1 year ago

Advisory board approves flounder, seatrout changes

The length and bag limits of two of Alabama’s most popular inshore fish species will likely change soon after proposals by the Alabama Marine Resources Division were approved last weekend by the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board.

Under the new regulations, spotted seatrout (speckled trout) and southern flounder will have reduced bag limits to deal with concerns that the species are not able to sustain healthy populations.

Speckled trout will go to a slot limit of 15 to 22 inches (total length, TL) with one fish allowed over 22 inches (TL). The previous length limit was 14 inches. The regulation is similar to that for redfish, which has a slot limit of 16 to 26 inches with one fish allowed over 26 inches. The bag limit for speckled trout will also be reduced from 10 fish to six fish.

The flounder population, which appears to be in worse condition than trout, will move from a 10-fish bag limit to five fish, and the minimum size will be increased from 12 inches to 14 inches (TL).

Kevin Anson, Marine Resources’ chief marine biologist, said a series of public meetings were held to enlist input from the public about possible changes to the trout and flounder regulations.

“We had some assessments that were conducted independently through the University of South Alabama, and the report indicated that both species are in decline,” Anson said. “The spotted seatrout assessment has shown that in the last five to seven years that the breeding stock is not at a sustainable level. The stock is not in critical decline, but we need to make some changes now to ensure it does not get there. Southern flounder is under a little more critical designation, according to the assessment results. We recommend the 14-inch minimum size. About 25% of the females will be mature enough to spawn at 12 inches. Just under 50% will be mature between 14 and 15 inches.”

The regulations approved by the Board for commercial harvest of flounder will add a daily trip limit of 30 fish per vessel. Speckled trout is designated as a game fish and no commercial harvest is allowed.

Anson said there has been a significant increase in commercial fishing license sales since about the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and those license numbers remain relatively high. Those licenses are in addition to the commercial gill net license holders that also target flounder commercially.

“So, we are trying to constrain some of that harvest,” he said. “We felt that (30-fish trip limit) in addition to the reduction in the recreational bag limit would help curb some of that harvest.”

Marine Resources will also implement a closure of both commercial and recreational flounder fishing annually for the month of November during the flounder’s spawning run.

Anson also gave the Board an update on Marine Resources’ effort to spawn flounder at the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores.

“We started collecting brood stock of southern flounder last year,” Anson said. “We will be trying to spawn those fish this coming winter, when they normally spawn in the wild. Researchers have found this species of fish takes a long time to acclimate to be able to spawn in a captive situation.”

If the flounder spawning is successful, Anson said Marine Resources plans to release between 50,000 and 60,000 juvenile flounder annually.

The Board also approved a request from Marine Resources to implement a Gulf reef fish endorsement to distinguish those anglers who fish for red snapper and other reef fish from saltwater anglers who fish for other species.

The endorsement, which would go into effect for the 2019-2020 license year, would cost $10 for individual anglers. Charter boat fees would range from $150-$250, and commercial vessels would be assessed at $200 per vessel.

“This will give us better accounting of who is actually going offshore and taking part in the reef fish harvest,” Anson said. “Currently, we just have a saltwater license that has no designation as to what type of fishing that person will do with that license. We can contact those who purchase the endorsement and ask questions about their fishing behavior.”

Anson said the money raised from the endorsement would be used to replace research funding from federal sources and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill restoration funds that will no longer be available after this year. The funds from the reef fish endorsement can only be used for research and management of reef fish.

“We have been funding some fishery-independent sampling in our offshore reef zones since 2011, utilizing a variety of sampling gear, including side-scan sonar, ROV (remotely operated vessel), vertical line and bottom longline sampling. That has been conducted through Dr. Sean Powers at the University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab. That has all been funded through federal sources. The reef fish endorsement will allow us to continue to support that research, which is providing information directly into the federal stock assessment, which is used to determine the Gulf-wide quota for the red snapper fishery. This work also has allowed Alabama to conduct our own population estimate for red snapper of the coast off of the coast of Alabama. This information is critical for state management of the reef fish fishery.”

Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, apprised the Board of the recent approval of Amendment 50 by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council that will allow state management of the red snapper fishery in 2020 and beyond.

“We’re hoping the amendment that Commissioner Blankenship mentioned will provide some additional opportunities for the states to gain more access and ways to manage the fisheries off those states,” Anson said. “This (endorsement-funded research) would be an integral part of that program.”

Commissioner Blankenship also announced a significant rating achieved by the blue crab industry in Alabama. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program rates most varieties of seafood consumed in the U.S. The Alabama blue crab received a “good alternatives” rating, which puts it in the same category as Gulf wild shrimp, wild sea scallops and yellowfin tuna.

“Because of the very good management of the crab fishery here, Alabama is going to be the only state in the Gulf and Atlantic whose blue crab trap fishery is going to be considered a good alternative by Monterey Bay,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “I would like to commend the Marine Resources Division for the regulations that were put in place several years ago. The work to allow sustainable harvest has been recognized nationally, and this gives the crab industry in Alabama a leg up on the competition around the country.”

In hunting news, Commissioner Blankenship updated the Board on the status of Senate Bill 66, which would allow the taking of white-tailed deer and feral hogs by means of bait if that person purchases a baiting privilege license. That bill passed both the House and Senate and has been signed by Governor Kay Ivey.

Also, the Board recommended a regulation change in dog deer hunting that would allow Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Conservation Enforcement Officers to ticket individual owners of dogs that venture onto neighboring property.

The recommended regulation states that it shall be unlawful for any person who has received a written warning to allow a dog, for the purpose of deer hunting, to enter onto or across or remain on the property of another without written permission.

Matt Weathers, WFF’s chief enforcement officer said this encroachment regulation does not affect dogs used to hunt other species, like raccoon, squirrel or rabbit.

“This would be strictly a dog deer hunting regulation,” Weathers said. “It is fairly simple. If a landowner or person who has land leased calls us about problems with a dog deer hunting club or dogs showing up on their property, our officer instructs the person who made the call to catch the dog or document in some way who the dog belongs to. The dog has to be collared by regulation. When that happens, our officer comes out and sees if it is a valid complaint. If it is provable that this occurred, our officer contacts the dog’s owner. He is given a written warning and told to put in place some practice to keep the dog off this person’s property. If it happens again, it’s the officer’s discretion to issue the dog’s owner a ticket for violating that regulation.”

Weathers said this encroachment regulation is an alternative to putting those clubs in permit counties on probation or taking away land where dog deer hunting is allowed.

“This allows our officers to be very specific to those who are generating the bulk of the complaints, which is a small fraction of the overall dog deer hunters,” Weather said.

In addition to the encroachment regulation, the Board placed Talladega and Clay counties on the permit system for dog deer hunting. The Board also passed two regulations that will restrict the movement of live bait fish between water bodies and restrict the possession of silver, bighead and largescale silver carp.

All regulation changes approved by the Board will go through the Administrative Procedures Act process before they go into effect.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

8 hours ago

Sen. Doug Jones misleads on Trump administration’s coronavirus response

It should come as no surprise that the media and their Democrats are blaming President Donald Trump and his administration for the COVID-19 virus.

Call it predictable, call it politics, call it sad, but at the end of the day, call it wrong.

When U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) took part in what should have been a non-partisan conference call with the Alabama Department of Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, he took the time to call out the Trump administration for its lack of action early on in the pandemic.

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After blaming the actual people responsible for this pandemic, China and the World Health Organization, Jones said, “I’ve been disappointed in the administration and their early responses.” He added the president and his team had a “cavalier attitudes.”

Too bad he’s wrong.

And truthfully, it’s not even an original thought as former comedienne Sarah Silverman beat him to it by two days.

In response to Silverman, the Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra took her apart with a timeline that tells a different story.

January 3: Tried to get CDC into China (numerous attempts made/China never allowed)
January 6: Began issuing travel notices (issued multiple)
January 7: Created issue management system
Janurary 17: Began screenings at airports
January 20: Announces work on development of a vaccine
January 21: Activated its emergency operations center to provide ongoing support to the coronavirus response
January 23: Sought a “special emergency authorization” from FDA to allow states to use its newly developed coronavirus test
January 23: China finally quarantines Wuhan, had lied to the world for weeks about what was going on and how contagious the virus was and deadly
January 29: Creates Coronavirus Task Force
January 31: Bans travel from China / Declares public health emergency / suspends entry from foreigners who pose risk of transmitting coronavirus
February 2: CDC expands screenings at airports
February 5: Briefs lawmakers about pandemic
February 6: CDC ships tests
February 9: Briefs governors about pandemic
February 11: Expands efforts with private sector to expedite vaccine
February 14: Partners with local labs to conduct influenza surveillance to see if alarms are going off
February 24: Writes Congress asking for billions to combat coronavirus
February 29: Bans travel from South Korea / Iran
March 3: Donates entire quarter’s salary to fighting coronavirus
March 4: Announces massive buy in N95 masks (which Obama-Biden admin depleted and never replaced
March 6: Signs $8.3 billion to combat coronavirus
March 11: Bans travel from Europe/made numerous moves to lower interest rates

March 13: Declares national emergency, freeing up $42 billion.

Over 100,000 Americans are dead, but Jones has to play politics because his job depends on it.

I don’t blame Jones. He’s mostly echoing the talking points of his party, their true leaders like Silverman, and rightly expecting very little actual push-back.

His only hope of hanging on to his job is pleasing the people who fund his campaign and hoping they will keep dumping their money into his account from New York, California and Washington, D.C. He can only do that by blasting Trump, whether he needs it or not.

But President Trump listened to his health officials and our current trajectory is far below the early projections of 2.2 million dead. This is a success.

Monday morning quarterbacking might make Jones and his handlers feel better, but if he is going to do it, he needs to be accurate.

On this front, he fails miserably. And he looks like another politician who doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

9 hours ago

UAH Hockey saved after supporters successfully raise over $750K in less than five days

Just one week after the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) announced that its men’s hockey team would be discontinued, UAH on Friday confirmed the program has been saved by supporters.

The university last Friday had listed financial shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for cutting the popular program.

Following that announcement, a GoFundMe was launched on Monday evening in an effort to raise $500,000 by close-of-business on Friday. That ambitious goal was reached shortly after noon on Friday, with hours to spare.

As of 2:30 p.m. CT, the GoFundMe had garnered a total of $516,585 from more than 2,200 donors. Additionally, a t-shirt fundraising page had raised an additional $29,792.

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In addition to these crowdfunded donations, UAH in a statement advised that two long time hockey supporters, Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski, have each gifted $125,000 to support the program.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, UAH Athletic Director Cade Smith confirmed that these funds, combined with the crowdsourced funds, will enable the program to continue for the duration of the 2020-2021 season. The total amount of almost $800,000 in private dollars is the largest athletic campaign contribution in the history of UAH.

In addition to the private funds, UAH President Darren Dawson has committed dollars from the university to cover the balance of the hockey team’s operations during the upcoming season. The program will continue to compete in Division I.

Moving forward, supporters of the program will still need to secure long-term funding and competitive stability.

“We are thankful and gratified from the loyal support that has been demonstrated this week by the fans and alumni of Charger hockey,” stated Dawson. “We are hopeful that this support will translate into a sustainable funding model that will allow the UAH hockey program to rise again to high levels of success.”

Smith said, “The university is fully committed to the upcoming season. The university will work with the supporters of the UAH hockey program and a newly formed Hockey Advisory Board to develop a plan that will allow the Chargers to thrive in 2021-2022 season and beyond.”

One key obstacle moving forward besides funding will be UAH Hockey finding a new conference, as their current conference is disbanding following this upcoming season.

Smith stressed that “UAH is committed to building a world-class D1 hockey program with a permanent conference home that will allow the Chargers to continue past the 2020-2021 season.”

To continue beyond the current season, UAH said that the Chargers must develop a five-year philanthropic funding model and resolve the associated conference-related issues.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Alabama Lt. Governor Ainsworth comments on death of George Floyd

The death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police Department custody on Monday evening has sparked bipartisan national outrage, including in the Yellowhammer State.

The situation on-the-ground in Minneapolis has gradually deteriorated since video footage of Floyd’s death surfaced. Four officers have been fired, however no one had — as of Friday morning — been charged. What began as peaceful protests demanding justice for Floyd have escalated into heavily publicized rioting, looting and arson.

President Donald J. Trump on Friday tweeted that the Minnesota National Guard has arrived in the city to get a hold of the situation.

This came shortly after Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) in a social media post warned, “Chaos rules without law and order.”

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“The death of George Floyd In Minneapolis was inexcusable and angers me greatly, but we must remember that all but a few officers are dedicated servants who risk their lives daily,” Ainsworth said. “My thanks to those who serve in law enforcement. Your brave service is appreciated. Chaos rules without law and order.”

Earlier in the week, Oxford Police Chief Bill Partridge shared a photo of the since-fired officer who was video taped kneeling on Floyd’s neck, with Partridge saying, “This is not a police officer. This is not American law enforcement. This is someone who has no integrity, honor, emotion, or respect.”

Partridge currently serves as president of the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police.

“These four people have stained every professional law enforcement officer who swore an oath to protect and defend the communities they serve,” he continued, referring to the former Minneapolis PD officers.

“It is up to every officer, supervisor, and administrator to stand against this type of abuse of power. Each of these four officers will be prosecuted, as they should,” Partridge advised.

“As a police officer, I do not see color; I see human beings with thoughts, feelings and I will be the first to stand and say enough is enough to this type of rogue behavior by anyone,” he added. “To see this type of brutality makes me sick and disgusted. But, I know justice will prevail in this case. We just need to allow the system to work.”

Partridge remarked, “While Americans have the right to peacefully assemble and protest, they do not have the right to riot, loot and destroy innocent people’s property.”

“Please know that 99.9% of American law enforcement officers do the job flawlessly every day and risk their lives doing so. We work extremely hard to make inroads into the community and build strong relationships,” the Alabama police chief concluded.

UPDATE:

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis PD officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, media outlets reported Friday afternoon.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Alabama’s OWA to reopen amusement park on June 5

OWA this week announced that it will officially reopen its popular amusement park on Friday, June 5, at 11:00 a.m. CT, incorporating enhanced health and safety measures that were developed based on guidance from the CDC and health officials.

The heightened health and safety measures are being implemented for guests and team members to ensure the well-being of everyone visiting OWA, which is located in Foley, Alabama.

The new policies, which can be found here, will include health screenings for guests before entering The Park at OWA, installation of additional hand sanitizing stations throughout the resort, enhanced cleaning and sanitization practices, and added signage to encourage social distancing.

“Our entire team has worked tirelessly the past few months to get The Park ready for guests. We are excited to see guests enjoying the rides and share special family moments once again,” stated Kristin Hellmich, OWA’s director of marketing/PR.

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“We have always taken great pride in our Parks’ safety and cleanliness,” she continued. “The upcoming Park reopening will be no exception as we continue to implement recommended health and safety practices to ensure our guests have a great experience.”

Additional steps are being implemented to accommodate social distancing, such as limiting the number of guests allowed in the amusement park at one time. Riders will continue to purchase an attractions wristband to enjoy a day filled with unlimited access to amusement park rides. Guests wishing not to partake in any attractions can purchase a $5.00 Non-Rider Pass, which allows guests to enjoy strolling The Park and watching loved ones without having to purchase a full-priced ticket.

Downtown OWA businesses began reopening in April consistent with state health orders and continue to welcome guests using recommended health and safety standards.

Restaurants now open at OWA include Groovy Goat, Crazy Donuts, Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant, Trattoria Pizza & Italian, Hershey’s Ice Cream Parlor, C’est Le Vin Wine Bar & Shop, Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon.

Retailers currently open include Fairhope Soap Company, Parker & Co. (a women’s boutique), Alvin’s Island, The Spice & Tea Exchange and Body Tune Plus.

Brandon Styles Live is currently welcoming guests to both his Magic and Variety shows six days a week. Clash eSports Center, OWA’s state-of-the-art video gaming venue, and Sweet Tooth at OWA are set to open on June 5 in conjunction with the amusement park.

The Park will be open seven days a week during the summer season. Learn more at OWA’s website here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Auburn offering on-campus instruction beginning with second summer mini-term

Auburn University on Friday announced plans for its second summer mini-term that include a variety of instructional delivery methods, including on-campus instruction.

In March, the university announced its decision to suspend on-campus instruction for the full 10-week summer session and the first of two summer five-week mini-terms following guidance from public health officials due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision announced Friday comes following months of careful preparation, with the recently amended State Health Order allowing for increased access to educational institutions beginning June 1.

Beginning June 29, Auburn plans to offer multiple course sections during the second summer five-week mini-term through a variety of instructional delivery methods. Consistent with the updated order, the university’s options incorporate important measures designed to protect students, faculty, staff and the broader campus community.

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“Following the Governor’s guidelines, Auburn is preparing to start re-opening our campus to students slowly,” stated Auburn University Provost Bill Hardgrave.

“While the pandemic has not affected our ability to offer quality instruction, it did restrict our options for delivering instruction,” he continued. “With the new guidance from the state, we can utilize instructional delivery modalities that will enable our campus to implement important protocols as we prepare for the broader re-entry of students this fall.”

In addition to the face-to-face and online options Auburn traditionally offers, the university will also offer blended and Hyflex courses. With blended courses, students utilize both face-to- face instruction and remote learning. Hyflex courses provide a structure that gives students the flexibility of attending sessions in the classroom, participating online or doing both through synchronous delivery. As the university prepares to implement physical distancing guidelines across campus, both blended and Hyflex options will reportedly enable students to experience some face-to-face instruction while remaining flexible to accommodate the institution’s safety protocols.

Auburn advised that more than 3,000 students are currently registered for courses in the second summer mini-term, with almost 150 faculty slated to teach. By working with their colleges and schools, faculty can select which of the four modalities best align with the learning outcomes for their courses to deliver instruction. The type of delivery method will be published so students can make informed choices when building their course schedule.

Opening academic buildings and offering face-to-face instruction during the latter part of the summer will allow the university to begin implementing several new protocols developed for students preparing to return in the fall.

Among these, the university will employ a mobile COVID-19 health check for all students and faculty, and appropriate social distancing will be followed in classrooms.

Following the university’s transition to remote teaching this spring, all faculty going forward are being asked to create a “syllabus B” in the event of a resurgence of the coronavirus that requires the institution to once again transition to full remote instruction.

“The second summer mini-term will allow us to glean important information for the fall,” Hardgrave concluded. “The current plan is to implement some key elements for summer that we see as necessary for fall and prepare to welcome our students, faculty and staff back to learning environments that support the well-being of our campus.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn