Board updated on Gulf oil spill

Published 8:08 pm Thursday, May 20, 2010

In its final meeting of 2010, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board received an update on the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and received public testimony on a wide range of conservation issues that included a request to reduce the creel limit on bass at Lake Guntersville to five fish and an appeal to keep promoting the renewal of the Forever Wild program.

Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley said as of the board meeting, which was held Saturday at Lakepoint Resort State Park in Eufaula, the oil has reached 29 miles of shoreline in Louisiana but only a handful of tar balls had shown up on the Alabama shore. Two dead pelicans had been reported and they were being examined for cause of death.

“This is a very serious issue that could affect all of our lives,” Lawley said.

Lawley also commended Board member Dr. Wayne May of Eutaw for his effort to define “area” in the current baiting regulations that would help with enforcement of the regulation.

“Dr. May has worked long and hard on this difficult issue with (Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Enforcement Chief) Allan Andress,” Lawley said. “There are some groups who are saying this is legalizing baiting. It has nothing to do with legalizing baiting. It is trying to define the area where you know you can hunt and be legal. This is not an easy task.”

Dr. May reiterated the point that his effort to refine the regulation to make it easier for everyone to understand has been misconstrued by some.

“In no way do I condone hunting over bait,” Dr. May said. “Some people have misrepresented my position that the purpose of the motion was intended to relax the prohibition of hunting over bait. On the contrary, this proposes to provide clarity to the hunting public, the enforcement officers and the justices. Again, I do not condone hunting over bait.”

On the subject of Forever Wild, Commissioner Lawley referred to legislation passed this year that calls for no-net-loss of public hunting land. The legislation requires the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) find replacement acreage for hunting lands when existing hunting lands owned, leased or managed by the department are lost to ensure there is no net loss of land acreage available for hunting. Should current hunting land be lost, the legislation also encourages ADCNR to find replacement land that is located in the same administrative region and provides the same hunting opportunities allowed on the closed land.

“The way we replace those lands is Forever Wild,” Lawley said. “Forever Wild is one of the most important programs in the state. Everybody has ownership and everybody has access. Forever Wild has done a good job with the money available. We have to stretch our dollars to try to buy more land.”

Tim Gothard of the Alabama Wildlife Federation called on all who enjoy the outdoors to make Forever Wild a topic of conversation every day until the program is reauthorized by the Alabama Legislature.

“Forever Wild managed to make it through this session without any legislation that would divert funding,” Gothard said. “That was a success, but now we’ve got to get it across the goal line. This is an ongoing effort. It’s not time to take a vacation. We need to make Forever Wild an everyday discussion. This needs to be the topic whether we’re fishing, hunting or just sitting at the dinner table. We need to let our legislators know how important this is. We will have to do the work to get this through.

“We have 85 groups involved in the Protect Forever Wild Coalition. We want that to grow to 150 groups. Reach out to other organizations and businesses to get them signed up.”

In other public testimony, Troy Jens, a fishing guide on Lake Guntersville, asked the board to consider a reduction of the daily creel limit for black bass from 10 to five fish. Jens presented the board a petition with more than 1,000 signatures asking for the reduction.

“Lake Guntersville is the jewel of Alabama and the jewel of the Southeast,” Jens said. “Few other lakes can compare to Guntersville.”

Jens pointed out that the fishing is so good on Guntersville that fishing pressure has increased significantly from both residents and nonresident anglers due to word of mouth and media exposure.

“We want the protection for the down cycles,” he said. “Fishing is good now. Now is the time to protect the lake.”

Board member Raymond Jones Jr. of Huntsville asked Nick Nichols, Assistant Chief of Fisheries, to study the issue and present a report to the board before the next meeting, scheduled Feb. 5, 2011 in Montgomery.

In another request for additional regulations regarding fishing, Tim Herring asked the board to consider restrictions on the number of jugs, floats, limblines and trotlines anglers can use. Herring said that he often fishes lakes all over Alabama and has become concerned about the numbers and types of gear used. He also asked that any jugs that once held petroleum products to be banned.

“People are abandoning the equipment and it causes litter, safety issues, kills fish and contaminates the lake,” Herring said. “I’m asking for responsible use like in our neighboring states of Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee. There is no intent to ban or eliminate this type of fishing. We just need responsible use.”

Herring pointed out that Mississippi and Florida limit the number of jugs or floats to 25 per person, while Tennessee has limit of between 10 and 50, depending on the body of water. Herring also asked that fishermen be required to have name and address on each fishing apparatus to make it easier on enforcement to determine the source of the gear.

“I participate in the lake cleanups sponsored by Alabama Power and we pick up thousands of jugs with lines attached,” Herring said. “There’s not a week goes by that I don’t rescue a fish on an abandoned jug.”

Testimony about the trout fishing on the Sipsey Fork continued with another request for additional stocking of rainbow trout, the addition of brown trout to the stocking effort and a catch-and-release area.

Board member Grady Hartzog of Eufaula, who was charged with reporting on the trout issue, said he discussed the situation with Alabama Power, which controls the flow from Lewis Smith Dam, and he recommended no changes be made in the current regulations until the effect of improvements to the dam can be determined.

In other action, the board approved regulations that refine rules that affect exhibitors of wildlife (petting zoos, etc.) that will make the rules more uniform without undue economic hardship on the exhibitors.

Board member Ross Self of Gulf Shores also said the opening date of red snapper season has not been changed by the oil spill and will open on June 1. Self also said realtors along the Alabama Gulf Coast have agreed to waive all cancellation fees should the oil spill affect the area.

No changes were made to the seasons and bag limits previously approved by the board. Pending Commissioner Lawley’s signature, the dove season dates for the South Zone (Baldwin, Barbour, Coffee, Covington, Dale, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile counties) are Oct. 2-31, Nov. 25-28 and Dec. 4 through Jan. 8. The North Zone (all other counties) dates are Sept. 4 through Oct. 3, Oct. 23 through Nov. 6 and Dec. 11 through Jan. 4.