Louisiana proposes waterfowl zones

Baton Rouge, La. (AP) – Sportsmen across the state will be affected by three historic decisions approved during last week's Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.

A plan proposed during May's meeting to push the state's boundary waters from the current three-mile limit out to three marine leagues – 10.357 miles – drew a 6-0 vote. Stephen Sagrera of Abbeville was absent from the meeting of the seven-member board.

The commission also enacted rules establishing a state-run Offshore Landing Permit system and reporting requirements for recreationally caught yellowfin tuna.

For hunters, the LWFC unanimously approved a shift from a decades-old two-zone, two-splits duck season to a three-zone, two-splits season, a plan that will have East, West and Coastal zones for upcoming waterfowl hunts.

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries secretary Robert Barham said his proposal was to move state waters out to more than 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Federal waters, labeled the Exclusive Economic Zone, ran from three miles off the state's coast out to 200 miles.

Barham said he was following the guidelines of Act 336 of the 2011 State Legislature in urging the LWFC to take up the issue.

Barham said research for Act 336 uncovered a little-known provision that could allow the state to push its state waters “to include offshore islands and out to three leagues.''

"We are following the expressed will of the people through the (state) Legislature and the governor, that this is the collective will of the people,'' Barham said, further adding that the commission's approval applied to fisheries-related matters only.

Act 336 contained this proviso: "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the jurisdiction of the state of Louisiana or any political subdivision thereof shall not extend to the boundaries recognized herein until the U.S. Congress acknowledges the boundary described herein by an Act of Congress or any litigation resulting from the passage of the Act which originated as Senate Bill 145 of the 2011 Regular Session of the Legislature of Louisiana with respect to the legal boundary of the state is resolved and a final non-appealable judgment if rendered.''

Barham further said he expects the action to spark the issue in Congress: "They (Congress) will never take action unless we do something,'' he said.

LDWF assistant secretary Randy Pausina said the move to the Recreational Offshore Landing Permit system and the reporting requirements for recreationally taken yellowfin tuna is the result of state biologists to get a better handle on the number of yellowfins and other highly migratory fish species caught off the Louisiana coast.

Pausina told the commission that numbers reported by federal fisheries agencies for fish taken in offshore waters and landed in Louisiana appear to be low, and more data is needed to more accurately count the state's catch of species like yellowfin, bluefin, skipjack, bigeye, blackfin and albacore tunas and billfish like blue and white marlin, sailfish, longbill spearfish and swordfish.

"We do not have enough good data on the recreational side,'' Pausina said, adding that closures, limited seasons and restrictive catches have come from federal managers acting on limited information.

"We think the (Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management) Council process if broken,'' Pausina said. "This is a pilot program to show what the state can do, and we just feel strongly that its the best way to be out ahead and to have a solution to a situation before we see restrictions.''

There was no effective date for implementation of the permitting nor reporting plans.

The three-zone, duck-hunting change was debated before getting 6-0 approval, a move that breaks with a more than 30-year-old two-zones, two-splits waterfowl hunting format.

Last week's vote was needed to beat the June 15 deadline mandated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for changes to all states' hunting plans.

The change will be in effect for the 2012-2013 seasons through the 2015-2016 waterfowl season, and does away with the old East and West zones.

The plan also moves the boundary of the East and West zones to the middle of the state, mostly south along U.S. 167, instead of the old boundary that has most of the northern parishes in the East Zone.

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