The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission elected Vice Chairman Kenneth Wright as chairman, effective July 1.
The move makes him one of the most powerful men in the state of Florida.
The Winter Park resident has served on the FWC since August 2007 so he has a firm grasp of the issues and challenges of maintaining the ecosystem, including insights into the possible ban of jig fishing gear as called for by the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association and the voracious resurgence of the protected Goliath grouper. Here is Wright's take on his role as head of the FWC.
FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright
QUESTION: How does it feel to become one of the most powerful men in the state of Florida?
ANSWER: I'm 64, and I've done a number of things that bring me to the point to where I'm not intimidated nor do I feel pressure about this position. I do feel a very, very urgent sense of responsibility. I always had that sense of responsibility when I was a commissioner and now even more so.
Q: What are your lead issues as chairman of the FWC?
Kenneth Wright at a glance
Birth date: July 29, 1948. Has lived in Florida since 1962
Occupation: partner in the Orlando law firm Shutts & Bowen, where he has worked since 1989
Residence: Winter Park
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Education: juris doctorate from Cumberland School of Law, a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of South Florida and an associate's degree from Orlando Junior College
FWC: elected to one-year term as Florida Wildlife Commission chairman July1 in meeting at Palm Beach Gardens
Civic service: eight years as chairman of the Environmental Regulation Commission, past chairman of the Sanford Aviation Authority, member of the Seminole County Port Authority, past president of the Leukemia Society and board membership in the Winter Park Chamber
Hobbies: avid outdoorsman with experience in all types of hunting and fishing in Florida
Discovered Boca Grande: Back in the 1970s when I had a 22-foot Mako and took it upon myself to drift the Boca Grande Pass and catch a tarpon. I managed to drift through the Pass and lose every single rig I had with me. I had to leave. I've since took up flat fishing out of Pine Island and caught lots of redfish, snook and trout. Caught a nice tarpon on fly.
A: I want to continue to promote the Florida Youth Conservation Network. We've been working on it three or four years and reached out to all 67 counties trying to establish youth activity centers. These centers are being developed to afford outdoor access to youth and their parents. They would include shooting sports, archery, fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, nature watching, camping - the whole gamut. It's a wonderful program. We're trying to get the kids off their computers for a while.
The second is strengthening hatchery networks around the state to learn more about restocking our fishery resources to meet ever-increasing demand commercially and recreationally.
The third would be addressing the issues surrounding tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass.
Q: Jig fishing has consistently proven fatally damaging to tarpon yet the FWC still allows it in Boca Grande Pass despite the urging of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association that it be banned. Why does the FWC allow the snagging of tarpon through jig fishing gear?
A: We're going to be taking this issue up in our September meeting in Tampa. I would not want to give you any indication of my particular perspective on that issue right now. I don't think it would be fair to all the different parties.
That said, there's been enough attention brought to me and the FWC that I am going to be looking into it and holding a tarpon summit bringing together representatives of the tarpon guides, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust as well as Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and get as many of those parties together to get the facts on the table.
Q: What action might be taken?
A: I'm looking into advancing a protective sportsfish category designation that would include marlin, sailfish, bonefish and tarpon.
Q: The Goliath grouper has been resurgent and anglers around Gasparilla Island say it's become voracious. When will its protected status be revisited?
A: I would expect simply because of the amount of interest and requests we've had that it will indeed be revisited. I would not presume without vetting this with staff to predict what the outcome would be. It will be looked at within the next year. It's one of the things I get the most frequent comment about, universally, day in, day out.
Q: What is the best way to gain the FWC's attention on an issue?
A: We have a website and comments that go into that website are distributed to me and the commissioners. And we do read them. Of all the boards and commissions I've served on the FWC is one of the best. We try to be very transparent.
Q: How hard is it to gain consensus on this FWC board?
A: Our commission is extremely collegial. Every commissioner at every meeting is thoroughly engaged. We're often united and there is often a sense of the correctness of decision. That said, it's not good if we have seven people up there and they all have to agree. For instance, on the issue of snook closure, we had a dissenting commissioner who spoke to the concerns of having the season open and she did a very good job of representing the anglers. Nevertheless she was the lone dissenting vote.
Q: What's the biggest fish you've ever landed?
A: It would be a tossup. The two biggest fish I caught would be a 120-pound tarpon I caught six weeks ago in Biscayne National Bay and one I caught years earlier in Pine Island Sound. I once caught five sailfish in one day in 1992 in Stuart.
Q: Perfect world, what happens during your term as FWC Chairman?
A: We get a hatchery started in Pensacola, which I hope to start the research on the red snapper and we establish a sport fish and game fish designation for Florida species.