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CAB Approves Fish Discard, Turtle Regulations

March 22, 2012
 
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
 
With spring breakers heading to the Alabama Gulf Coast in droves, a quandary for the anglers in that group, as well as for the locals, has been what to do with fish carcasses after they are cleaned.

The Alabama Conservation Advisory Board dealt with that issue at its most recent meeting in Montgomery, approving a motion by Bill Hatley of Gulf Shores to allow the discard of bycatch (which also includes carcasses) in the Gulf of Mexico waters as long as it is farther than 500 feet from the shoreline.

“On inside water, fishermen can discard bycatch as long as they are not within 500 feet of the shoreline,” said Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship. “The proposed regulation would allow fishermen to discard bycatch no closer than 500 feet from the shoreline in the Gulf waters, except for shrimp boats. This will make Gulf waters consistent with what we have on inside water. Shrimp boats, because their discards are so large, still must abide by the three-mile limit that is currently in effect.”

Anglers on Gulf State Park Pier now have the option of discarding carcasses from the cleaning station on the pier, which is past the 500-foot mark, or placing the carcasses in containers made available by the park for those who do not wish to throw bycatch into the water.

“We would love to find somebody to recycle the carcasses into fertilizer or other uses,” said Acting Parks Co-Director Tim Wishum. “The marinas already do that, so to find somebody to do that for the pier would be great.”

In other Marine Resources action, the bag and size limit for sheepshead was set at 10 fish per person per day with a minimum fork length of 12 inches. The minimum size for the commercial harvest of grouper was lowered to 22 inches to match federal regulations. The board also approved a motion that would increase the minimum size for tripletail (blackfish) to 18 inches total length.

In light of testimony at the first board meeting in February, Dr. Warren Strickland, board member from Huntsville, made the motion that would ban the commercial harvest of wild turtles in Alabama waters and limit the recreational harvest of turtles to two per person per day. The motion does not affect turtle farming, other than it would prohibit the importation of nonindigenous turtles into the state. The motion passed unanimously.

During public testimony at the March meeting, Keith McCartney, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent, relayed several stories about friends in other states who are dealing with baiting issues and how current laws in their respective states determined whether or not they deployed bait. His friends determined if baiting is legal then they must participate because deer on their property would be drawn to bait on neighboring property.

“I hope [the board] will continue to rely on the state conservation biologists,” McCartney said. “If it’s something they say is biologically sound, I would change my opinion about it. The same thing goes with the extension of deer season. Hardly any states are open in February. If we keep this season open into February, boy are we ever going to be a target for out-of-state leasers. There are a lot of people in this room who lease lands, and they are going to be competing with money out of south Louisiana and a lot of other places.”

Don Abercrombie of Barbour County suggested a February season from Feb. 1-13 with a couple of stipulations: Bucks taken during the extended season must have four points on one side, and the deer season would be closed from Dec. 2-16 to allow small-game hunters to pursue their game.

Dr. Strickland and Hatley expressed their concern about the impact of post-rut stress on the bucks should the season be extended.

“We have to have sound biological data to make those decisions,” Strickland said. “The buck limit in place has already had a tremendous impact on the quality of deer harvested in this state. The largest amount of stress is post-rut stress and accounts for most of your buck mortality. I really believe extending the season into February is going to increase the post-rut stress and increase the mortality.”

Larry Dillard of Shelby County addressed the board about the positive aspect of the Forever Wild program for Alabama hunters.

“We are grateful that the Forever Wild Board has arranged for a 99-year lease on the Cahaba Wildlife Management Area so that our citizens will have a place to hunt,” Dillard said. “We also urged Forever Wild to purchase the State Cattle Ranch down in Greensboro. That’s going to be dedicated to youth hunting and a place for people with handicaps to hunt, and it is a place for all venues to have field trials. We have worked hard to get four 65-acre areas ready for dog trials. We’ve just got to get the rabbit population up so the registered AKC gun dog beagle clubs in Alabama will have a place to forever have field trials, because our clubs are always losing land used for trials because of development. That can’t happen on Forever Wild land.”

Dillard also testified to the anticipated effect an extended deer season would have on small-game hunters.

“I’m here to represent the small-game hunter,” he said. “I cried enough when I was five years old that my daddy let me go rabbit hunting with him. I’ve got 69 years of rabbit-hunting experience. If you can add, you know I’m 74 now. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I raised my son up in it, and I’ve got my son-in-law and grandsons rabbit hunting with me.

“I’ve seen the deer season extended from January the 1 to January 15. Then it was from January 15 to the end of January. If you go beyond that into February, you’re going to execute a death knell for the small-game hunter. I’m not just talking rabbit hunters. I’m talking about squirrel hunters, coon hunters and the folks who still hunt possums because they’ve got coon dogs that can’t quite make it. All of us small-game hunters are not blessed to have big hunting areas. We can’t afford the land leases, but we do get invitations from deer clubs to hunt in February because we don’t have dogs that run deer. We don’t tolerate that stuff. I can rabbit hunt every day in February because a lot of those deer hunters like to rabbit hunt, too. Gentlemen, I’m begging you to really consider holding the deer hunting time to where it is now at the end of January.”

Board member Grady Hartzog of Eufaula was unable to attend the March meeting and any action to implement a permit system for dog deer hunting in a portion of Elmore County was postponed until the May 19 meeting at 5 Rivers Delta Center in Spanish Fort. Bob Shipp of Mobile also postponed any action on proposed game-fish status for Florida pompano until that meeting.

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