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FWC decides to make it easier for Florida veterans to become commercial fishermen

Florida veterans wishing to enter the commercial fishing industry may soon be able to do so more easily thanks to changes made today at the Sept. 5-6 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting in Tampa. These changes are anticipated to take effect on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2012.

The Commission implemented a new program that will modify income requirements for Florida veterans seeking a commercial restricted species endorsement license.

The restricted species endorsement allows commercial harvesters to fish for and sell species that are designated as restricted.

Spanish and king mackerel, flounder, shrimp, dolphin and several reef fish are among the list of species that require a restricted species endorsement.

Currently, commercial harvesters attempting to qualify for a restricted species endorsement license must have a Florida Saltwater Products License, which is Florida's commercial saltwater fishing license, and be able to attribute $5,000 or 25 percent of their total annual income during one of the past three years to sales of saltwater products.

With the new changes in place, restricted species endorsement income requirements will be waived for one license year (July 1 - June 30) for Florida veterans who were honorably discharged between Sept. 11, 2001, and June 30, 2014. After June 30, 2014, this income requirement waiver will continue to extend to Florida veterans so long as they apply within four years of an honorable discharge.

The one-license-year waiver also extends to honorably discharged veterans with service-connected disabilities. After the one-year waiver expires, veterans with service-connected disabilities will have a reduced income requirement of $2,500 instead of $5,000. To qualify for these exemptions, veterans must be certified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Armed Forces to have at least a 10-percent disability that is service-connected.

To learn more about commercial fishing requirements, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on "Saltwater" and "Commercial."

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FWC updates gopher tortoise conservation plan

Five years after creating Florida's first Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a revised plan intended to guide continued recovery of the gopher tortoise through 2022. The plan includes conservation of both the gopher tortoise and species inhabiting its burrows, including the indigo snake, Florida pine snake, gopher frog and Florida mouse.

"We must consider the whole gopher tortoise community. Gopher tortoise burrows are extensive, typically 6 feet deep and 15 feet long, and more than 350 other animals depend on them for food and shelter," said Deborah Burr, the FWC's gopher tortoise plan coordinator. "Florida plans to focus on conserving both the gopher tortoise and other wildlife living in its burrows."

The overall goal of the revised Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, available at MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise, is to restore and maintain secure, viable populations throughout Florida so the species no longer warrants listing.

Now a state-threatened species, the gopher tortoise is also a candidate for listing as a federally threatened species. The FWC will use the new plan to collaborate with numerous partners and work toward achieving a level of gopher tortoise conservation that would assist in precluding the need to list the species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The revised Gopher Tortoise Management Plan shifts the emphasis from the relocation guidelines and permitting implemented under the original 2007 plan to long-term, nonregulatory conservation actions and incentives.

The new plan underwent three drafts and was shaped by extensive input from a core group of diverse stakeholders, several public comment periods and meetings and outreach with stakeholders, the public and scientists. It builds upon achievements over the past five years, such as implementation of online permitting, relocation of 13,385 tortoises from development sites, and managing 92,500 acres of tortoise habitat.

The conservation objectives of the revised plan are:

  • Minimize the loss of gopher tortoises;
  • Increase and improve gopher tortoise habitat;
  • Enhance and restore gopher tortoise populations;
  • Maintain the gopher tortoise's function as a keystone species.

The FWC plans to work with private and public landowners and managers to get them the incentives they need to achieve gopher tortoise conservation, whether the issue is preserving habitat or relocating tortoises.

It is illegal to harm gopher tortoises or their burrows in Florida. The major threat to the gopher tortoise is the destruction, fragmentation and degradation of its habitat. Factors contributing to habitat loss include urbanization, suppression of fires and invasive plants.

To identify a gopher tortoise, look for its stumpy, elephantine hind feet and flattened, shovel-like forelimbs that are adapted for digging. The adult's oblong shell is generally tan, brown or gray. Gopher tortoises were identified more than 235 years ago by naturalist William Bartram as he explored Florida.

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Pull back on a string; huntin season is here!

Even though you can hardly tell, summer is almost over. Kids have returned to school, football is back on TV, and hunting season's already been going on for a month now in South Florida. Most of us have already finished our preseason scouting, and we've hung our tree stands along well-traveled deer trails – next to a mature oak tree that'll soon begin dropping acorns, we hope.

Finally, the time of year we've been waiting for is here!

Just like last year on private lands, hunting season still comes in first in Zone A, which is that part of the state south of State Road 70. Archery and crossbow seasons there started July 28.
The fourth hunting zone, which was added two years ago and is made up in part by the Green Swamp Basin, is called Zone B and lies south of S.R. 50, west of U.S. 441 and the Kissimmee Waterway, north of S.R. 60 and east of the Gulf of Mexico. Archery and crossbow seasons in Zone B start this year on Oct. 13.

The line that divides zones C and D begins at U.S. 27 at the (Gadsden County) Florida-Georgia state line and runs south on U.S. 27 until it meets S.R. 61 in Tallahassee. From there, it follows S.R. 61, running south until it hits U.S. 319. There, the line follows U.S. 319, continuing south to U.S. 98; it then runs east along U.S. 98 before turning south on Spring Creek Highway and continuing to the Gulf of Mexico.

If you hunt west of that line, you're in Zone D, where archery and crossbow seasons begin on Oct. 20 this year. In Zone C, archery and crossbow seasons open on the third Saturday in September. This year, that date is Sept. 15.

To hunt during archery season, you'll need a Florida hunting license and an archery permit. During crossbow season, you'll need a hunting license and crossbow permit. If you're a Florida resident, an annual hunting license will cost $17. Nonresidents have the choice of paying $46.50 for a 10-day license or $151.50 for 12 months. Archery and crossbow permits cost just $5 each, and all deer hunters must have the $5 deer permit. Anyone planning on hunting one of Florida's many WMAs must purchase a management area permit for $26.50.

And don't forget to pick up the WMA brochure for the area you wish to hunt, because hunting season dates on many of the areas are often different from what the zonal dates are. You can pick up a copy of these WMA brochures at your local tax collector's office or read them at MyFWC.com/Hunting.

During archery season and that part of crossbow season that is concurrent with archery, you can take deer of either sex, regardless of antler size (except for spotted fawns). After archery ends, during the remaining portion of the crossbow season, only legal bucks (having at least one antler that is at least 5 inches long) may be taken. The daily bag limit on deer is two. Bag limits for deer on WMAs can differ, so check the specifics of the area before you hunt.

You can hunt wild hogs on private lands year-round with no bag or size limits. On most WMAs, there's also no bag or size limits, and hogs are legal to take during most hunting seasons except spring turkey. On a few WMAs, bag and size limits do apply, so be sure to check the brochure for the specific area to be certain.

It's also legal to shoot gobblers and bearded turkeys during archery and crossbow seasons, given you have a turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for nonresidents). You can take only one turkey per day, and there's a two-bird fall-season limit. It's against the law to hunt turkeys in Holmes County in the fall, and it's illegal to shoot them while they're on the roost, over bait, when you're within 100 yards of a game-feeding station when bait is present or with the aid of recorded turkey calls.

If you're hunting during the archery season, you may hunt only with a bow and must have the $5 archery permit. During crossbow season, you may use either a crossbow or bow, but you must have the $5 crossbow permit. On WMAs, only hunters with a disabled crossbow permit are allowed to use crossbows during archery season. All bows must have a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, and hand-held releases are permitted. For hunting deer, hogs and turkeys, broadheads must have at least two sharpened edges with a minimum width of 7/8 inch.

Tony Young is the media relations coordinator for the FWC's Division of Hunting and Game Management. He can be reached with questions about hunting at .

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