CCA Applauds FWC for Uncovering Commercial Illegal Wildlife Ring
For immediate release: November 14, 2012
Contact: Katie Purcell
FWC Community Relations Coordinator
Division of Law Enforcement
FWC Investigation Uncovers Illegal Commercial Wildlife Ring
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers completed a comprehensive investigation Wednesday that included more than 200 criminal violations by 21 individuals in Orange, Lake, Osceola, Polk and St. Lucie counties. The 22-month operation targeted individuals who illegally bought fish and wildlife products in Florida and shipped them out of state to be sold to the public.
“The suspects were ultimately working together in a criminal conspiracy,” said Maj. Curtis Brown, head of the FWC’s Investigations section.
Officers determined the suspects were buying products from poachers and unlicensed individuals and shipping them to markets out of state. Today, they shut them down. Those out-of-state markets are still being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This was a large-scale illegal poaching operation with serious implications for the environment, economy and public health,” Brown said.
The suspects made one or two trips a month, transporting 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of product each trip to its markets.
“They placed orders that included one for 900 pounds of poached white-tailed deer and another for 500 pounds of illegal snook,” Brown said.
To date, the operation has identified 21 suspects. The criminal charges include 147 misdemeanor violations and 75 felony violations. Ten suspects were arrested and taken to local county jails today; the rest were issued notices to appear.
Undercover officers successfully infiltrated the illegal operations and were able to gather sufficient evidence of the crimes. The species involved include grouper, snapper, trout, redfish, snook, bass, bream, catfish, deer, turkey, ducks and alligator.
“Some of those are restricted species,” Brown said. “Over-harvesting, taking them out of season or taking them by illegal methods harms the resource, undermining conservation efforts.”
The FWC says shutting down illegal operations like this is also important for public health. When game is harvested and sold illegally, it does not go through the same processes or undergo the same food health inspections necessary to protect the public.
“The public has a right to purchase safe, legally harvested products without concern for the safety of their food,” Brown said.
Shutting down this operation also benefits the local economy. Illegal activities can seriously impact legal businesses.
“For example, there are deer farmers and commercial fishermen who harvest and sell their products legally,” Brown said. “Individuals who operate illegally often sell their products cheaper, essentially stealing profits from the law-abiding businesses.”
In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FWC worked with partner organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Humane Society of the United States and Ducks Unlimited.
“This was a great team effort to support our legal commercial markets, protect Florida’s valuable natural resources and allow the public to safely enjoy them,” Brown said.
The public can help by reporting to the FWC suspected violations of illegally harvesting or selling fish and wildlife. To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert hotline (888) 404-FWCC or
October 11, 2012
Re: Gulf of Mexico Gag Grouper Management
We understand that the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has asked for the input of the Commission on the management of gag grouper in the Gulf. We view this as a long overdue concession in light of the vast majority of gags being landed from the Gulf of Mexico waters are landed on Florida shores, and an effective way to avoid any inconsistency between state and federal regulations. We would like to share with you our views on the ongoing management of gags in the Gulf.
Perhaps the biggest issue we have had with the management of gags to date (as well as certain other species) has been the lack of an allocation between sectors that is not only fair but also provides the greatest benefit to our state and the nation. All analyses of the relative economic impacts of the recreational and commercial sectors for gags have overwhelmingly shown the greatest impact to come from the recreational sector. We reject as patently unfair the idea that those who exploit a public resource for profit should be able to do so while the public realizes not even a reasonable season or reasonable size or bag limits. We thus urge the Commission to recommend that the Gulf Council promptly re-allocate the allowable catch of gag grouper fairly and to allow for the greatest benefit to our state and our nation before the 2013 management regulations are put in place.
A second problem that exists with the commercial take of gags in the Gulf is the lack of protection of the stock during its spawning aggregations. Like a number of animals, gags are known to be "harem breeders", meaning that a single dominant male attends to a number of females. These large males tend to be the most aggressive feeders during the spawning aggregations and often caught very early in the spawn, which leaves the spawning potential of the stock well below what it would be if no directed effort were permitted for the commercial sector during the spawn, as is the case with the recreational sector.
We also view the new release devices, such as the SeaQualizer, and techniques that have recently come to light as effective ways to reduce release mortality from the "baro-trauma" that often results in fish caught in deeper waters. The Gulf Council should immediately review the studies that have shown the effectiveness of these new devices and techniques and should permit their use unless concerns that we have not seen are shown to exist.
In terms of a bag limit and the open season for the recreational take of gags, CCA Florida urges the longest possible season and strongly advocates in favor of a no less than a 2 fish bag limit. Because reducing the bag limit to 1 fish will not significantly lengthen the season, we would very much like to see the bag limit stay at 2 fish. Although the split season proposals that we have seen would not provide as long an open season as the single season proposals that we have seen, we recognize that a split season may provide the greatest benefit to the most Floridians and our visitors and we are not opposed to a split season that includes equal summer and winter subseasons with the maximum number of allowable days.
We very much appreciate your service on the Commission and our relationship with you is very important to us. We hope that you will consider these comments in the spirit intended and that you will please contact us to discuss any questions or comments.
CONTACT: Trip Aukeman 850-559-0060
October 09, 2012
Coastal Conservation Association Urges
Judge to Uphold Mesh Size Limitation on Gill Nets
~Commercial netting interests attempt to convince the judge to allow larger mesh~
ST. MARKS, Fla. Commercial netting interests are once again trying to manipulate the State into allowing larger mesh sizes in fishing nets and improperly using them as gill nets, the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida said today.
The commercial fisherman say that as a result of the States regulations on net mesh size, the current nets are catching primarily juvenile fish before they have the chance to mature into adult fish.
The reality, however, is that these commercial fisherman are catching more mullet than they can sell. Earlier this year there was approximately 60,000 pounds of dead mullet found floating off Floridas coast with just the roe taken out. With the market price around 73 cents a pound it cannot withstand any more mullet in the stores or the price would plummet and there would be no profit.
In November 1994, an overwhelming 72 percent of Floridians voted yes on the constitutional amendment limiting marine net fishing. The amendment includes both a prohibition on the use of gill and entangling nets in all state waters and a size limit on other nets. Although the restrictions have been in place for 17 years, there are still factions within the commercial industry who refuse to accept the legal reality of the constitutional prohibition on gill nets.
Since 1994, there have been numerous lawsuits, attempts to create enforcement loopholes, and outright scams all designed to invalidate or circumvent provisions of the constitutional amendment. All have failed.
The commercial fishermen have gone to court again in an attempt to overturn key provisions in the 1994 net ban. Hoping to convince Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford of their side of the issue, a St. Marks commercial mullet fisherman took to the waters early one Friday morning to give the Judge a demonstration of the way they fish their nets. The commercial boat was followed by an FWC boat that was transporting Judge Fulford. However, he didnt show her the whole picture.
According to the Coastal Conservation Association, the fisherman spent unnecessary time searching in the St. Marks River inlets, creeks and bays to locate the perfectly sized fish to prove his point. When he found the right spot and cast the nets, he retrieved them like a gill net, instead of properly like a seine net, which caused more of the small fish to be caught in the net and very few legal size fish were caught. Only three net sets were made in about two and a half hours. This manipulated presentation to the judge depicted the idea that the nets are inadequate and the State needs to allow larger mesh netting.
The Florida Legislature, Florida courts and state agencies have upheld the clear intent of Florida voters, said Ted Forsgren, Special Advisor to CCA Florida. It is imperative that Judge Fulford thoroughly reviews all the previous legal decisions and conclusions of law and respect the citizen mandate and constitutional ban on gill nets.
Commercial net fishers have other legal options to catch mullet. Many use hand-thrown cast nets in conjunction with seine nets. The seine nets with two-inch or less mesh corral the fish, which are then caught by the cast nets. Cast nets are also used during fall migrations in rivers and bays when mullet are aggregated in large schools. Landings data confirms the viability of using cast nets and other legal nets. In the four-county area of Wakulla, Franklin, Jefferson and Dixie County commercial fishermen landed 493,614 pounds of mullet in 2011 and 579,027 pounds in 2010. Statewide more than 12.5 million pounds of mullet were landed in 2011.
For more information or to join CCA Florida, please visit CCA Floridas website at www.ccaflorida.org.
South Atlantic Red Snapper Season set to Re-Open
NOAA Fisheries Announces Opening Dates
A fishery that has been closed for three years now due to over-fishing is set to re-open in September of 2012. The South Atlantic Marine Fisheries Council (SAMFC) met in June of 2012 and discussed the options of a short season for Red Snapper in the South Atlantic. The SAMFC recommended to NOAA Fisheries that a limited harvest period be permitted on the east coast. The season will consist of two, three day weekends for recreational anglers, along with a small commercial harvest. CCA supported the opening if doing so would not delay the rebuilding plan or do harm to the stock. CCA told the Council that this fishery is a good candidate formanagement as primarily a recreational fishery in the South Atlantic, and that the greatest overall benefit to the country would be achieved by allocating most, if not all, of the catch to the recreational fishery.
NOAA Fisheries set the new recreational fishing season to open for two consecutive weekendsmade up of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This season pertains to the South Atlantic Ocean only. The recreational red snapper season opens at 12:01 a.m., local time, on September 14, 2012, and closes at 12:01 a.m., local time, on September 17, 2012; the season then reopens at 12:01 a.m., local time, on September 21, 2012, and closes at 12:01 a.m., local time, on September 24, 2012. During the open recreational season, the bag limit is one fish per person per day and there is no minimum size limit for the red snapper.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its research institute (FWRI) will be very involved in data collection on the east coast of Florida. The FWRI is asking that recreational fishermen help with the data as they fish for Red Snapper in the Atlantic Ocean. The FWRI has set up drop off locations along the coast for red snapper carcasses. The Institute will gather critical data from the carcasses, such as age and growth rates, along with the overall health of the fishery. Please do your part for the fishery and instead of throwing the carcass out put them back on ice and take the carcasses to one of the confirmed drop off locations along the eastcoast of Florida. For a list of these and any other locations that have been added please click here. Officers and staff of CCA urge each of you to assist in this data collection, and do not see any negative effect to the recreational fisherman for providing your assistance.
Carcass drop off locations:
Fernandina Harbor Marina
3 S. Front Street
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
St. Johns River entrance
Sister Creek Boat Ramp
8364 Heckscher Dr.
Jacksonville, FL, 32226
Conch House Marina
57 Comares Avenue
St. Augustine, FL 32080
Inlet Harbor Marina
133 Inlet Harbor Road
Ponce Inlet, FL 32127
Fishin Cove Marina
111 N Riverside Drive
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
505 Glen Cheek Drive
Cape Canaveral, FL 32920
Fort Pierce Inlet:
3595 Northeast Indian River Drive
Jensen Beach, FL 34957
6919 Portwest, Suite 100, Houston, TX 77024
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2012 CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH
Congress weighs in on Gulf Councils sector separation scheme
Sportsmens Caucus urges Council to step back from unpopular catch shares, sector separation
WASHINGTON, DC â€“ In another sign of discontent over federal management of the nations marine fisheries, co-chairmen of the Congressional Sportsmens Caucus (CSC) have sent a letter to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council expressing the concerns of its membership over the concepts of catch share programs and sector separation. The bipartisan CSC is one of the largest and most effective caucuses in the US Congress with more than 300 members representing almost all 50 states.
â€œAs leaders of the Caucus, we are writing to report that continued consideration and promotion of the management concepts known as sector separation and catch shares by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are causing concern among our members,â€ CSC co-chairmen Jeff Miller (R-Fl.) and Mike Ross (D-Ar.) state in the letter. â€œMore specifically, we have serious concerns about the current proposal to further subdivide the recreational fishing allocation by awarding the charter boats with their own guaranteed allocation.â€
The CSC goes on to question the process the Gulf Council is using to develop and implement sector separation and catch share programs, and points out that the Council first needs better scientific data, additional economic evaluations and demographic studies to assess how mixed used fisheries would best be reallocated.
â€œEven if such reallocation issues were analyzed and modified, taking a portion of the allocation from the recreational sector for the proposed charter boat sector has the potential to decrease the funding available for state fisheries management,â€ the CSC states. â€œThe members of the Caucus are well acquainted with the successes of state-based conservation, which is almost entirely guided and funded by sportsmen and the money they spend on fishing and hunting. The sportsmens ethic of stewardship is at the heart of the American System of Conservation Funding and is built, in part, on the foundation of individual anglers recreational fishing activities.â€
The letter from the CSC is yet another unequivocal message from elected officials to federal fishery managers in opposition to sector separation and catch share programs. In 2009, four Gulf state governors wrote a letter stating their opposition to catch shares and Congress has passed amendments cutting funding for such programs.
â€œWe hope the members of the Gulf Council are listening because the message from Governors, Congressmen, and the recreational angling community is quite clear â€“ privatizing public wildlife resources through sector separation and catch shares is the wrong direction,â€ said Chester Brewer, chairman of Coastal Conservation Associations National Government Relations Committee. â€œIf the Council and NOAA Fisheries continue to ignore this message, then that should be interpreted as yet more evidence that the federal management system is broken and Congress should engage to either rein in a federal agency that has lost its way or explore a completely new paradigm for managing the nations marine resources.â€
To see the full letter from the Congressional Sportsmens Caucus, click HERE.
6919 Portwest, Suite 100, Houston, TX 77024
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2012 CONTACT: Ted Venker, 1-800-201-FISH
Twenty Congressmen join call for moratorium on rig removals
Efforts to save marine habitat gain support from across the country
WASHINGTON, DC â€“ A letter from the Congressional Sportsmens Caucus (CSC) to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar calling for a moratorium on rig removals due to the federal governments Idle Iron policy will carry the signatures of 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, an impressive bi-partisan display of concern for marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.
â€œAs leaders and members of the Congressional Sportsmens Caucus, we are concerned that the Idle Iron guidance issued by the Department of Interior in October of 2010 is having an adverse impact on critical marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico,â€ states the letter, signed by Representatives from 10 states. â€œWe request that your Department enact a temporary moratorium on the removal of structures related to that Directive until a stakeholder process can be developed to determine both the best methods to properly dismantle rigs that have cause to be removed, and to protect those structures that are shown to harbor thriving marine ecosystems.â€
In response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive which resulted in a policy that will ultimately force removal of any rigs, platforms or associated structures from non-producing wells. Coastal Conservation Association and other groups have argued that the structures are the basis for thriving ecosystems that sustain an immense diversity of life, and have called for a thorough evaluation to be developed before any removal decisions are made. CCA worked with CSC and with Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) on this most recent call for a moratorium on the Idle Iron policy to develop that process. Rep. Palazzo presented the concerns of the recreational angling community at a briefing hosted by the Congressional Sportsmens Foundation in June where he also invited fellow members of the Caucus to sign onto the letter to Secretary Salazar.
â€œSportsmen know the value of habitat. We know how hard it is to create it and we know how easy it is to lose it,â€ said Rep. Palazzo. â€œWe cannot sit idly by while marine habitat in the Gulf is destroyed by a policy that clearly needs more consideration. The Idle Iron issue may seem complex, but at the end of the day we would be wise to protect these habitats.â€
The letter from the CSC is the latest in a string of efforts that CCA has worked on and supported to derail the Policy, including the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed in 2011 by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the companion bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Palazzo; language implementing strict review and reporting requirements on removals in the Sportsmens Act of 2012; the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils decision to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), and letters from both Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to Secretary Salazar urging him to reconsider the policy. In June, a coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups called for a halt to the Idle Iron policy in a letter to Secretary Salazar, citing the irreparable damage it stands to inflict on an extensive range of marine fisheries and ecosystems. Additionally, the Sportfishing and Boating Partnership Council, an 18-member committee established to provide input to the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on recreational boating and fishing issues and aquatic resource conservation issues, sent a letter to Secretary Salazar calling for a two-year moratorium on rig removals.
â€œWe are grateful to all the elected officials who share our concern for this marine habitat and are willing to fight against arbitrarily dismantling the largest artificial reef system in the world,â€ said Pat Murray, president of CCA. â€œThe entire issue of platform removals needs a much more thorough review given the incredible habitat at stake. Political leaders and experts from across the spectrum have voiced serious concerns about the impacts of the Idle Iron directive and are demanding a more reasoned process to evaluate these structures.â€
Florida Saltwater Fishing Panel
Data... it runs the world. Everyone needs accurate and up to date data to run a business and make decisions. It is no different for fisheries managers that create the fishing regulations that we abide by, which is why Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Recreational Marine Research Center at Michigan State University have developed the Florida Saltwater Fishing Panel. This panel will help aide the researchers in learning more about recreational fishing and the economic benefits gained from the recreational fisherman in Florida.
Many of you received an email within the last week regarding this panel that included a link to a registration page, and some of you have already signed on to participate. The panel is open to anyone that possesses a valid Florida Saltwater Fishing License or Persons with Disabilities Resident Hunting and Fishing License, as well as exempt residents age 65 and older. â€œFWC is excited about the partnership with Michigan State University and the new opportunities that present themselves to us and all fisheries managers,â€ said Nick Wiley, FWC Executive Director. â€œThe Florida Saltwater Fishing Panel brings a new and exciting aspect to recreational fishing data collection.â€ A panel member will be asked to complete a 10-15 minute web based survey once a month for a one year period. While most of each survey will focus on the anglers last saltwater fishing trip in Florida during the previous month, surveys may also include questions about current or proposed fishing regulations, licenses, conservation of fish stocks and management effectiveness.
All panel members will receive a coupon from West Marine for each monthly survey they complete. Participants will also have the opportunity to review summary results from the monthly surveys. â€œI urge all CCA members, their family, and friends to take part in this saltwater fishing panel,â€ said Jeff Miller, CCA Florida Chairman. â€œJoining the panel and completing the survey helps show the economic impact the recreational fishermen have here in the state of Florida. It helps show the fisheries managers that allocation of fish should not be based on past catch records but allocated solely on the economic impact from a fishing sector. Recreational fishermen deserve more and here is a perfect opportunity to do your part in fisheries data collection.â€
Act Now to Stop the Destruction of Marine Habitat
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) shares the concerns of the recreational angling community and is calling for a temporary moratorium on the Department of Interiors controversial Idle Iron directive that stands to destroy the largest man-made reef in the world - the vast forest of rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Coastal Conservation Association applauds this effort by Rep. Palazzo as well as the support of other important Congressional leaders, and has been joined by the largest marine conservation, tackle and boating organizations in the country in the fight to protect this extensive artificial reef system. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of structures are on the chopping block as a result of the Idle Iron policy. A typical four-legged platform becomes the equivalent of two to three acres of vibrant habitat in the Gulf - home to populations of fish, coral, shellfish, turtles and sea mammals.
Rep. Palazzo is circulating a letter to members of Congress and inviting them to join him in calling for a temporary moratorium on rig removals related to the Idle Iron Policy to allow time to develop a thoughtful, rational process to evaluate those structures and keep as many as safely possible in the water. The letter has the support of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus leadership.
Please join Rep. Palazzo, CCA and the community of recreational anglers and divers fighting to protect these unique ecosystems. Click on the link below to send a message to your elected representatives and encourage them to add their signatures to the letter to the Department of Interior calling for a moratorium.
Click the link below to log in and send your message: