AUSTIN, Texas — The world-famous spotted seatrout fishery in the Lower
Laguna Madre will get an extra measure of protection beginning in
September after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted April 5
to lower the bag and possession limit for the species there from 10 to
The change, which was approved along with other suggested changes to
the 2007-08 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation, would mark the
first time the department has attempted a regional approach to managing
a saltwater fishery.
The reduction in the daily bag limit addresses a downward trend in
the spawning stock biomass of spotted seatrout in the Lower Laguna
Madre — a trend that runs counter to steadily increasing populations
elsewhere on the coast.
Of particular concern to TPWD biologists is that spotted seatrout
spawning stock biomass currently is about half what it was at the time
of the 1983-1984 freeze, which resulted in a major kill of spotted
seatrout and other species along the lower coast.
A greater number of reproducing fish can help stocks recover faster after such a catastrophic event.
“As we moved into this year, for the first time our spotted seatrout
catch rate for the LLM has fallen below the statewide average,” TPWD
Coastal Fisheries Director Larry McKinney, Ph.D., told commissioners.
“Spawning stock biomass continues to go down and we don’t see that
trend turning around unless we do something.”
McKinney acknowledged that the proposal engendered considerable
debate in scoping meetings and public hearings up and down the coast.
Public comments ran 2,256 for the lower regional bag limits, and 1,137
“There were a number of concerns about regionalization,” he told
commissioners. “What we’re proposing is a considerable change. We can
take a small step now, or somewhere down the road we take a much more
severe step. We do not want to get in the situation where we have to
close seasons, as Florida has done. We’re in a fortunate position in
Texas in that we can try to address things before they become crisis
The new regulation applies to the entire Lower Laguna Madre, from
Marker 21 in the Landcut, to South Bay and including the Brownsville
Ship Channel and Arroyo Colorado. In a change from the proposal
presented to commissioners in January, the area affected by the new
regulation does not extend to the tips of the jetties at Gulf passes
(the East Cut near Port Mansfield and Brazos Santiago Pass at South
Padre Island), but stops at the base of the jetties.
The Gulf beaches are not included in the area, but any boats fishing
in Gulf waters and landing their catches within the boundaries would be
subject to the lower bag limits.
In addition to the regulation changing the bag and possession limits
on spotted seatrout in the Lower Laguna Madre, the commission approved
other changes in fishing regulations, including:
- Increasing the minimum length limit for sheepshead from the current
12 inches to 15 inches, in increments of 1 inch per year. This would,
by 2010, allow all retained fish to have reproduced at least once.
- Implementing a “no-take” rule for Diamondback terrapins. The rule would exempt permitted non-game dealers and collectors.
- Raising the minimum size limit on tarpon from 80 inches to 85
inches. In an earlier proposal, two options were considered: raising
the minimum size to 90 inches, or implementing a purely catch and
release fishery for tarpon in Texas. TPWD biologists worked with Jerry
Ault, Ph.D., a University of Miami expert on tarpon, to instead arrive
at an 85-inch minimum that would allow Texas anglers a shot at setting
a new state record but would still provide significant conservation
benefits. McKinney told commissioners that, eventually, catch and
release would be proposed, but that it would be most effective if
regulations are standardized in other Gulf states and Mexico.
- Requiring the use of circle hooks when fishing for red snapper and
maintaining the current 15-inch minimum size limit and a year-round
season in state waters. Commissioners also approved the publication of
a proposal to consider delegating rule-making authority with regard to
red snapper to the TPWD executive director so the department could
respond to changes in federal regulations more quickly. This proposal
will come before the Commission for approval at the May meeting.
- Enhancing the ability of Texas enforcement officials to prosecute
cases in Texas courts by adding language in the Statewide Hunting and
Fishing proclamation mirroring federal rules for the red snapper
commercial fishery individual fishing quota (IFQ) program. This will
allow state officials to make state cases when the case would otherwise
not meet the profile/economic level to warrant federal prosecution.
The commission also approved minor changes to “clean-up” current
rules, including broadening the definition of what types of boats are
prohibited from harassing fish; including language that makes it clear
that coastal and salt waters mean the same thing; exempting offshore
aquaculture operators from state bag and size limits as they land
cultured fish; and allowing the use of freshwater catfish heads in crab
The TPW Commission approved an Inland Fisheries recommendation
increasing the possession limit for striped bass from 10 to 20 on Lake
Texoma. The change would reduce angler confusion with respect to fish
landed in Texas.
Also approved was a one-year extension of the current provision - Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide
allowing the harvest of catfish by means of lawful archery equipment
which includes crossbows. The department is still in the process of
evaluating the impact of the regulation on catfish populations.