More protection Florida sharks

NAPLES (FLORIDA)-Anglers can catch more sea trout but need to kill fewer sharks, state fishery managers will recommend at this week’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting in Naples.

The state regulatory board also begins reviewing a budget for the next fiscal year that proposes to institute a 10 percent cut ordered by the Florida Legislature.

Possible cuts include the possible elimination of 130 agency law-enforcement officers statewide to save about $7 million, and cutting the lobster and crab trap-retrieval program by $128,400.

Overall, FWC administrators outlined $18.1 million in potential cuts to the agency that manages, regulates and enforces rules for fishing and hunting.

A review of the FWC budget indicates “there is very little left in the agency which is not mission-critical,” says a staff report to the commission board. “It is our sincere hope that little of [possible cuts] listed here need actually be eliminated.”

In fishery matters of interest to the Florida Keys, the FWC board on Thursday will hear staff proposals on protecting sharks.

Tiger sharks and three species of hammerhead sharks (great, smooth and scalloped) all should be added to Florida’s no-take list, which now includes 22 shark species, says the recommended action.

Tiger shark “research in the Florida Keys indicates there may have been a significant decline in their numbers there, where they were once considered abundant,” an agency report notes.

National studies suggest tiger shark populations have dropped significantly, by up to 97 percent in some locations.

The Asian appetite for shark-fin soup has led to increased mortality on big sharks, which are slow to reach sexual maturity and do not breed in large numbers. As a result, shark populations “can take decades to recover once they become depleted,” scientists reported.

A series of seven statewide workshops on sharks, including one in Key West, found widespread support for adding the four shark species to the protected list, staff said.

Two other shark proposals — to require use of circle hooks in shark fishing, and to ban chumming from shore — did not get endorsed by FWC staff.

Despite some concerns raised by the public about chumming near areas where people may swim, FWC staff said shark attacks remain rare. There is no evidence that shore chumming increases the chances of an attack, a report says.

Public comments on requiring circle hooks in shark fishing were “mixed,” agency staff said. Since circle hooks already are becoming more widely used, the FWC should consider educational efforts to advocate for circle hooks without making them mandatory, agency staff recommends.

After FWC commissioners review the shark plan this week, final action is scheduled for the agency’s November meeting in Key Largo.

Sea trout

Encouraging reports on the spotted sea trout fishery could lead to a year-around recreational season on the Gulf of Mexico food fish.

Currently, sea trout fishing in South Florida closes in November and December. A 2010 stock assessment for spotted sea trout shows “spotted sea trout populations are exceeding the FWC’s management goal in all regions of Florida, except for the northwest region,” a report says.

The agency also will recommend extending the season for the “small” commercial fishery on sea trout. The FWC meets from Wednesday through Friday at the Naples Grande resort.

Read more at KeysNet

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