AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission agreed Jan. 23
to remove from consideration proposals to match proposed federal
regulations on red snapper and sharks in the state’s territorial sea.
In a TPW Commission Regulations Committee hearing, Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department Coastal Fisheries Division biologists recommended
removing the red snapper consistency proposal — to match regulations
for federal waters beyond the 9-mile limit — which would have changed
the regulations in state waters to a two fish daily bag limit and a
122-day season. The current rules for red snapper in state waters — a
four-fish daily bag limit and 365-day season — remain in effect.
Larry McKinney, Ph.D., director of the Coastal Fisheries Division,
told commissioners that the decision to recommend tabling the red
snapper consistency proposal was a difficult one and involved a
trade-off between biological and economic benefits.
"If we match the federal regulations, it reduces the risk of not
meeting long-term goals for the entire Gulf of Mexico. From a
conservation standpoint it is an end we would wish to achieve,"
McKinney said. "And, certainly, from a law enforcement perspective, it
would make it easier to enforce the regulations."
On the other hand, McKinney said, recruitment of juvenile red
snapper to the fishery in Texas waters has been steadily increasing —
most likely as a result of reduced shrimping effort and bycatch — and
biologists generally do not have a great deal of confidence in National
Marine Fisheries Service population and modeling data for the species.
Four scoping meetings held along the Gulf coast in December, 2007,
generated approximately 495 comments, almost unanimously opposed to the
consistency issue. Red snapper are a key target of Texas nearshore and
offshore anglers and the fishery is a mainstay of many local coastal
The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), a major partner with
TPWD in red drum stock enhancement and other projects, favored state
consistency with federal regulations, as did the Ocean Conservancy. The
Recreational Fishing Alliance opposed consistency.
" The CCA and the other organizations that are supporting the
recommendation for consistency are to be commended for promoting the
long term conservation of an important species in the Gulf. For us to
make the recommendation to follow the federal regulations and drive a
nail in the coffin of an important coastal fishery is very difficult,"
McKinney said. "Before we take that action we need better confidence
about the conservation benefits that might be realized with the federal
proposal, unfortunately at this time we just can’t go there."
Biologists did tell commissioners that the issue may need to be
revisited later this year or next if new information comes to light or
federal action requires it.
Also tabled was a proposal to adopt a regulation on the taking of
sharks in state waters that would mirror a forthcoming proposal from
NMFS that when it was first discussed last fall would prohibit the
taking of blacktip and bull sharks, among others. The final proposed
federal regulation has not yet been published, and Coastal Fisheries
biologists told commissioners they would like to wait and see what the
final rule is before making a recommendation.
Biologists recommended adopting a quota for the commercial catch of
Gulf menhaden in state waters. TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division Science
Director Robin Riechers described the move as a precautionary measure
that basically limits the fishery at its current level.
The total allowable catch from state waters would be set at 31,500,000 pounds.
"This fishery has been managed on a sustainable basis for a long
time," Riechers told commissioners. "The stock assessment completed in
2004 indicates no overfishing, and in bay and Gulf trawl samples, we’re
seeing increasing trends."
The total menhaden harvest in the Gulf of Mexico is currently about
1.2 billion pounds per year, with about 3 percent of that from Texas
waters between Galveston and Sabine Pass. Biologists described the
fishery as "fairly clean," with about 1 percent bycatch by number and
1.2 percent by weight.
Finally, Coastal Fisheries Division biologists told commissioners - Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide
they would like to move forward with a voluntary saltwater guide
certification program that focuses on safety and resource conservation.