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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

New rules for local waters; storm forecast changes, too

State fishery regulators have come up with some new rules for offshore and inshore critters.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now limits anglers to no more than two permit and pompano larger than 20 inches fork length per vessel per day.

"This proposal is intended to protect permit when they aggregate to spawn," FWC officials said. "Permit are a prized game fish targeted for catch and release fishing by anglers in south Florida, and they are also sought for consumption. Permit are managed together with pompano because they are difficult to distinguish at smaller sizes."

Former rules allowed up to six permit and pompano of 11- to 20-inch fork length daily, and one fish more than 20 inches fork length.

Permit, by the way, collect in late spring near offshore reefs and wrecks to spawn, which continues through August but hits a peak in May, June and July.

"The FWC has received reports that the aggregations of spawning permit are being heavily fished by head boats operating out of Southwest Florida," officials said. "These boats, with large numbers of anglers aboard, are able to legally harvest many large permit and remain in compliance with the current bag limit," hence the worry that the spawning fish will be overfished.

The new rule goes into effect July 1 and applies statewide in both state and federal waters.

Crab rules proposed, too

FWC officials are also looking to further regulate the blue crab fishery in Florida, which some say is also being threatened by overfishing.

FWC's Blue Crab Advisory Board is suggesting a limitation of the total number of commercial blue crab fishers and also requiring each qualified trapper to use an equal number of traps.

Under the FWC's proposals, which would need the approval of the Florida Legislature, new rules would include:

  • Establish a hard crab endorsement and a soft crab endorsement, which can be associated with either an individual or vessel saltwater products license.
  • Establish qualifying and re-qualifying criteria.
  • Require trap tags with an annual fee of 50 cents per tag, and establish tag ordering criteria and a replacement tag program.
  • Establish an appeals board and criteria by which non-qualifying blue crab fishers could be allocated traps.
  • Prohibit the leasing or renting of endorsements, tags, or traps, and establish endorsement holder responsibilities.

In another way to limit the number of crabbers out on the water, anyone who wants to get into the fishery must buy an existing crabber's "endorsement" - read license - and trap tags as a package, as well as working with the seller for at least 14 days.

To qualify for an endorsement, someone must have brought in at least 500 pounds of crabs in at least one of the past three years.

The proposed cost of the endorsement fee is $125, and would entitle the holder to fish up to 600 traps near shore and 400 traps offshore. As a benefit, crabbers are allowed up to 150 soft-shell crabs per day, and can operate up to three "shedding tanks" under their permit. Soft-shell blue crabs bring a higher price at market.

Crabbers will also be able to get a soft-shell crab permit at twice the permit fee.

Public hearings are scheduled for April in Tallahassee, and final approval must be made by the legislature, probably in 2006.

Forecast fury

Speaking of changes, we all may be looking at more information on TV next hurricane season.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield told the St. Petersburg Times last week that the jury is still out on the "skinny red line" in the midst of a forecast track, but that more data will be provided in the "cone of uncertainty" within the five-day forecast.

The cone is that, well, cone-shaped graphic that provides a clue of where the storm will head in the days ahead. Mayfield said he and his crew intend to enhance that forecast with wind speeds and size as the days march along.

A classic example of the problem in both skinny-line strategy and size-and-wind speed differentials was evident in contrasting Hurricanes Charley and Frances last summer.

Charley's skinny line indicated landfall at the north end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The storm ended up veering to the east earlier along the predicted line's path, and eventual landfall was in the Punta Gorda area. Some people there were caught off guard because the line didn't touch them, although the cone did.

Charley was also a strong, but relatively small storm which moved quickly. Damage was intense, but relatively focused in about a 30-mile-wide path across the state.

Fast-forward a few weeks to Frances. Frances pretty much followed its skinny red-line path, but the storm was huge and slow. Where Charley's eye passed in a matter of minutes, Frances took hours to lumber through. It wasn't quite as powerful, but because of its slow forward speed it drenched the areas it passed through and, at one point, caused power losses and intense wind and rain from Miami to Jacksonville.

So look forward to more information - as if we don't already get enough information - next hurricane season on storm speed, strength and track.

And the skinny line dispute will be resolved in a few weeks, Mayfield said.

Freedom Ship update: 'We could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you'

Here's the latest update on the Freedom Ship, that mile-long vessel that a St. Armands Circle entrepreneur is attempting to finance and float as a mini-city:

"Things are happening, and they are moving fast, but I cannot make any announcements today. And I cannot give you a date on which I can make an announcement," said Freedom Ship chief executive officer Norman Nixon.

"When we started on this project, one very important part of our plan was to continuously update all of our supporters on everything that was happening at the time it happened. And then we ran into Security and Exchange Laws. There are so many things that we clearly cannot talk to you about. And then there is this big gray area where some venture into and get by with it, while others get into trouble. We have taken the position that we must stay away from not only the clearly prohibited areas, but also from the gray area.

"So, even though everyone knows what we are working on, we cannot talk about it. At least not at this point in time."

Jeez.

Freedom Ship, Nixon said, has as its "primary focus to create a community that offers unique lifestyle opportunities. Freedom Ship would be the world's first mobile community. It would provide an international, cosmopolitan, full-spectrum, residential, commercial and resort city that circles the globe once every three years. It would offer a wide array of novel opportunities for business ownership, travel, and daily living. The ship is as large as it is, simply because that is the minimum size required to make the community economically self-sustaining and a desirable and attractive place to live."

The 4,500-foot-long barge would have "18,000 living units, with prices in the range of $180,000 to $2.5 million, including a small number of premium suites currently priced up to $44 million. There are 3,000 commercial units in a similar price range, 2,400 time-share units, 10,000 hotel units, a world-class casino, and a ferryboat transportation system that will provide departures every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, to three or more local cities, giving ship residents access to the local neighborhood and up to 30,000 land-based residents a chance to spend a day on the ship."

I guess no news is, well, no news on the big ship.

Sandscript factoid

At the threat of angering all my Republican friends, here's a funny.

Q: How many Bush Administration officials does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb; its conditions are improving every day. Any reports of its lack of incandescence are a delusional spin from the liberal media. That light bulb has served honorably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect. Why do you hate freedom?"

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