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 economies.

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 they would like to move forward with a voluntary saltwater guide certification program that focuses on safety and resource conservation.

– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide