AUSTIN —Fisheries staff with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are considering adjustments to bass length limits on several lakes, a change in alligator gar bag limit on Falcon Lake and clarifications to commercial crab and finfish rules.
The proposed changes to the 2015-16 Statewide Recreational and Commercial Fishing regulations include:
Braunig and Calaveras Reservoirs — Current regulations for largemouth bass consist of an 18-inch minimum length and five fish daily bag limit. Under the proposal, the length limit would be changed to the statewide 14-inch minimum limit. Daily bag limit would remain at five fish.
The current regulations were implemented in 1995, and the reservoirs were managed for trophy bass. In the 1990s, the bass populations began to exhibit reproduction problems, and bass stocking and habitat improvement was implemented to improve the populations. Despite the regulation change, habitat improvement projects, and stocking, the largemouth bass populations and fisheries at both reservoirs have not improved. Since 1999, few bass 18 inches and larger have been collected in department electrofishing samples. In recent surveys of anglers, only 4-5 percent of angling effort was expended for bass at both reservoirs, and angler catch rates were poor. The 18-inch limit did not improve angling in the reservoirs, and the proposed change is expected to have minimal impact on the bass populations or angling in either reservoir.
O. H. Ivie Reservoir — Current harvest regulations for smallmouth bass consist of an 18-inch minimum length and three fish daily bag limit. The limits would be changed to the statewide 14-inch minimum limit and five fish daily bag.
O. H. Ivie Reservoir was stocked with smallmouth bass once after its impoundment in 1990, and a small population has been present since then. Smallmouth bass are encountered sporadically in fish population surveys, and anglers do not specifically target the species. Because abundance of smallmouth bass is low and the fishery minimal, the 18-inch limit on smallmouth bass has not been effective. O. H. Ivie bass anglers have expressed the desire to retain incidentally-caught smallmouth bass for tournament weigh-ins, but they rarely catch any smallmouth bass over 18 inches. Changing the regulation to the statewide 14-inch minimum length limit would allow more incidentally-caught smallmouth bass to be entered into fishing tournaments, increasing angler satisfaction with little to no impact on the overall fisheries at the reservoir.
Lake Nasworthy — Current harvest regulations for largemouth bass consist of a 14-inch minimum length limit and a five fish per day bag limit. The length limit would be changed to a 14- to 18-inch slot limit (no harvest between 14 and 18 inches). Daily bag limit would remain at five fish.
Largemouth bass in Lake Nasworthy have had a history of slow growth. The relatively stable water levels have resulted in stable and abundant bass recruitment. Bass age and growth data have consistently shown a growth bottleneck around 12-14 inches since at least 2004. Angling activity at the reservoir consists of bank anglers, and anglers who are targeting “anything.” Local staff has made presentations to three San Angelo bass clubs in 2013-2014 about the bass growth problems and potential regulation changes, and these bass anglers support making a regulation change. They also expressed willingness to harvest fish under 14 inches if it would help the overall population. Respondents in an online opinion survey were receptive to potential changes (68 percent supported a 14- to18-inch slot length limit). The proposed regulation would allow harvest of fish in the bottleneck size range, which could alleviate the intraspecific competition that is restricting growth. The regulation would also protect more of the larger bass (14-18 inches) while allowing some harvest and retention of bass for tournament weigh-ins. Size structure of the bass population would become more balanced with more fish over 14 inches.
Falcon Lake — The current daily bag limit of one alligator gar would be changed to five fish per day. The increased bag limit would be in effect in the all impounded waters of the Rio Grande from the Falcon Dam upstream to the Zapata/Webb County line.
Falcon Lake anglers and stakeholders have become increasingly concerned about management of alligator gar in recent years. In response, TPWD conducted a comprehensive study at Falcon in 2014 to obtain the biological information necessary to make management recommendations for the species at this locale. Most (88 percent) anglers who target the species reside within 1.5 hours of the reservoir. The fishery is primarily harvest oriented, and harvesting a trophy-size alligator gar was not a highly important motivation. Most Falcon anglers (gar and non-gar anglers) desire an increase in the daily bag limit.
A simulation model was used to assess the potential impact of harvest rate on the sustainability of the population and trophy-size fish. Harvest rate is currently estimated to be one percent or less, based on the estimated gar harvest on Falcon Lake and in comparison with harvest data from nearby Choke Canyon Reservoir. An increase in the daily bag limit poses a minimal risk to population sustainability and trophy fish abundance and would allow anglers to harvest more alligator gar.
Commercial Crab and Finfish Rules — These amendments seek to clarify that when a vessel is being used under a commercial finfish or crab fisherman’s license, that the crab or finfish fishermen must only have one license plate on board and that the license on board the vessel must match the license plate.
Comments on the proposed commercial crab and finfish license rules may be submitted by phone or e-mail to Jeremy Leitz (512) 389-4333; e-mail: [email protected], Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas 78744.
Comments on the proposed bass and gar rules may be submitted by phone or e-mail to Ken Kurzawski (512) 389-4591; e-mail: [email protected], Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas 78744.
Comments may also be submitted through the department’s Internet web site www.tpwd.texas.gov in February once the proposals have been published in the Texas Register and at the following public meetings.
Public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, March 3 at 7 p.m. in Zapata at the Zapata County Technical and Advance Education Center, Room 128, 605 N. US Hwy 83, and in Lufkin at the Angelina County Courthouse, 159th District Courtroom, 215 E. Lufkin Avenue.
A live online public hearing via webinar will also be held at noon on Friday, March 6. Details and instructions for participation in the online public hearing webinar will be made available on the TPWD website.