FWC discusses creating additional fishing opportunities for gag grouper in Gulf 4-county region 

At its April meeting in Tallahassee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) discussed the future management of Gulf of Mexico gag grouper and approved a draft proposal to extend the recreational season in state waters off Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties.

State waters off of these four counties are currently open from April 1 through June 30, but FWC has received stakeholder requests for a longer season. Gulf state waters outside of that area and all Gulf federal waters are open June 1 through Dec. 31.

The Commission’s draft proposal would keep the current April 1 through June 30 season and add a fall open season from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31. This proposal will be brought back before the Commission at the July meeting for a final public hearing.

To comment on proposed gag grouper management changes and more, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

For more information 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.”

FWC approves 78-day recreational red snapper 2017 season in Gulf waters

At its April meeting in Tallahassee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) set the 2017 Gulf state waters recreational red snapper season.

The 78-day Gulf recreational red snapper season will be as follows:

  • Open Saturdays and Sundays in May starting the first Saturday in May.
  • Open daily starting the Saturday before Memorial Day (May 27) through Sunday following Independence Day (July 9).
  • Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day (Sept. 4).

“We are once again able to provide and maintain fishing opportunities for Gulf recreational anglers and provide stakeholders with spring, summer and fall fishing options for this economically important species,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

The federal seasons for private recreational anglers and federally-permitted charter boats and head boats in Gulf federal waters have not yet been announced by NOAA Fisheries.

Learn more about red snapper at MyFWC.com/Fishing by clicking on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Snappers.”

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.”

At its April 20 meeting in Tallahassee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved closing Gulf state waters to recreational harvest of greater amberjack for the remainder of 2017, starting April 22. This is consistent with the amberjack closure in Gulf federal waters that went into effect March 24, 2017. Both state and federal waters will reopen Jan. 1, 2018.

“While there are not a lot of amberjack caught in state waters, this is a chance to take a step back and see what is happening with the fishery and help ensure future fishing opportunities,” said Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

These closures were put into place because NOAA Fisheries estimates that the annual federal recreational quota was met. The quota is the amount of fish that can be caught each year while maintaining a sustainable fishery. Closing state waters for the rest of 2017 will help minimize chances of a quota overage. Federal rules require that any harvest in excess of the amberjack quota must be deducted from the next year’s quota, which can result in a shortened federal season.

To learn more about greater amberjack, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Amberjack.”

Families invited to free Outdoor Experience at Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center

Enjoy fun outdoor activities April 29 at the 2017 Outdoor Experience, a free family event hosted at the Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center. The Outdoor Experience provides a safe environment, expert instruction, and gear and tackle so attendees of all ages can try activities such as archery, fishing and shooting sports stations. The event, hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Outdoor Experience also features hay rides, bounce houses and guest performances by nationally-known target shooters. World champion Randy Oitker will demonstrate his archery skills at 11 a.m. and world record holder Patrick Flanigan will showcase his shotgun shooting at 2 p.m. In addition, the FWC and its partners will host hands-on activities and educational programs about fish and wildlife conservation.

The Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center is in Jefferson County on U.S. 19 just north of Highway 27 (9194 S. Jefferson Highway in Lamont). Johnston’s Meat Market will be selling food and beverages during the event with a portion of the proceeds being donated to support the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network. Attendees also may bring their own snacks and drinks.

Advance event registration is not required. For more information about the Outdoor Experience, visit BTYCC.org.

Python swallows farmer!

April 6, 2017

*(Story courtesy of https://www.usatoday.com – Photo courtesy of MyFWC)

Indonesian farmer swallowed whole by 23-foot-long python!

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wubpbH8anKI
Warning the footage may be disturbing!

A missing Indonesian man was found inside a massive python on the island of Sulawesi, according to local authorities and news reports.

Villagers found the body of Akbar Salubiro, 25, after cutting open a 23-foot-long reticulated python,The Jakarta Post reported. 

Salubiro was reported missing Monday after he failed to return from harvesting palm oil the following day, a spokesperson for the police in West Sulawesi province told BBC Indonesian.

While searching for the man villagers found the python and suspected that it might have eaten Salubiro.

“They didn’t find him (Akbar), but the villagers saw an unmoving python in the ditch,” Mashura, who goes by his first name, told BBC Indonesia. “They grew suspicious that maybe the snake had Akbar. When they cut it open, Akbar was inside the snake.”

Villagers found one of Salubiro’s boots, his harvesting tool and palm fruit at the site, The Associated Press reported.

Tribun Timur posted the video of people cutting open the snake at night. In the video, people crowd around as the snake’s skin is pulled back, revealing an intact body laying on its side.

Reticulated pythons typically eat small to medium-sized mammals and squeeze their prey to death before swallowing it whole, according AP. Attacks on humans are extremely rare.

Manatees in motion

April 5, 2017

Keep a lookout for manatees in motion this spring!

In balmy spring weather, both manatees and boaters are cruising through Florida’s waterways.

For manatees, it is a seasonal ritual when they abandon winter retreats and head north along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and through inland waters. For boaters, it is a critical time to be on the lookout for manatees to avoid colliding with these large, slow-moving aquatic mammals.

From April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being struck by motorboats or personal watercraft.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers will be on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take enforcement actions when necessary.

Because manatees are difficult to detect when underwater, operators of boats, including personal watercraft, need to take basic steps to avoid causing injury to manatees:

  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
  • Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
  • Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
  • Follow posted manatee zones while boating.

FWC biologists, managers and law enforcement staff work closely with partners to evaluate current data and identify necessary actions to protect this iconic animal. Florida has invested over $2 million annually for manatee conservation, and the FWC will work toward continued success for manatees in our state.

Manatee zones and maps are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can select “Protection Zones” for links to county maps.

The FWC also asks anyone who sees an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee to call the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dial #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.

You can watch manatees without disturbing them by following “Guidelines for protecting native wildlife – Florida Manatees,” a brochure with tips for canoers, kayakers, paddle boarders, snorkelers and scuba divers. It’s available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, click on “Boat, PWC, & Paddle-sport Operators” and then on “Paddle-sport Operators.” Also on MyFWC.com/Manatee is “Where are Florida’s Manatees?” with information about where to go to see manatees in the wild or in captivity.

Support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue and management efforts by purchasing a “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or by donating $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”

Free Kids’ Fishing Clinic in Pensacola promises day of learning, fun

Teaching children a lifelong hobby, instilling appreciation for our marine environment and providing fun, family outings are the objectives for the Kids’ Fishing Clinic in Pensacola on April 8.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will offer a free Kids’ Fishing Clinic for children between the ages of 5 and 15 from 9 a.m. to noon at Vince J. Whibbs Sr. Community Maritime Park, 301 W. Main St., near the Blue Wahoos Stadium.

These free clinics enable young people to learn the basics of conservation stewardship, fishing ethics, angling skills and safety. In addition, environmental displays will offer participants a unique chance to experience Florida’s marine life firsthand.

Kids’ Fishing Clinics strive to achieve several goals, but the main objective is to create responsible marine-resource stewards by teaching children about the vulnerability of Florida’s marine ecosystems. In addition, organizers hope to teach fundamental saltwater fishing skills and provide participants a positive fishing experience.

Fishing equipment and bait are provided for kids to use during the clinic, but organizers encourage children who own fishing tackle to bring it. A limited number of rods and reels will be given away to participants upon completion of the clinic.

If conditions allow, participants will have the opportunity to practice their new skills and fish from the pier. This event is a photo catch-and-release activity. An adult must accompany all participants. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. and will end when 350 participants are registered.

Individuals or companies interested in helping sponsor this event or volunteering at the clinic should contact Scot Mason at prfa@mchsi.com or FWC’s Elizabeth Winchester at 850-617-9644.

To find out more about fishing clinics for kids, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing and select the “Youth & Student” option under “Education.”

FWC documents panther kittens north of Caloosahatchee River

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has verified the presence of at least two panther kittens north of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida. These kittens are presumed to be the offspring of the first wild female panther documented north of the river since 1973.

“This is good news for Florida panther conservation,” said Kipp Frohlich, deputy director for the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “Until now, we only had evidence of panthers breeding south of the Caloosahatchee. These pictures of a female with kittens indicate there are now panthers breeding north of the river.”

Using trail cameras, biologists have monitored male panthers on various public and private lands north of the Caloosahatchee River for several years. In 2015, biologists collected a photo of what appeared to be a female panther in the FWC’s Babcock Ranch Preserve Wildlife Management Area in Charlotte County. They deployed additional cameras in the summer of 2016, and captured more images of what they believed to be a female panther.

“Early this year, the cameras captured images of a female that appeared to be nursing,” said Darrell Land, FWC panther team leader. “For many years, the Caloosahatchee River has appeared to be a major obstacle to northward movement of female panthers. This verification of kittens with the female demonstrates panthers can expand their breeding territory across the river naturally.”

“This is a major milestone on the road to recovery for the Florida panther,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “We are mindful and appreciative of all the many partners and cooperators who have supported panther conservation efforts over the years leading to meaningful moments like this.”

The FWC works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure panther conservation on both private and public lands. Staff also work to continue building support and cooperation among private landowners who maintain working landscapes and ranches that provide important habitat for panthers.

“This is good news for panther recovery, and the Service is committed to working with landowners to make panthers and private land ownership compatible,” said Larry Williams, State Supervisor of Ecological Services for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Florida residents can support panther conservation efforts by purchasing a “Protect the Panther” license plate at BuyaPlate.com. Fees from license plate sales are the primary funding source for the FWC’s research and management of Florida panthers. These funds contributed to the successful documentation of this important panther conservation milestone.

You can help with panther research by reporting panther sightings, and uploading photos and videos to the FWC at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

For information about Florida panthers, including tips on how to safely coexist with them, visit MyFWC.com/Panther.

In celebration of 75 years of Florida’s wildlife management area system, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invites you to join area staff in exploring Escribano Point WMA by kayak.

The event will be the weekend of April 14-15, and will be limited to the first 20 people who register. A free group campsite and dinner will be provided on Friday, April 14, where FWC biologists will discuss the area’s natural and historical features. The kayak tour will be Saturday, April 15, followed by a free lunch.

Participants must bring their own camping equipment, kayak and gear to participate in this event. Everyone must wear a personal flotation device and have a whistle.

“The FWC is working hard to restore native habitat at Escribano Point and other wildlife management areas statewide. Join staff for a behind-the-scenes look at how they improve conditions for wildlife and recreation at this beautiful area, steeped in fascinating history,” said Liz Sparks, a planner for the FWC’s Office of Public Access and Wildlife Viewing Services.

Escribano Point WMA’s rich habitat mix creates year-round wildlife viewing opportunities. Salt marshes are some of Florida’s most productive habitats, and are good places to discover birds such as rails, shorebirds, wintering waterfowl, sparrows, herons, egrets, eagles and ospreys. Escribano Point offers a variety of recreational activities including hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, paddling and camping.

Individuals interested in learning more about this event should contact Liz Sparks at 850-570-5950. Those interested in reserving a free campsite for the weekend should contact Mark Winland at 850-819-0890. Register for this event online at Eventbrite.com by searching “Escribano.”

Florida’s wildlife management area system represents nearly 6 million acres of lands, and is one of the state’s greatest natural treasures. The FWC oversees this statewide network, managing these remote and scenic lands for conservation and recreation. To find out more, visit MyFWC.com/WMA75.

Gulf sturgeon have begun their annual migration back into the Suwannee River, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Researchers from the United States Geological Survey have reported that the fish began returning to the north Florida river in January because of the warm winter. With low water levels this spring, sturgeon may jump more frequently than in previous years. As river levels drop, the jumping frequency increases.

“The best course of action is to go slow, wear your life jacket and keep people off the bow of the boat,” said Maj. Andy Krause, FWC regional commander. “The Suwannee is a beautiful river, and we certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from enjoying it. We just want those recreating there to be aware these fish are present and can jump at any time. There have been injuries and, tragically, even a death in past years due to sturgeon strikes.”

Going slow is recommended to reduce the risk of impact and to have more reaction time if a jumping sturgeon is encountered. Boaters are always encouraged to wear their life jackets at all times while on the water.

“Even one person getting hurt is one too many,” said Krause. “We want people to be aware the sturgeon are back in the Suwannee and that a risk of injury to boaters does exist.”

FWC officers will be on water patrol during the summer months in a continued effort to educate boaters about these jumping fish.

These collisions are not attacks. Sturgeon do not target boaters. They are doing what they have been doing for millions of years: jumping. Researchers have determined that sturgeon jump to communicate with other fish and to gulp air to fill their swim bladders. This allows sturgeon to maintain neutral buoyancy.

Biologists estimate the annual population of adult sturgeon in the Suwannee River to be about 10,000 fish, averaging about 5 feet in length and weighing 40 pounds. However, a few may exceed 170 pounds. Sturgeon can leap more than 7 feet out of the water. To add to the seriousness of being hit by one, the fish have five rows of armor-like scutes.

While it is possible for sturgeon to jump anywhere in the river, those in the Suwannee are more commonly observed jumping where they gather in “holding” areas. Major holding areas in the Suwannee occur above Jack’s Sandbar; below Manatee Springs; between Fanning Springs and Usher Landing; below Old Town Trestle; below the confluence of the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers; near Rock Bluff; and below Anderson Springs.

Adult fish may spend up to nine months each year in the river, spawning in May, and then return to the Gulf during the coolest months to feed.

State and federal laws protect sturgeon, just like bald eagles, panthers and sea turtles. Gulf sturgeon cannot be harvested.

To report sturgeon collisions, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

For more information about the Gulf sturgeon, go to MyFWC.com/Research and click on “Saltwater” then “Sturgeon.”