Members of the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted unanimously Thursday to elect two men from Acadiana to serve as their chairman and vice chairman for the next year.

The new chairman is Steve Oats, the managing partner of Oats and Hudson law firm in Lafayette and an at-large appointee who represents the entire state. His background in hunting and fishing is chiefly recreational; he’s a member of Ducks Unlimited, the National Rifle Association and Coastal Conservation Association. In a prepared statement, Oats said he plans on using his experience and upbringing as a compass when making decisions this year. “As a lifelong resident of Louisiana and a trained legal professional, I am interested in conserving and promoting Louisiana’s wildlife resources,” Oats said. “My education and background have prepared me to assist in supporting the wildlife and fish habitats of Louisiana for future generations.”

Elected vice-chairman during Thursday’s meeting was Stephen Sagrera of Abbeville, who also serves as president of Gators Unlimited and vice president of the Vermilion Gator Farm. Sagrera is a commercial fishing and fur representative on the commission and, as tradition dictates, he is in line to become chairman in 2011.

In related action, the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission also voted to approve a 120-day public comment period as an initial step in relaxing the regulation of recreational fishing of silver and bighead carp. The proposed rule, known as a “notice of intent,” would allow fishermen to take silver and bighead carp using dip nets, spears and snagging methods. Additionally, since silver carp can jump several feet out of the water and into boats, fishermen would be able to use their boats as a legal catching method, under the proposal.

An invasive species of Asian origin, silver carp can grow up to 50 pounds, posing a threat to boaters and their equipment. They also compete with native fish for food.
For anglers, however, officials want them to know that sliver carp are good eating. “We will never be able to fully eradicate these fish, so we are trying to make the best out of what these fish have to offer,” said Inland Fisheries Administrator Gary Tilyou. “By creating a demand for the meat, we hope to create a commercial and recreational freshwater fishing industry for Asian carp.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, state fisheries officials will join Baton Rouge Chef Philippe Parola to unveil a new marketing plan that will include a name change from Asian carp to “silverfin.” At the event, regional chefs will be preparing silverfin and department officials will announce the rollout of silverfin products being distributed by Rouses Super Market.

As planned, the new recreational carp fishery would have no size or possession limits.

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