Sea Changes

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Chester Moore

Every year a number of key outdoor issues hits the state of Texas, sometimes in the form of government actions, other times via nature itself (drought).

This year several major items are already on the radar and are things we will be keeping a particularly close eye on as time passes. These particular issues are centered on the coastal areas.

FLOUNDER Regulation Changes

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) is scoping potential regulation changes for flounders. In fact by the time this issue reaches subscribers the TPWD Commission will be meeting in Austin to make an official proposal.

Here is the information they gave at public hearings in January.

“The Coastal Fisheries Division is looking for feedback regarding potential changes in the flounder regulations. Currently the daily bag limit and possession limit for recreational  anglers is five fish with a 14-inch minimum size limit. However, in November the daily bag limit and possession limit is reduced to two fish. Fish may only be taken by hook-and-line (no gigging) during November.”

“The reduced bag and hook-and-line only regulations were put in place to allow adult flounders to leave the bay and spawn in the Gulf. This is commonly referred to as the flounder run, which occurs in late fall. These regulations have resulted in improvements in the flounder fishery. However, depending on the arrival of the first cold fronts, these flounder runs may occur earlier or later than November. To further protect and enhance this fishery, the department has other management strategies it can implement, including extending the special November regulations back into October or further into December. The option of applying a sunset date to these potential regulation changes could be considered by TPWD.”

When TPWD refers to a “sunset date” that means they could establish a date by which the regulations either have to be reexamined by a panel of experts and the TPWD Commission or go away altogether. “Sunsetting” is a practice the Texas Legislature uses to examine its various bureaucracies every decade.

Trout Regulation ChangesF3-Jump-Felsher-012

Speckled trout regulation changes are also being examined and as with flounder an official regulation proposal could be on the table by the time this issue hits readers.

The following is the information that went through the scoping process in January.

“Currently the daily bag limit for spotted sea trout is 10 fish with a minimum size limit of 15 inches and a maximum size limit of 25 inches outside of the lower Laguna Madre. Within the lower Laguna Madre (LLM), the daily bag limit and possession limit is five fish with a 15-inch minimum size limit and a 25-inch maximum size limit.”

“One fish over 25 inches is allowed per person per day and counts as part of the daily bag limit coast-wide. The regulations within the LLM were instituted to stop and reverse the downward trend in overall abundance and spawning biomass in the region, and to ensure that fish reach larger size classes.”

“The fishery in the LLM has benefited from these regulations. As these regulations have proven beneficial in the LLM, the department is considering expanding these regulations, or a variation thereof, to other areas along the coast. Possible variations could include expanding the five-fish bag limit or other bag limit reductions coast-wide, to specific bay systems, or regions. The option of applying a sunset date to these potential regulation changes could be considered by TPWD.”

LCRA Water Allocation

Last November, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) voted to increase rice irrigation cutoff levels.  According to officials in Ducks Unlimited (DU) who have been closely involved with the issue, after two years of emergency orders providing very little irrigation or supplemental water for rice and other wetland habitats, this may be the final blow to an ailing industry and the waterfowl that depend on it for habitat.canstockphoto15300328

The official vote was to raise the cutoff trigger to 1.1 million acre-feet of water in Lakes Travis and Buchanan by March 1 before releasing water for rice. Previous emergency orders have put the trigger at 850,000 acre-feet according to DU.

“Water is part of the foundation for the basin-wide regional economy; and the fact is, there is not enough water at present for all uses and users,” said Kirby Brown, DU conservation outreach biologist.

“However, it is unconscionable to cut off water for food production which in turn provides vital habitat for millions of migratory birds and supports a multi-million-dollar, natural-resource-based economy while allowing non-essential uses such as lawn watering, car washing and filling swimming pools to continue. We are all in this together, and we must all conserve our limited resources and seek sensible compromises in water allocation.”

DU reported that without unprecedented winter rainfall, this decision would cut off water for rice farming within the LCRA irrigation districts for the third year in a row.

“Unless there is a dramatic change in the next farm bill, which Congress has yet to pass, no disaster assistance will be available next year. A third year without water for rice will be devastating to the $374-million rice industry in the lower basin, and that will ripple across our regional economy,” Brown said.

This issue is huge for waterfowlers because the counties involved are among the top destinations for hunting because of the high numbers of ducks and geese. Without rice the scenario is completely different and could literally destroy the region’s waterfowl hunting tradition if current trends continue.

On a larger scale, this is indicative of the war for water rights that will rage across the state. There have already been other minor restrictions put in place for agriculture elsewhere in key waterfowl hunting areas. What is happening in the LCRA region gives us a good, sobering look at the kind of struggle that the future will bring involving water in a state with a quickly growing human population.

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