This past January, the department acted to continue the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area through 2010 and sought input from anglers, fishing guides, conservation organizations and others on the best ways to protect shallow-water seagrasses.
On Aug. 25, the TPW Commission authorized department employees to publish for public comment a proposal to make it illegal to destroy seagrass in the scientific area. This would prohibit the uprooting of five seagrass species, Clover Grass (Halophila engelmanni), Manatee Grass (Syringodium filiformis), Shoalgrass (Halodule beaudettei), Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum), and Widgeon Grass (Ruppia maritima).
The commission also directed employees to include in the proposal mandatory “no prop zones” in three critical and well-defined locations within the state scientific area. These include the three voluntary “no prop zones” that have been in effect in the state scientific area since 2000. Violation of the proposed new rules would be a Class C Misdemeanor.
“The Commission is committed to conservation of seagrass habitat and is concerned that whatever they adopt is enforceable and as effective as possible,” said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., and TPWD coastal fisheries director. “They wish to hear from our constituents regarding both mandatory no prop zones and broad area prohibition of seagrass destruction.” The “no prop” areas would replace the voluntary “no prop” areas in place currently and the compliance with the latter approach would depend on an individual’s boat operation skills, knowledge of the area and type of equipment. The commission wishes to hear from constituents and give the proposal more careful review.
The new mandatory no prop zone rules would be accompanied by a concerted education campaign and extensive efforts to identify and mark access points into the area in order to minimize seagrass loss “We feel we can design the proposed no prop zones in a fishing friendly way to make access into and out of the zones easy,” stated McKinney. “We will confer with local guides and fishermen in doing so and I am sure we can accomplish our conservation goals without significantly impacting how the areas are already being fished,” he said.
McKinney said the voluntary propeller up or “no prop” zones and public education approach that TPWD has attempted for years have not been effective. Propeller scarring has continued in the area and research shows it is persistent and accumulating over time and cannot readily be corrected or restored.
Shallow-water seagrasses in Texas bays provide vital nursery areas for diverse marine life, food and cover for game fish, bottom stabilization, and better water quality. Seagrass has declined in many areas on the Texas coast. In Galveston Bay, 95 percent of all seagrass has disappeared. In the Redfish Bay area, the total acreage of seagrass has declined by 13 percent since 1958. The area marks the northernmost extent of one important species commonly known as turtlegrass. This species is particularly susceptible to propeller damage because of the long recovery time when damaged.
The commission is expected to make a final decision on the proposal at its Nov. 3 meeting in Austin.
The department will hold three public meetings this fall to get input about the proposal:
- 7-9 pm, Oct. 19 — Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, Natural Resources Center, Room 1003, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi
- 7-9 pm, Oct. 20 — Aransas County District Courtroom, 301 N. Live Oak, Rockport
- 7-9 pm, Oct.19 — Lion’s Field Adult Center, 2809 Broadway, San Antonio
In addition to these hearings, anyone may comment about the proposed new mandatory rules for Redfish Bay by calling, writing or e-mailing Jerry Cooke, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744, (512) 389-4492, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide