Florida expands alligator hunting hours


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF) – Florida alligators will be targeted around the clock when the next hunting season begins in August.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Tuesday approved a final rule change that will extend what had been largely nighttime hunting — between 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. — to 24 hours during the season.

Proponents said the change will help hunters better plan their trips and potentially allow more young and old hunters to participate, as they may be more comfortable hunting during the day.

The commission approved the change in a vote at a meeting at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville. However, Commissioner Sonya Rood said daylight hours could lead to uncomfortable situations for parents.

“If I go out with my family, I have kids, and we witness it (an alligator gets killed). I think it would be traumatic for kids to see,” Rood said.

Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto defended the change, calling the hunt a sign that efforts to protect alligators in Florida have worked.

“I think the public needs to understand that the American alligator in Florida, like the manatees, has been a huge achievement. It really is,” Barreto said. “As a conservation commission, our mission is not isn’t finished, but it works.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he would approve $30 million in the state budget for the coming year to help manatees after a record number of deaths in 2021. Those deaths are largely due to a lack of seagrasses that provide essential food for manatees. The commission estimates that a minimum of 7,520 manatees inhabit Florida waters.

Florida has around 1.3 million alligators and the annual hunt, which runs from August 15 to November 1, results in around 7,500 alligators being killed.

The state issues about 7,500 permits each year, with 40 to 50 percent of permit holders reaching a limit of two alligators, said Brooke Talley, coordinator of the commission’s alligator management program.

About 7,500 more alligators per year are killed in nuisance situations.

Winter Springs resident and animal rights activist Carla Wilson said the commission should review the rule change after November because daytime hunting could affect tourism and boating.

“It would easily kill an afternoon to have a family boating on a lake interrupted by a violent alligator kill or to see a bloody alligator clinging to the edge of a boat,” Wilson said.

Supporting the change, Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers Florida said the new hours would help law enforcement.

“It just eliminates complications and confusion,” Newton said. “It’s a nightmare for law enforcement. You know, some guys plugged in an alligator and it’s 10:15 a.m. (in the morning). What are you doing?”

The commission also agreed on Tuesday to expand the arsenal of alligator hunters by allowing preloaded pneumatic bows with lines attached.

Bryan Wilson of Winter Springs expressed concern about inexperienced hunters using the airbows and said broken tethers could cause alligators to flee but remain maimed.

The state has authorized a number of methods involving tied lines, including crossbows, bows, hooks, and harpoons. Air bows, which are charged with an external high-compression source to propel the arrows, were not commercially available when the state last updated its alligator harvesting methods.

To determine their future use, Talley said the commission could include questions about the effectiveness of air bows when investigating hunters after the season.

The commission had received feedback from more than 7,000 people through workshops, webinars and surveys that mostly supported the changes. However, concerns have been expressed, in part, that the 24-hour proposal would conflict with other outdoor activities, such as bass fishing and duck hunting, and a potential deterioration of meat from alligators harvested during the hottest part of the day.

Copyright 2022 News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.

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