Martha Guyas of FWC Marine Fisheries Division presents slides on State Reef Fish Survey program. Commissioners visible in live feed frames at top.

Online, or “virtual,” meetings of fish and wildlife management authorities seem to be flowing pretty smoothly, if last week’s meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was any indication.

And good news for the less tech-savvy among us: Getting involved in the meetings is fairly easy. Confession: I was a little nervous about commenting—I’ve been in front of the FWC for decades, but this was my first time via my MacBook.

The seven commissioners, each in their own homes or offices, were clearly visible in the top bar of the Adobe MeetingOne audio and web conferencing portal, as was FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. Staff making presentations were pictured (still photo only) on the right side of the frame, and documents were featured large and clear in the middle of the screen.

Instructions for public comment were pretty clear. Through my telephone on speaker phone, I chimed in—audio only–to asked the FWC to make an annual report of the Reef Fish Survey Program, which it’s planning to bring statewide (more on that in the July issue of Florida Sportsman). I did ask the commissioners if my voice was clear, and I got several thumbs up.

Landings trends in commercial fishery indicate trouble for stone crab populations. Monterey Seafood Watch recently downgraded Florida stone crabs from “best choice” to “avoid.”

The commission also heard from a number of stone crab fishermen about draft options for rebuilding the stone crab population. Among FWC proposals: raising the minimum size claw to 2 7/8 inches, requiring escape rings on traps, limiting the number of “checker boxes” (a sort of holding pen for crab of questionable size), and amending season dates to close earlier in the spring—helping reduce interactions with egg-bearing female crab. The public comment was lively, with trappers weighing in on their feelings about the tighter limits.

The FWC meeting was abbreviated from the usual multi-day format. Dates and agendas for other meetings coming up can be found at under “About Us.”

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC)—federal agency that makes rules for the offshore waters on the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas—will hold a longer virtual meeting in a few weeks, June 8-11. A formal public comment session takes place Wednesday, June 10, beginning at 4 p.m.

A few things the Council will look at include stock assessments for greater amberjack, king mackerel and red porgy. The Council is also reviewing catch levels for dolphin.

I’ll be there. Hope you will, too!

-Jeff Weakley, Florida Sportsman Editor

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