Proposed changes to hunting and fishing regulations are mild for 2023

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The long talked about idea of reducing the number of bucks West Virginia hunters are allowed to kill in a season is a step closer to resolution. Sportsmen will be asked on the questionnaire at the March sectional meetings where they stand on the idea of lowering the buck limit from three to two.

“Personally I hope in April we will be able to put the two buck limit issue to rest,” said longtime Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Dotson during Sunday’s meeting. “We have wrestled with this issue for years and years and it’s been very divisive. I don’t want to pass along my power as a commissioner to set season dates and bag limits on to the Legislature.”

The question at the March Sectional Meetings seeks the opinion of sportsmen on the proposal “…that the annual antlered deer bag limit for all deer seasons combined be reduced from three antlered deer to two starting with the 2024-2025 deer season.”

Some longtime advocates of the idea would like to see it implemented in the 2023 season and spoke about it during the public portion of the meeting. But concerns over a change for this fall were license tags are already being sold and the DNR is engaged in a deer mortality study on white tail deer.

“I think there is some appetite on the commission to exempt those five counties in the study for one year to complete it under the current guidelines,” said Dotson.

The matter is expected to be brought for a vote by the Commissioners at their April meeting.

Otherwise, proposed changes for the 2023 hunting and fishing regulations from the Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Section to the Commission are extremely moderate when compared to recent years.

The proposed game law changes for whitetail deer included only two changes in the antlerless deer hunting seasons. One would remove Calhoun County from the list of counties where a hunter must kill an antlerless deer before they can kill a second buck. The proposal would put Calhoun County into the three antlerless deer bag limit category without a restriction. The other proposed change for antlerless regulations would grant an additional 50 permits for killing does in Webster County. In 2022 Webster County had a limit of 300 permits for antlerless deer to be randomly drawn. Under the proposal the county would have 350 to be awarded in 2023.

The DNR has also proposed one slight change to the bear hunting season. The change would create a new youth bear hunting season. The season would be for youth, Class Q and Class X-S license holders on September 16th and 17th in all or parts of 26 West Virginia counties where bear hunting with dogs is allowed. The season would allow for hunting with or without dogs in those counties during the two day season.

All other hunting regulations would remain as they were in 2022.

Proposed changes to the West Virginia fishing regulations for this year were also relatively light. DNR District 1 Fisheries Biologist Dave Wellman presented Commissioners a series of three minor changes:

–Establishment of a statewide 8-fish daily creel limit and 16-fish possession limit for sauger and saugeye.

–A proposal to increase the statewide size limit for Blue Catfish from 24-inches to 25-inches. The reintroduced fish are thriving in West Virginia’s larger rivers and new records for weight and length are being set regularly. The change is a reflection of those increased sizes and rapid growth of the fish.

–A proposal to reduce the possession limit for channel catfish caught in a stocked impoundment from 16 to 8 fish.

“The goal is to simplify the regulations and reduce the number of regulations anglers need to interpret,” said Wellman.

Commissioner Jared Harman sought to have a second question from the Commission added to the March meeting to gauge the interest of sportsmen and women on lowering the age of youth hunting.

“The Natural Resources Commission seeks your opinion on a proposal to reduce or remove the minimum age requirement during all youth seasons.”

The question was spawned by remarks from Shawn Butler of Buckhannon and his young daughter Jaci, age 7. They noted during the public comment period, Jaci has successfully killed several deer and turkeys, but has never been able to participate in a youth hunting season in West Virginia because the minimum age is 8.

Commissioner Tennis Cook brought forward concerns he has heard about problems with otters. Cook said he gets numerous complaints about otters in fish ponds and would like to put a question before sportsmen in March about the number of interactions they’ve had with otters in an attempt to gauge their numbers in West Virginia.

Wildlife Section Chief Paul Johansen suggested the Sectional Meeting Questionnaire wasn’t the best way to learn that information since it’s not a scientific survey.

“We’ll do whatever you ask, but I would urge caution there,” said Johansen.

Despite Johansen’s misgivings about the proposal, the Commission approved adoption of a question, but the exact wording is still being worked out.

The proposed regulation changes along with the questions from the Commission, will be out for public comment and the agency will have representatives available to talk about each of the proposals at the March Sportsman’s Sectional Meetings. The meetings are March 13 and 14 in the following locations:

Monday, March 13

Grafton — Tygart Lake State Park Lodge
Martinsburg — Martinsburg Holiday Inn (I 81, Exit 13)
Elkins — DNR Operations Center (Ward RD)
Beckley — Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center
Milton — West Virginia Pumpkin Park (Office Building)
Cairo — North Bend State Park

Tuesday, March 14

Triadelphia — Cabela‚Äôs Wheeling (2nd floor conference room)
Moorefield — South Branch Inn (Route 220 and Corridor H)
Sutton — Braxton County High School
Lewisburg — State Fairgrounds (WVU Building)
Logan — Chief Logan State Park Conference Center
Parkersburg — Parkersburg City Building

Several tournament bass fishermen raised issues with new tournament rules which limit the number of boats participating in tournaments to no more than 75 percent of the parking capacity at a boat ramp. The group also raised concerns about a requirement to have the cell phone and trailer number of all participating anglers to provide to law enforcement upon request. The groups believe such information is government overreach. DNR Director Brett McMillion promised to meet with the leaders of the state’s largest tournament fishing organizations to discuss the issues.

The next Natural Resources Commission Meeting will be April 23rd at 1 p.m. at Pipestem Resort State Park.

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