Acreage added to Maurepas swamp

Outdoorsmen have an additional 53,000-plus acres of public lands in the Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans corridor after the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced additions to the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Areas during Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting in Baton Rouge.

The additional acreage, including 2,638 acres of donated land, increased the WMA’s holdings to 115,510 acres. The original Mellon Foundation’s donation of more than 62,000 acres established the WMA in 2001.

Among the additions, LDWF Conservation Fund monies were used to purchase more than 50,000 acres. The largest donation, 2,241 acres in Ascension and St. James parishes, came from the Boyce Trust.

The commission also approved a resolution supporting an annual blue crab assessment in state waters, a move mandated to maintain the “sustainability” category of blue crabs by state fisheries managers.

“The Louisiana blue crab was the first species to be declared sustainable by federal marine managers,” LDWF assistant secretary Randy Pausina said.

“The annual assessment is a step towards certifying our sustainability and a step towards branding (the Louisiana blue crab).”

Pausina and LDWF biologist Marty Bourgeois said the assessment would put in place certain guidelines for maintaining blue crab numbers, and both men made it clear that state managers consider the current blue crab population are high enough that Pausina said, “...we do not envision having any seasonal or area closures,” and that there is nothing on the drawing board to consider changes in mesh sizes or ring sizes for traps.

Other commission action included:

Hearing that there were 26 comments approving and 12 comments against proposed 2013-2015 hunting seasons and WMA regulations, including a near unanimous approval of the dramatic changes in the proposed deer hunting areas across south Louisiana.

Approving an amendment to the WMA regulations to allow taking frogs from June 1 to July 15 on the Salvador-Timkin WMA.

Hearing that the LDWF’s Wildlife Division has scheduled public hearings on the proposed hunting season changed for March 19 in Mandeville and Minden, March 20 in Chalmette and Monroe, March 21 in Lafayette, March 26 in Lake Charles, Marsh 27 in Houma and Alexandria and March 28 in Baton Rouge.

Approving its July meeting for July 2 in Baton Rouge, and approving the August meeting on Grand Isle at a date to be determined.

Approving a resolution outlining support for the LDWF/LWFC’s newly enacted recreational red snapper season and moving state fisheries waters out to three marine leagues into the Gulf of Mexico to be sent to the Louisiana Congressional delegation and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

And, learing that Enforcement Division agents issued 857 citations and 307 written warnings in February and answered 44 calls for public assistance, and that the state broke a near five-year streak of monthly boating fatalities when none was reported during February and a low of one boating crash during the month.

The commission also went into executive session for 37 minutes to discuss the agenda item listed as “litigation relative to return of Artificial Reef Fund monies.”