Program leader. This morning, staff is requesting permission to publish proposed amendments to the rules governing the management of wildlife and exotic species from aircraft in the Texas Register for public comment.

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In 2016, the Commission promulgated regulations to set forth the circumstances under which the Department could choose to refuse air wildlife management permit issuance or renewal on the basis of criminal history. Rule making provided the Department refusal to issue or renew an Aerial Wildlife Management Permit for any applicant who has a final conviction or assess an administrative penalty.

For a list of enumerated violations including violations of Chapter 43, Subchapters C, E, L, R, or R-1. Violations other than Chapter 43, C, E, L, R, or R-1 that are punishable are Parks and Wildlife Class A or B misdemeanors, state jail felonies, or felonies. In addition, Parks and Wildlife Code Chapter 63.002 concerning unlawful possession of live game animals or game birds and the Lacey Act. The Department has determined that it is appropriate to deny the privilege taking or allowing the take of wildlife resources and especially for personal benefit to persons who exhibit a demonstrable disregard for the laws and regulations governing wildlife. Similarly, it is appropriate to deny such privileges to a person who has exhibited demonstrable disregard for wildlife law, in general, by committing more egregious violations of wildlife laws, such as Class A/B misdemeanors and felonies.

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In promulgating the regulations, the Department inadvertently overlooked the inclusion of violations of state and federal airborne hunting laws in the list of predicate offenses to which the Department can refuse to issue or renew an aerial wildlife permit.

The Department believes it is intuitively obvious that rules regarding the refusal of issuance or renewal of an aerial wildlife management permit should include provisions regarding violations of either, or both, the state and Federal law governing the management of wildlife from an aircraft. The proposed amendment to include Chapter 43, Subchapter G, in the Federal Airborne Hunting Act would remedy that oversight. Of course, the denial of an aerial wildlife management permit issuance would not automatically follow a conviction, but would be within the discretion of the Department, as we would take several factors into consideration. These would include the egregiousness of the offense, habitual nature of offense, demonstration of rehabilitation, among other things.

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In summary, staff is requesting permission to publish amendments to Texas Administrative Code Chapter 65.154 to include Chapter 43, Subchapter G, and the Federal Airborne Hunting Act in the list of predicate offenses for which the Department could refuse to issue or renew an aerial wildlife management permit.

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With that, I'd be glad to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any questions?

COMMISSIONER BELL: Commissioner Bell. I have a question.


COMMISSIONER BELL: Just on the -- on the kind of the criminal justice reform side of this piece and maybe we haven't looked into it but, there -- you know, there's a lot of thought out in various communities right now about how we look at past offenses, people that have come back that have -- that are -- that are -- that are well on the road to recovery. And, so to speak -- just to be making sure that we don't necessarily penalize people additionally for -- for -- for past actions, is there -- does this motion, I guess, or this -- this -- this move kind of take that into consideration? And I ask because I'm also involved in a lot of of criminal-justice reform issues.

MS. SOLIS: I understand. Thank you for your question. With the Commissioner's permission, I would like to pass that on to Stormy.

MR. KING: Good afternoon, everyone. For the record, I'm Stormy King, Assistant Commander of Wildlife Enforcement for the Law Enforcement Division.

Commissioner Bell, as you know -- as you bring that up -- we're -- we're quite aware of the implications in today's environment. There is a limit to what we -- forgive me -- forgive me for not knowing exactly, but there's basically a statute of limitations of those violations. What brought this to light recently was we have a case down in Webb County where we had four individuals last year convicted of violations of the Federal Airborne Hunting Act, basically for conducting un-permitted activity, which constitutes sport hunting from aircraft, which is illegal.

We basically -- this came more to light when -- this person, now, has applied to renew their permit; and we have no legal grounds by which to deny any four of those individuals because we had no reference there with the Hunting Act in there. Combine that with a lot of the -- becoming more and more prevalent issues we have in certain areas of the state with some complaints from the public related to some of these aerial permits, I -- I sincerely believe this would be an appropriate action.

COMMISSIONER BELL: And I'm not -- and I'm not so much questioning the -- the appropriateness of the action, especially when you --when you have a case like you've described, where someone is clearly in -- in violation of those specific -- they violated the aerial hunting rules. It's -- I'm just -- I'm referring back to -- as an example, it mentioned someone -- just generically, it said, "state jail offense." That could be any number of things. So I'm just trying to understand if the -- if that's the language, "state jail offense," right?

MR. KING: I'm sorry. Maybe I misunderstood your question. Yes. As Claudia mentioned, there's a lot that goes into those denials. We're not going to deny, you know, someone's aerial-wildlife-management permit based on a Class-B-or-above violation of some other unrelated code. It's -- it's -- I believe, statutorily in Chapter 12, it -- it maintains that it has to be somehow related to the permit at hand.


MR. KING: So -- so, you know, somebody getting a fishing-license ticket is in no way going to cost them their livelihood if -- if it relates to this.

COMMISSIONER BELL: And that's -- that's kind of the -- more the nature of my question, the idea that we don't want to -- not necessarily having unintended consequences. If someone has clearly violated our rules specifically, I am 100 percent onboard with making sure that we're -- we're, so to speak, policing that people are in compliance, but making sure that it's -- it's targeted the right way so that -- that --

MR. KING: I believe it's limited -- I'm sorry to interrupt. I believe it's limited -- it's the limit -- the -- the at least on the misdemeanor level, it -- it's limited to Texas Parks and Wildlife Code violations. It's -- it's -- it's not any penal code statutes.


CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Isn't the Lacey Act included?

MR. KING: The Lacey Act's been included, yes, sir.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Yeah, that's been included.

And Commissioner Bell, I think it's important, it's -- it -- it may be used to deny a permit. It's not automatic; and there is an appeal process. So...

COMMISSIONER BELL: And I -- and -- and -- and so -- and I'm fully -- I fully appreciate that. I was just --


COMMISSIONER BELL: -- just in that general sense whether or not -- didn't want them to have language, perhaps, too broad. Unintended consequences. That's all.

MR. KING: Completely understand.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Any other discussion, questions? Commissioner Scott?

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: So pardon my ignorance. When you're saying, "aerial management," I guess you're referring to helicopter stuff mainly, right? In either one of --

MR. KING: A large portion of it applies to helicopters. It is manned aircraft in general. It applies right down to unmanned aircraft, as well; but the majority of at least the most related work is conducted with helicopters, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: I guess that's where I've got a little bit of heartburn, if -- if you're saying so. So you're saying then drones could can actually fall in the same category?

MR. KING: Drones are -- unmanned aircraft are managed under that permit, right down to FAA regulations regarding a definition of "aircraft." It includes unmanned aircraft; or obviously, we don't have the issues with hunting -- sport hunting with drones that we would have with somebody, you know, shooting out of a helicopter. Drones are much more commonly associated with management-type activities, surveys, counting, photographing, things like that; but they -- they do fall -- they are subject to this -- these permit requirements.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: Well -- well, that seems like that leaves an awful lot of -- leaves -- leaves a lot of things to question. You know? I mean, what -- what is -- what -- what is something that is wrong with you if you're using a drone? How -- how do you know that that's something against this air -- that code number that you're talking about? I mean, it seems like you're -- it seems like the person in the field, the game warden, has to make a call on what they're doing with the drone. Is that an accurate statement?

MR. KING: And we're faced with that quite often, yes, sir.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That's my -- that's my -- that's my whole point. I mean, how do we -- how do we know if we have a fair basis to -- to, you know, go after somebody that may not even know about these rules at all? There's so many drones out there now that -- I guess, that's what I'm questioning is that overall, a mass amount of people have got drones and everything.

MR. KING: I think it's probably most important to know that that uneducated person probably has no permit deny it anyways. So I'm not sure it would apply to them necessarily.

COMMISSIONER SCOTT: That's a good point, but --

MR. KING: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: This is -- this is Commissioner Abell. So I guess this is an unrelated issue if it doesn't pertain to -- to permitted people; but what -- what is and currently isn't permitted with a drone? If I -- if I want to take my drone up and fly over a pasture and -- and -- and see what's in it, is it -- I don't want harass them. I don't want to go around chase them around the field. But am -- am I in violation if I just fly over and see if there's anything in the field?

MR. KING: We better open that up the afternoon for those questions. It -- it -- it is something --

MR. SMITH: Well, I think, Chairman, clearly, there is a lot of -- of questions among the Commissioners about the use of drones and applicable laws. That's probably worth a whole other conversation with the Commissioners.

COMMISSIONER ABELL: Like I said, is that something we need to put on a future agenda --


COMMISSIONER ABELL: -- to kind to define some rules around drones?

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: I think that's a great idea. Let's add it to --

MR. SMITH: Why don't we add that for a briefing? Okay.


MR. SMITH: Okay. We'll work with the Commission to do that.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Any other questions? If not, I'll authorize -- authorize staff to publish the proposed changes in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.

Work Session Item No. 10, Acceptance of Donation of Land, Fort Bend County, Approximately 300 Acres in Brazos Bend State Park. If there's no questions, we'll hear this in executive session.

Work Item -- Work Session Item No. 11, Grant of Drainage Easement, Hidalgo, County, Approximately 1 Acre at Estero Llano Grande State Park.

Does any Commissioner have any questions or comments? If not, it will be heard in executive session.

Work -- Work Session Item No. 12, disposition of Land, Harrison County, Approximately 7 Acres at the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area. If there's no questions, we'll hear this at the executive session.

Work Session Item No. 13, Land Acquisition Strategy-, Bastrop County, Approximately 150 Acres of Bastrop State Park. If there are no questions, we will hear this in executive session.

Okay. Regarding Work Session Item No. 14, Acquisition of Land, Anderson County, Approximately 430 Acres at the Big Lake Bottom Wildlife Management Area. If there's no questions, we'll hear that at the executive session.

Item No. 15 will be held -- held -- will be heard in executive session.

Work Session Item No. 16, Litigation Update, will be heard in executive session.

At this time, I would like to announce that pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 551 Government Code, referred to as the Open Meetings Act, an executive session will be held at this time for the purpose of deliberation of real estate matters under Section 551.072.

So the Open Meetings Act, seeking legal advice under Section 551.071 of the Open Meetings Act, including advice regarding pending or contemplated litigation, we will now recess for the Executive Session at 1:23.

(Recess taken for Executive Session)

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. We will now reconvene the Work Session of March 24, 2021, at 3:51 p.m. Before we get started, I want to call roll. Chairman Morian.








CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Okay. Thank you very much. We're now returning from the executive session where we discussed the Work Session Real Estate Items Nos. 10 through 15 and Litigation Item No. 16.

Regarding Item Nos. 10 through 14, we will place those items on Thursday's Commission meeting agenda for public comment and actions.

Work Session Item No. 15, Pipeline Easement, Easement Orange County, Approximately 5 Acres, of the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area, I'm going to request permission to begin public notice and input process.

Mr. Hollingwood [sic] -- Mr. Hollingsworth, please make your presentation.

MR. HOLLINGSWORTH: Chairman, Commissioners, good evening. For the record, my name is Ted Hollingsworth. This item is a first reading of a request for a pipeline easement at the Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area.


The wildlife management area is in extreme Southeast Texas near the confluence of the Neches River and Sabine Lake.

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Really, it's on the outskirts of Bridge City.

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It covers a little over 8,000 acres and three units; a lot of wetlands, a lot of coastal wetlands, emergent marshes, associated coastal wetlands, some uplands, but a very, very wet wildlife management area that is very, very important for migratory and resident wading birds, song birds, and waterfowl. Very popular destination for waterfowl hunters, as well.

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Blue Marlin -- Blue Marlin Offshore Port, LLC, has been working with staff of the Department for over a year now to come up with a -- a route analysis and a proposed route for a 42-inch-diameter pipeline, that would serve a new crude-oil export terminal in the Gulf of Mexico off the western coast of Louisiana if it is constructed. Blue Marlin is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners and the permitting if it -- if it runs its course to completion is expected to take the next year.

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Again, Blue Marlin has been working closely with us to -- to get a route analysis presented to us that's acceptable by our standards. They have minimized the impact and the amount of easements that would be required of the wildlife management area. If you approve the easement, it's now less than a mile; and all the lines would be installed, would pass underneath corners of the WMA by horizontal directional drilling.

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In this map you can see that that route just clips the WMA in three places. You can also see that it's really not feasible for the route to go north of the WMA, as it's densely packed with residential areas, commercial areas, and industrial areas.

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Staff requests permission to begin the public notice and input process. I would be happy to take any questions.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Are there any questions from the Commissioners? With no further -- further discussion, I authorize staff to begin the public notice and input process.

Regarding Item No. 16, no further action is needed at this time.

Mr. Smith, this Commission has completed the Work Session business and I declare us adjourned at 3:55 -- 2:55 -- excuse me.

MR. SMITH: Right. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN MORIAN: Thank you everybody for making this possible.

(Work Session Concluded)



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

CSR No.: 8311

Expiration: January 31, 2023