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Sawfish: What to do when you accidentally hook one

When I started graduate school at Florida State University, I had never seen a sawfish in the wild but I was excited to be part of the recovery of a species I had been so awestruck by in aquariums.

The smalltooth sawfish, the only sawfish found in Florida, has been protected in Florida since 1992 and became federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003. Little was known about the species when it became listed but since that time, scientists have learned a lot about its biology and ecology.

As sawfish recovery efforts continue, we expect there to be more sawfish sightings, especially in Florida. This includes anglers who may accidentally catch one on hook-and-line while fishing for other species.

Sawfish encounters

Sawfish can be encountered when participating in a number of activities including boating, diving and fishing. Further, the species may be encountered by waterfront homeowners and beach goers in the southern half of the state where juvenile sawfish rely on shallow, nearshore environments as nursery habitats. When fishing, targeting sawfish is prohibited under the ESA, though incidental captures do occur while fishing for other species. Knowing how to properly handle a hooked sawfish is imperative as sawfish can be potentially hazardous to you. One of the first things that stood out to me while conducting permitted research was the speed at which a sawfish can swing its rostrum (commonly referred to as the saw). For creatures that glide along the bottom so slowly and gracefully, they sure can make quick movements when they want to. It’s best to keep a safe distance between you and the saw.

If you happen to catch a sawfish while fishing, do not pull it out of the water and do not try to handle it. Refrain from using ropes or restraining the animal in any way, and never remove the saw. It is important that you untangle it if necessary and release the sawfish as quickly as possible by cutting the line as close to the hook as you can. Proper release techniques ensure a high post-release survival of sawfish. Scientific studies show us that following these guidelines will limit the amount of stress a sawfish experiences as a result of capture. Note that a recent change in shark fishing rules requires use of circle hooks, which results in better hook sets, minimizes gut hooking, and also maximizes post-release survival. 

In addition to capture on hook-and-line, sawfish can easily become entangled in lost fishing gear or nets. If you observe an injured or entangled sawfish, be sure to report it immediately but do not approach the sawfish. Seeing a sawfish up close can be an exciting experience but you must remember that it is an endangered species with strict protections.

If you are diving and see a sawfish, observe at a distance. Do not approach or harass them. This is illegal and this guidance is for your safety as well as theirs.

An important component of any sawfish encounter is sharing that information with scientists. Your encounter reports help managers track the population status of this species. If you encounter a sawfish while diving, fishing or boating, please report the encounter. Take a quick photo if possible (with the sawfish still in the water and from a safe distance), estimate its length including the saw and note the location of the encounter. The more details you can give scientists, the better we can understand how sawfish are using Florida waters and the better we can understand the recovery of the population. Submit reports at SawfishRecovery.org, email sawfish@MyFWC.com or phone at 1-844-4SAWFISH.

Sawfish background

Sawfishes, of which there are five species in the world, are named for their long, toothed “saw” or rostrum, which they use for hunting prey and defense. In the U.S., the smalltooth sawfish was once found regularly from North Carolina to Texas but its range is now mostly limited to Florida waters.

In general, sawfish populations declined for a variety of reasons. The primary reason for decline is that they were frequently caught accidentally in commercial fisheries that used gill nets and trawls. Additional contributing factors include recreational fisheries and habitat loss. As industrialization and urbanization changed coastlines, the mangroves that most sawfishes used as nursery habitat also became less accessible. For a species that grows slowly and has a low reproductive rate, the combination of these threats proved to be too much.

Engaging in sawfish recovery

During my thesis research, which focuses on tracking the movements of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish, each tagging encounter is a surreal experience.

The first sawfish I saw was an adult, and what struck me the most was just how big it was. I also remember being enamored by its mouth. Like all other rays, its mouth is on the underside of its body. The mouth looks like a shy smile and I found it almost humorous how different the top of the sawfish was compared to the bottom. After seeing my first baby sawfish, the contrast seemed even greater. It’s hard to believe upon seeing a 2 to 3 foot sawfish that it could one day be 16 feet long! No matter the size, anyone who has encountered a sawfish will tell you it’s an experience like no other.

The hope is that one day the sawfish population will be thriving once again, and more people will be able to experience safe and memorable encounters with these incredible animals. Hopefully, we can coexist with sawfish in a sustainable and positive way in the future.

For more information on sawfish, including FWC’s sawfish research visit:
MyFWC.com/research, click on “Saltwater” then “Sawfish.”

For more information on smalltooth sawfish and their recovery watch:
YouTube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&t=3s

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Living outside the city

I get asked all the time, "Why don't you live in Gainesville?"

It's a valid question; I'll give you that. I go to UF and work in Gainesville. I have to get out of bed 30 minutes earlier to leave for school than I would if I lived in Gainesville. If I want to go home before I go to work, I spend like $12 in gas just to make the back-and-forth trip.

Driving home to change before going out on the weekends takes so much time that I often just end up staying home most of the time. All these things may seem like deal breakers to most, but they're only minor sacrifices to me.

I love living in High Springs. I grew up here on a dirt road with nothing to do but get in trouble. I climbed trees, stared at the stars, stole my momma's cigarettes and spent so much time outdoors that the five-minute walk home felt like an eternity in the infinite darkness of night.

I love the trees, the smell in the air and the kind people.

In Gainesville, you struggle to find a parking spot that won't get you towed. In High Springs, you can double park and not feel guilty.

In Gainesville, you're constantly stuck in traffic. In High Springs, the only traffic you worry about is foot traffic at the Farmer's market.

In High Springs, you don't worry about car washes because you prefer dirt roads. Rain washes your car.

It's just so peaceful here. I know Alachua's starting to get bigger with new restaurants and franchises opening up left and right, but there's still this serenity about the area. A small town atmosphere that makes you wish your grandparents’ house was right around the corner so that you can pick up some freshly baked cookies before you start your day.

I live five minutes from my parents’ house and I raid their house whenever my roommates and I are low on groceries. They don't care; they just enjoy having me around. In all honesty, I don't visit as much as I should. My dogs about have a heart attack every time I stop by. I just know that it would be much worse if I lived in Gainesville.

That's High Springs, though. It's close to home. It's close to my family. It's close to my heart.

No matter where I go, I'll never forget my time here. This is where I grew up. This is where I became who I am today. 

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alachuatoday.com

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PACE Program would benefit Florida seniors and families

Keeping frail elderly loved ones at home can be extremely difficult; not only in terms of ensuring they receive the proper medical and personal care they need – which can often be a weekly or even daily necessity – but it can also prove difficult in terms of managing and maintaining a healthy balance with a career and personal life.

Many of us have struggled with this challenge, yet know it is a  more acceptable alternative than placing our mother, father or other loved one in a nursing home.  However, there is now an alternative that, if introduced, will provide much-needed assistance to families that are caring for a loved one by providing comprehensive in-home care to frail seniors at risk for nursing home placement.  This alternative is called a PACE program, or Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly.

PACE programs are innovative managed care programs focused on providing all health care and other supportive services to keep those 55 years or older, who are very frail and at risk for long-term nursing home placement, living as independently as possible, for as long as possible.

During the 2013 Legislative Session, Haven Hospice is hopeful that the Florida Legislature will support the implementation of PACE programs in Duval, Alachua and Clay counties.  Many wonder why a hospice provider would operate a PACE program as they are two very different services.  The reason is simple, hospices are often best equipped from an operational standpoint to run PACE programs; and, at Haven, we truly believe that this valuable and unique managed care program will have a positive impact on the welfare of Florida seniors and their families, as well as providing significant saving to the state Medicaid budget.

If introduced, this valuable program would provide the entire continuum of care and services to seniors, including adult day care that offers primary care (dental and eye care; podiatry care; physical, speech, occupational and recreational therapies; nutritional counseling and meals; social work services; nursing and personal care); primary medical care provided by a PACE physician, who is familiar with the history, needs and preferences of each PACE participant; home health care and personal care to maintain the senior’s independence in their homes; all necessary prescription drugs; respite care and hospital and nursing home care when necessary.

In PACE programs, care and services are centered around an Adult Day Health Care Facility, which will strive to retain the focus on care and socialization by aiming to limit participants’ time in transport to or from the PACE facility.   Moreover, under this unique program, health care providers and professionals are allowed the freedom and flexibility to plan and provide the most appropriate services, allowing each participant’s care to be specifically tailored to suit their needs and circumstances.

We are hopeful that members of the Florida Legislature will consider supporting the unique and valuable PACE concept this session, that will have a significant and positive impact on frail seniors and their loved ones.

Tim Bowen is President of  Haven Hospice.

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The Conspiracy of Catholicism

Dear Most Holy Father:

    Thank you for attempting to humanize the office of pope.

    The majority of Catholics have blindly viewed pontiffs as God-like and incapable of making mistakes because of being infallible.

    Your actions, so far, do give me hope. I pray you will lead us toward renewal (retaining the good stuff), reformation (discarding the bad stuff), and rebirth (uncompromising justice and renewed spirituality).

    I first contacted John Paul II in 1993, and again in 2002. I contacted Benedict XVI several times during his papacy.

    I challenged them to reform an indifferently corrupt and a conspiracy-driven theocracy for the innumerable crimes the hierarchy had committed for centuries.

    Mandated priest celibacy, the murder of Joan of Arc, persecution of Martin Luther, imprisonment of Galileo, unjust inquisitions and crusades and the coddling of clergy sexual predators are examples of the church’s abuse of power.  

   The current crisis is attributable to the disreputable leadership of John Paul and Benedict for not putting the needs of victims first over predator priests.

    John Paul and Benedict shamefully elected to shelter sodomizers and the institution of Catholicism itself above all else.

    I urge you to stand on your perch at Saint Peter’s this Ash Wednesday and declare:

    We, the popes, cardinals, bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church have been grievously and sinfully wrong since the very beginning of the church’s history in protecting predator priests at the expense of the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Humbly, we openly admit our culpability, and, in professing our shame, ask for forgiveness from God and all humanity for the unspeakable crimes we have committed against victimized children and their families for nearly 2,000 years.”

    One critical action you need to take is to stop the canonization process for John Paul which will be the ultimate “Conspiracy of Catholicism.”

    There are a number of reasons this unworthy pontiff should not be canonized.

    John Paul had numerous opportunities to thwart the church’s sexual abuse scandal. He did virtually nothing to rid the church of sexual predators.

    In 1985, there was a major crisis in Lafayette, La. A priest was sentenced to 20 years in prison for molesting dozens of children.

    This scandal provided John Paul an excellent platform to become a hero for Catholicism by laicizing predator priests and by setting a “zero tolerance” standard for known sexual predators.

    He failed to do so. Instead, he became a co-conspirator with bishops everywhere by harboring clergy sexual abusers who were moved from parish to parish to sodomize other children. Is this action worthy of sainthood?  

    In the early 1990s, John Paul was given another opportunity to take action. Clergy sexual abuse allegations were surfacing all across America, especially in Massachusetts.

    John Paul chose to ignore the severity of an ever-increasing scandal by not calling Cardinal Law to task for sheltering known clergy sexual predators in the Boston archdiocese. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    In 1995, Law’s Secretary for Ministerial Personnel was commissioned a bishop by John Paul.

    This egregious action was effectuated despite the pope knowing this monsignor was aware of a number of priests in his archdiocese being sexual predators. In 1998, this bishop was promoted to head his own diocese.

    He was probably rewarded for being the proverbial “corporate man” in shielding Law and the Vatican from being fingered as co-conspirators in the rape of innocent children. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    Thousands of allegations were made around the world in 2002 against priests and bishops alleging sexual misconduct.

    This crisis was again prevalent in the Archdiocese of Boston. Law was unscrupulously transferred to the Vatican instead of keeping him in Boston to face the music.

    This convenient relocation allowed Law to escape possible legal action in America since he maintained dual citizenship status in America and in Vatican City.

    Rewarding Law for failing to protect children from harm was the ultimate “Conspiracy of Catholicism” committed by John Paul during his inglorious tenure. Is this action worthy of sainthood?

    Allowing Law to run and hide in the Vatican is the clincher in insisting the canonization process for John Paul cease immediately.

    A number of saints of the church had checkered pasts prior to becoming truly repentant for their sins and crimes.

    Saints Paul and Augustine are wonderful examples of sinners who displayed outward signs of repentance prior to being canonized.

    To the contrary, John Paul went to his grave never publicly displaying sorrow for his grievous sin of indifference in allowing children to be raped by clerics and by not laicizing known sexual predators.

    Does John Paul’s lack of contrition make him worthy of sainthood? 

    I implore you to let God be the supreme impartial judge in determining John Paul’s worthiness of being declared a saint.

    The church must not perpetuate “The Conspiracy of Catholicism” by canonizing a dubious leader of the world’s Catholics, one who never asked for forgiveness for the heinous crimes he committed against humanity.

     I still love my church and its sacred traditions, participate in the sacraments, contribute financially to my parish and other Catholic charities, and proudly “cross” myself in public whenever prayers are said at meetings and other events.

     On the other hand, I have very little respect for the church’s hierarchy, notwithstanding my belief in many of the church’s doctrines and beautiful traditions.

     Hopefully, you can improve my less than flattering opinion of the Vatican and the bishops of the church.

     Taking a bold step into the future by leading a spiritual rebirth of a broken “Christian” church thereby erasing “The Conspiracy of Catholicism” once and for all may just do it.

     I pray that you will have the courage to take this step.

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Yes: 1 Mill for Alachua Schools

Columns2012Mike Griffis, Vice-Chairman, Citizens for Strong Schools

For Alachua County Public Schools, we have an opportunity Tuesday to renew a one mill ad valorem tax to pay for school nurses, classroom technology, and music, art, library, guidance, band, chorus, and academic magnet programs.

Vote Yes…

And don’t fall victim to four common misconceptions.  Let me debunk them here.

  1. School taxes have increased: False.

School funding comes mainly from two sources: sales tax dollars and local property taxes.  The state legislature controls nearly all of this.  Every year, it sends fewer sales tax dollars and caps the millage rate that our school district can levy (one mill is $1 tax per $1,000 property value).

In 1995, it was 12.2 mill.  Today, it is down to 8.5, counting the 1 mill.  Actual yearly ad valorem tax on a typical house has been flat, no difference or even less when compared to 1995.  A house that has significantly appreciated since then might pay nominally $125 more (see http://yesforalachuaschools.org).

While your taxes have increased, our public schools are not getting them.

In pre-Lottery 1988, the legislature funded education with 60 percent of the overall state budget.  Now, to pay for pet projects, the legislature has reduced education to 29 percent of the budget.

Emphasis in the term-limited legislature is not on public education.  But state law does allow for voter-approved additional millage to pay for programs ignored by the legislature; hence, the ballot initiative.

  1. Administration is bloated, funding isn’t getting into classrooms: False.

In the budget for our school district, 77 percent goes to personnel, which are mostly teachers.

Only one-half a percent goes to general administration and pays folks working out of a building built in 1900.  School administration, mostly principals and vice-principals of 42 schools, gets 6 percent of the budget.

Almost 2/3 of the budget is instructional.  The remaining 1/3 supports it.  It is well run and worthy of our support.

  1. Graduation rate is low and this means our schools are failing: False.

The term-limited state legislature has embraced a national movement to streamline education and force it into a one-size-fits-all blueprint.  Yes, teacher accountability is important, students need to be tested for ensuring progress, and reading, writing, and arithmetic are necessary aspects of a high quality education.

But the legislature has placed too much focus on reducing costs and the sole utopian goal of prepping all students for college.  To receive a high school diploma, students must now pass Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Biology I, Chemistry I, and a Science Lab.

Not all students can pass these courses, nor would all students benefit from them.  Not all jobs require a college degree, and in fact most do not.

Some options like vocational courses are all but a memory in the college-or-bust mandate.  School districts lack the opportunity to provide appropriate options for students so they can get quality jobs suited to their abilities.

School districts are then penalized when students fail and drop out.  There is a horde of uneducated and angry dropouts on the horizon.

Our Alachua County Public Schools is very successful as our high school graduation rate is 87 percent.  Our children have access to a high quality education, in spite of the mandates coming from Tallahassee.

  1. Privatizing schools will improve the results at lower cost: False.

Another national movement being embraced privatizes public education using charter schools.  Charters often appear out of nowhere and disappear like gypsies. To nurture them, charters are exempt from many of the mandates of public schools.  They select desirable students, often drop-kicking unwanted students back into the public school system.

Rewarded are charter schools that lack educational and enterprise experience but lobby to be pet projects.  Rewarded are those administrators with exorbitant salaries.  Penalized are high performing public school districts like our own.  Public schools must take everyone and educate using fewer funds.

Remember this when you vote: A high quality public education is a right guaranteed to our children.  The State of Florida Constitution devotes an entire article to public education to ensure this.

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