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The 2017 bay scallop season for Dixie County and parts of Taylor County will be open from June 16 through Sept. 10. This includes all state waters from the Suwannee River through the Fenholloway River. These changes are for 2017 only and are an opportunity to explore regionally-specific bay scallop seasons.

These changes were discussed at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting on Feb. 8, where staff was directed to work with local community leaders on selecting potential 2017 season dates and to adopt changes by executive order.

At the Feb. 8 meeting, staff also updated the Commission on the status of bay scallops in St. Joseph Bay in Gulf County, and set a July 25 through Sept. 10 recreational bay scallop season off Gulf County, including all waters in St. Joseph Bay and those west of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County, through the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

A prolonged red tide event in late 2015 negatively impacted the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay, which led to modified local scallop regulations for 2016 that included a shortened season and reduced bag limits. FWC researchers conducted a scallop restoration project last year within St. Joseph Bay to help speed the recovery of the scallop population. These efforts have been going well and the scallop population has shown signs of improvement. Staff will conduct similar restoration efforts in 2017.

All other portions of the bay scallop harvest zone will be open from July 1 through Sept. 24. This includes all state waters from the Pasco-Hernando county line to the Suwannee River Alligator Pass Daybeacon 4 in Levy County and from north and west of Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County through the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County.

Bag and vessel limits throughout the entire bay scallop harvest zone will be 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.

At the December 2017 Commission meeting, staff will review public feedback on these changes and make a recommendation for future management. To submit your feedback on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

For more information on these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings,” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”

For information on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.”

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Hunter safety internet-completion courses offered in March

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering free hunter safety internet-completion courses in eight counties in March. (List follows.)

Students who have taken the online course and wish to complete the classroom portion must bring the online-completion report with them.

All firearms, ammunition and materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil and paper. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times.

Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies hunter-safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.


The dates and times are:

Alachua

March 11 (8 a.m. until complete) Gainesville

Baker

March 11 (8 a.m. until noon) Macclenny and (1 p.m. until complete) Lake City

Citrus

March 4 (9 a.m. until complete) Lecanto

Clay

March 7 (6 to 9 p.m.) Keystone Heights and March 11 (8 a.m. until complete) Graham

March 23 (6 to 9 p.m.) Middleburg and March 25 (8 a.m. until complete) Graham

Columbia

March 2 (6 to 9 p.m.) and March 4 (8:30 a.m. until complete) Lake City

Duval

March 23 (6 to 9 p.m.) and March 25 (8:30 a.m. until complete) Jacksonville

Nassau

March 3 (6 to 9 p.m.) and March 4 (8 to 11 a.m.) Yulee

Union

March 2 (6 to 9 p.m.) Worthington Springs and March 4 (11 a.m. until complete) Gainesville.


The specific locations for these classes will be given to those who register in advance. Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by calling the FWC’s regional office in Lake City at 386-758-0525.

Wild turkey workshop set

February 9, 2017

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Workshop set on managing private lands to improve wild turkey habitat

The public is invited to a Breakfast on the Back Forty workshop on Thursday, Feb. 23, in Okaloosa County about how to improve wild turkey habitat on private lands.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), along with the Florida Forest Service, National Wild Turkey Federation, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Yellow River Soil and Water Conservation District, is sponsoring the workshop.

Featured workshop topics include an overview of turkey biology and management, timber management and prescribed burning for improving turkey habitat, food plot management and cost-share programs.

The workshop will be from 8 a.m. to noon CST, and will be held 1 mile south of Highway 85 N. on Ludlum Road, east of the town of Laurel Hill. The workshop will be an outdoor field tour, so it is recommended participants wear appropriate clothing and footwear. In the event of rain, the workshop will be rescheduled.

Breakfast will be provided free of charge, but pre-registration must be complete by Feb. 16. To pre-register for the workshop, contact Billie Clayton at 850-767-3634.


For information on the FWC’s Landowner Assistance Program, visit MyFWC.com/LAP. There, you can watch a video on “Private landowners conserving Florida wildlife,” that features north Florida landowners restoring longleaf pine and wiregrass habitat and seeing wildlife on their lands, including wild turkey.

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is hosting a Women’s Saltwater Fishing Clinic in Jacksonville on Feb. 18.

The free, day-long clinic is from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Jacksonville University, 2800 University Blvd. N., Jacksonville.

Advance registration is required. To register or get more information, email Heather Sneed at Heather.Sneed@MyFWC.com, or call 850-487-0554.

Participants will take home a lifelong hobby and leave with a new appreciation for the marine environment. They will learn the basics of conservation stewardship, fishing ethics, angling skills, safety and the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.

Lessons include knot tying, cast netting, rod and reel rigging, how to be a responsible marine resource steward, marine fish and habitat identification, catch-and-release techniques and more.

If conditions allow, women will have the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills by fishing from shore. This event is a catch-and-release activity. All participants must have a valid recreational saltwater fishing license unless exempt. Saltwater fishing licenses can be purchased at your local tackle shop or online. Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/License.

Fishing equipment and bait are provided during the clinic, but participants are encouraged to bring their own gear.

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Zone D’s late muzzleloader season extends deer hunting opportunity through February

Plus, don’t miss Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days

“What I love most about using a muzzleloader is the extra challenge it provides – you only get one shot and you better make it count,” said Howard Tiller, retired high school teacher and Chipley, Florida, native. “The late muzzleloading season gives us Zone D hunters more opportunities to hunt deer while the rut is still going on after general gun season ends. Plus, there are fewer hunters in the woods during that time, which means less pressure.”

Tiller, who was introduced to hunting by his father at a young age, said he never misses hunting Zone D’s late muzzleloading gun season. The season, which only occurs in Zone D, extends deer hunting by a week after general gun ends and runs Feb. 20-26 on private lands. It was established to give hunters the chance to hunt the rut, which runs from mid-January through February in northwest Florida.

A $5 muzzleloading gun permit is required to hunt during this season. On private land, hunters have the choice of using a muzzleloader, bow or crossbow. Of course, they’ll also need a hunting license, which costs residents $17 for an annual one – or folks might opt to purchase the five-year license for only $79.

In Zone D wildlife management areas, this post-season is referred to as the archery/muzzleloading gun season. Specific dates vary by WMA, so consult each area’s brochure. Hunters can use bows or muzzleloaders, but no crossbows – unless they possess a disabled crossbow permit. Hunters who choose to hunt with a bow must have the $5 archery permit, and those using a muzzleloader need the $5 muzzleloading gun permit.

Legal to take; bag limits

Deer and wild hogs are most commonly hunted during this season. Only legal bucks may be taken (even if you use a bow), and south of Interstate 10 in Deer Management Unit D1, one antler must have at least two points. North of I-10 in DMU D2, all bucks must have at least three points on a side or have a main beam of at least 10 inches long to be legal to take.

If you’re hunting deer, make sure you have the $5 deer permit. On private land, the daily bag limit is two. Season dates, bag limits and antler regulations for deer on WMAs can differ, so consult the area brochure before you hunt.

On private lands, wild hogs can be taken year-round with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there’s also no bag or size limit, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On selected WMAs, specific bag and size limits do apply, so again, check the area’s brochure to make sure.

Hunting regulations

During the late muzzleloader season on private lands and archery/muzzleloading gun season on WMAs, dogs may not be used to hunt deer. However, you may use a leashed one to track a wounded deer if necessary. And it’s important to note that no turkeys may be taken during this season.

Bows and crossbows must have minimum draw weights of 35 pounds. Hand-held releases on bows are permitted. Broadheads used in taking deer must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.

During this late season, the only muzzleloaders allowed are those fired by wheel lock, flintlock, percussion cap or centerfire primer (including 209 primers) that cannot be loaded from the breech. For hunting deer, muzzleloading rifles must be at least .40-caliber, and muzzleloading shotguns must be 20-gauge or larger.

Legal shooting hours are between a half-hour before sunrise and a half-hour after sunset. You’re allowed to take deer and hogs over feeding stations on private land, but it is illegal to use such feed on WMAs.

Public hunting opportunity

Twelve of the WMAs in Zone D have a February archery/muzzleloading gun season, and if you plan to hunt any of them, you must have the $26 management area permit. Those areas are Apalachicola, Apalachicola River, Beaverdam Creek, Blackwater, Chipola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Escambia River, Perdido River, Point Washington, Tate’s Hell and Yellow River.

You can get all of the licenses and permits you’ll need at any retail outlet that sells hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA or by going online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days

To all parents out there: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has established Feb. 4-5 as this year’s statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. This weekend is specifically set up for children 15 and younger to hunt waterfowl, coots and common moorhens while being supervised by an adult (18 years or older). Only the kids may hunt; adults may only assist. Because only children 15 and younger may hunt during these two days, no licenses or permits are needed, including federal duck stamps. And if you’re not a duck hunter but your child is showing an interest in trying it, the FWC has brand new online information to assist new hunters – just visit MyFWC.com/NewHunter.

The FWC also has managed hunts at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area, STA 1W and Guana River WMA. These fun, family-oriented events include raffles, free food and great waterfowl hunting. No children are turned away from the hunts, so a quota permit is not necessary. For more information on the Guana River hunt, call 904-825-6877. For more information on the T.M. Goodwin and STA 1W hunts, call 321-726-2862.

Bag limits

The daily bag limit on ducks is six, but within the six-bird limit there can be only one black duck, one mottled duck and one fulvous whistling duck. Two can be canvasbacks, pintails, redheads or scaup, and three may be wood ducks. And you may have no more than four scoters, four eiders, four long-tailed ducks and four mallards (of which only two can be female) in your bag. All other species of ducks can be taken, up to the six-bird limit, except harlequin ducks. The taking of harlequin ducks is against the law.

The daily limit on coots and common moorhens is 15, and there’s a five-bird limit on mergansers, only two of which may be hooded.

Youngsters also may take light geese during Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days. This includes snow, blue and Ross’s geese; and there’s a 15-bird daily bag limit on any combination. Canada geese may be taken as well, and the daily bag limit on them is five.

Waterfowl regulations

Shotguns are the only firearms that kids are allowed to use, and they’re not permitted to use one larger than 10-gauge. Shotguns must be plugged to a three-shell capacity (magazine and chamber combined). Though not practical for duck hunting, bows and crossbows may also be used if your child is so inclined.

Shooting hours are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset, and waterfowl hunters may use only nontoxic shotgun shells. Only iron (steel), bismuth-tin and various shot made from tungsten-alloy are permissible.

Retriever dogs, such as labs, may be used. Artificial decoys and manual or mouth-operated bird calls are not only legal but essential gear for duck hunters.

Prohibited methods of take

Scattering agricultural products over an area for the purpose of baiting is strictly forbidden. Feed, such as corn, wheat or salt, cannot be present where you’re hunting, nor can such baiting be used to attract birds, even if the bait is placed quite a distance away from where you’re hunting.

Some other things you can’t do while hunting waterfowl include using rifles, pistols, traps, snares, nets, sinkboxes, swivel guns, punt guns, battery guns, machine guns, fish hooks, poisons, drugs, explosive substances, live decoys, recorded bird calls or sounds and electrically amplified bird-call imitations. Shooting from an automobile or boat while under power is not illegal and herding or driving birds with vehicles or vessels also is against the law.

The 2016-2017 hunting seasons are winding down, however, there are still great opportunities to get out there. This February, take time to enjoy the solitude of a late season Zone D muzzleloader hunt or introduce a young person to duck hunting during the statewide Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days.

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*(Courtesy of the Outdoor Hub)

A commercial fisherman in Florida made a costly mistake that could land him in prison for life.

Thomas Breeding, a 32-year-old boat captain, was out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when he came across a mysterious package floating in the water. Inside the package was 45 pounds of cocaine. Breeding reportedly said he knew the right thing was to turn it over to the police, but Breeding decided to go a different route.

Instead of doing what he knew was right, Breeding gave the package – worth $500,000 to $620,000 on the street, says AL.com – to four other individuals to distribute. They sold the drugs and paid Breeding a cut of the money, but they weren’t out of the woods just yet.

Authorities weren’t far behind Breeding and his scheme, as they unraveled the whole deal and charged all five men involved with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. Breeding was also found with a gun in his car, and would be charged for illegally transporting a firearm. He will face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $4.25 million fine. He offered the following caution to others not to follow in his footsteps:

“I would like to let the public know the dangers and what not to do if this situation comes about,” said Breeding, who is to be sentenced Feb. 16. “This changed my life and way of thinking, and also made me aware of some of the dangers that can be found off-shore.”

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“Gone Coastal” column (February)

By Jill Christopherson

Fishing line and tackle disposal – It’s about more than just monofilament

Fishing is a key component of the Florida lifestyle as well as the state’s economy. But fishing line and other fishing tackle frequently enter Florida’s aquatic systems as a result of incidental snags or improper disposal. When left in the aquatic environment, fishing line and tackle create potential traps for unsuspecting wildlife that can become entangled and snared, leading to injury and death.

Monofilament is the most common type of fishing line, however, modern advances have produced several other varieties with higher tensile strength, reduced visibility and greater abrasion resistance. These newer, non-monofilament lines, such as braid and fluorocarbon, are fairly popular but not all of them can be recycled like monofilament fishing line, and they are commonly disposed of improperly.

How you can help

To help reduce the negative environmental impacts from improper disposal of all fishing line and tackle, anglers can follow these general guidelines:

  • Check line frequently for frays that may break easily.
  • Don’t leave bait unattended since pelicans, herons and other birds may attempt to take the bait from the line, which may result in entanglements.
  • Cast away from trees, utility lines, wildlife and areas where line may get caught.
  • If you see improperly discarded fishing line while you are out, pick it up and stow it to be disposed of later.

Anglers can purchase or make their own fishing line storage bins to keep with them while they are fishing so that line can be stored securely and out of the way. Products such as the Monomaster and Line Snatcher are designed to help anglers store their unwanted fishing line; however, homemade versions can also be made by cutting an “X” in the lid of something as simple as a tennis ball container or coffee can.

Monofilament recycling

Once on shore, monofilament and fluorocarbon line can be recycled in designated bins found at most boat ramps, piers and tackle shops. However, anglers should not use these bins to discard any other type of fishing line or leader material such as braid or wire. Also, the bins should not be used to discard any type of tackle, such as hooks, lures or soft plastics, which can injure other anglers discarding their fishing line or the individuals who empty the bins for recycling.

You can learn how to make your own monofilament recycling bin by visiting our FWC Saltwater Fishing YouTube channel or by participating in the statewide Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program. For more information on the statewide Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program, visit MRRP.MyFWC.com.

Disposing of non-monofilament

In addition to properly securing and recycling monofilament and fluorocarbon line, it is important to ensure that non-monofilament line and other tackle are disposed of appropriately. To discard non-monofilament line, such as braid or wire, cut the line into 12-inch or smaller pieces and place into a covered trash receptacle. Line placed in trash receptacles without lids can blow out into the environment or entangle wildlife that are foraging in the open trash receptacle.

When disposing of other tackle, such as hooks and lures, it is important to clip off sharp points to avoid injuring humans and wildlife that may come in contact with the discarded tackle. As part of the “Pitch It” campaign, soft plastic baits with the hook or jig head removed can be discarded in special program containers that are separate from monofilament recycling bins. Learn more about soft bait disposal and the “Pitch It” campaign by visiting Pledgetopitchit.org.

Remember, disposing of fishing line and tackle appropriately can reduce the risk of wildlife entanglement and help protect coastal habitats. To learn more about bird entanglement and how to unhook a bird, visit MyFWC.com/Unhook. To report entanglement of protected species, such as manatees and marine turtles, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 (FWCC) or dial *FWC on a cellphone.

Have a burning question about marine fisheries regulations? Want to know more about catch-and-release? We are here for you. Send your questions, photos and fishing tales to Saltwater@MyFWC.com. Make sure your photo meets our photo requirements by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Saltwater Fishing” and “Submit a photograph” under “Get Involved.” Don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at Snookfoundation.org. And learn how to submit your catches and get rewarded through our Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs at CatchaFloridaMemory.com.

The quarterly “Gone Coastal” column is one of many ways that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are also available to answer questions by phone or email anytime, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations. To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email Saltwater@MyFWC.com.

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FWC approves spiny lobster commercial bully net fishery changes

At its February meeting in Crystal River, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved several changes to the spiny lobster bully net fishery, including directing staff to launch a “Respectful Bully Netting” outreach campaign.

The FWC has received input from stakeholders about the increasing participation in the commercial bully net lobster fishery, and these changes will help address some of those concerns.

Changes to the commercial fishery effective May 1 will include:

  • Creating an open-access commercial bully net lobster endorsement available to commercial fishers who hold a crawfish endorsement.
  • Requiring commercial bully net vessels be marked with the harvester’s bully net endorsement number using reflective paint or other reflective material.
  • Prohibiting trap pullers on commercial bully net vessels.
  • Prohibiting the simultaneous possession of a bully net and any underwater breathing apparatus (not including dive masks or snorkels) aboard a vessel used to harvest or transport lobster for commercial purposes.
  • Updating the definition of “commercial harvester” to include the bully net endorsement.

For information on commercial spiny lobster fishery regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Commercial” and “Lobster.”

For more information on the presentation given to the Commission, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings,” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”


FWC discusses goliath grouper; Gulf red snapper, gray triggerfish and gag grouper

Media contact: Amanda Nalley, 850-410-4943 or Amanda.Nalley@MyFWC.com

At its February meeting in Crystal River, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed future management possibilities for goliath grouper, Gulf of Mexico red snapper, Gulf of Mexico gray triggerfish, and Gulf of Mexico gag grouper. For details on these items, see below.

Goliath grouper

In a discussion on goliath grouper, FWC staff reviewed the species’ management history, biology, and stock assessments. Stakeholder input on the management of goliath grouper has varied from interest in opening a harvest to continuing with the current harvest prohibition.

FWC staff is interested in hearing more from the public on the management of this species, including the possibility of a limited harvest.

To submit your comments, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments. Details about any future in-person meetings will be provided when available at MyFWC.com/Fishing (click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Rulemaking” and “Workshops.”)

Gulf red snapper and gray triggerfish

Commissioners also approved a draft rule to set the 2017 Gulf state waters recreational red snapper season, and discussed the potential for a fall 2017 Gulf recreational gray triggerfish season.

The proposed Gulf recreational red snapper season, if approved at the April meeting in Tallahassee, would be 78 days in total and would be:

  • Open Saturdays and Sundays in May starting the first Saturday in May.
  • Continuously starting the Saturday before Memorial Day through Sunday following Independence Day.
  • Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day.

Due to the 2016 federal quota being exceeded, the Gulf recreational gray triggerfish season has been closed in state and federal waters for all of 2017. FWC staff is gathering input on a limited fall 2017 season in state waters that could provide harvest opportunities to anglers.

Gulf gag grouper

The Commission also expressed interest in making changes to the recreational gag grouper season in Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties. Staff have received stakeholder requests for a longer season in this area, which is currently open yearly from April 1 through June 30. Gulf state waters outside of that area and all Gulf federal waters are open June 1 through Dec. 31.

Comment and more

To comment on these items, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

For more information on these changes or to view the presentations given at the Commission meeting, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”

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FWC approves bay scallop season changes for 2017 in St. Joe Bay; discusses other regional changes

At its February meeting in Crystal River, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed the current status of bay scallops in St. Joseph Bay in Gulf County; approved regional changes to the bay scallop season dates in Gulf County and areas surrounding Gulf County; and discussed potential season dates in Dixie County and parts of Taylor County. These changes are for 2017 only and are an opportunity to explore regionally-specific bay scallop seasons.

A prolonged red tide event in late 2015 negatively impacted the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay, which led to modified local scallop regulations for 2016 that included a shortened season and reduced bag limits. FWC researchers conducted a scallop restoration project last year within St. Joseph Bay to help speed the recovery of the scallop population. These efforts have been going well and the scallop population has shown signs of improvement. Staff will conduct similar restoration efforts in 2017.

“Staff and the community should be commended for their communication, management and restoration efforts in St. Joe Bay,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts. “They were presented with a challenging situation and came through with a plan that balanced the needs of the resource with the economic and social needs of the community.”

At the request of stakeholders, the Commission approved a July 25 through Sept. 10 recreational bay scallop season off Gulf County, including all waters in St. Joseph Bay and those west of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County through the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

Staff also have been looking into scallop regulations as a whole across the harvest area and proposed potential future changes in Dixie and parts of Taylor counties. The Commission directed staff to work with leadership in Dixie and Taylor counties on gaining consensus on potential season dates for 2017 and to adopt those changes in Dixie County and parts of Taylor County by executive order. A press release will be issued once a season is selected for this area.

Bag and vessel limits throughout the entire bay scallop harvest zone will be two gallons whole bay scallops in shell, or one pint of bay scallop meat per person with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell, or a 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.

At the December 2017 Commission meeting, staff will review public feedback on these changes and make a recommendation for future management. To submit your feedback on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

For more information on these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings,” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”

For information on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.”