During the flounder regulation debate in 2008, an interesting theory was being propagated on the Internet. It was a way to help boost flounder numbers without changing bag limits, and I got to hear it in person.
“They are always out there in the passes flipping those flounders out of the water and eating them. The dolphins are getting more populous and they eat more flounders than we ever kill, so we should enact some dolphin population control.”
“So, you’re saying we should shoot Flipper to save the flounder,” I asked.
“Yes, pretty much.”
Somehow the idea of setting up dolphin sharpshooters in our bays and passes did not seem like it would fly with the Texas Parks & Wildlife
Commission (TPWC) or the general public for that matter.
“Come to the Texas coast where we blew away 500 dolphins last year!”
Not exactly good Chamber of Commerce material, is it?
Soon however, the tide turned away from dolphin eradication to redfish annihilation.
“There are just too many redfish. They are eating all of the baby flounder. That is why flounder numbers are down.”
Once again, I wrote this off and ended up hearing the same thing from several people. One even suggested doubling the redfish bag limit, dropping the minimum size and ending all red drum stocking. The same has been said recently about the impact of redfish on speckled trout.
“The trout are declining because the reds are eating all their food.”
“The reds are eating everything in their path.”
This is reminiscent of the late 1990s when commercial fishermen in Louisiana tried to get gill and strike nets legalized for redfish once again because the reds were “wiping out the crabs.”
A decline in blue crab numbers could not possibly have been related to the insane number of crab traps set in Bayou State waters but had to have been redfish, which as far as we know have been co-existing with crabs forever.
There is a tendency in fisheries management to seek scapegoats when there are population problems or regulation debates.
These kinds of arguments and others like them do nothing but move the attention from the real issues, taking the fishing public down rabbit trails with no end. More importantly, it takes the focus off the side of the conservation equation we can control: ourselves.
There is a reason size and bag limits are put in place. Of the myriad factors that go into management of a species including drought, flood, salinity levels and freezes, our take of that resource is the one thing we can control. TPWC members cannot pass a measure deeming salinity levels above 60 parts per thousand.
Well, they could but it would have zero impact.
Changing bag and size limits however does have an effect and along with stock enhancement are the only cost effective mechanisms we have to impact sport fish numbers.
A good, straightforward debate on whether or not we should make changes and the value we place on things like trout availability and trophy size is something we should discuss. However, we should do so without relegating redfish back to 1970s status when their primary purpose was an ingredient in a Chef Paul Prudhomme recipe. They deserve more respect than that.
Speaking of redfish, there have been rumblings in recent years about opening commercial activity for redfish in the Gulf of Mexico. I am not sure how that would work since President George W. Bush enacted an executive order in his last weeks in office to prohibit commercial redfish harvest in the Gulf but there is definitely an interest on the commercial side to make such a thing a reality.
Going back for a moment to the 2008 flounder changes, I had a very animated discussion with a man who commercially fished flounder who not happy of my support of the new regulations. I understood what he was saying and respected his opinion.
Then he said, “We should have never banned the gillnets in the first place.”
At some point, we simply have to look at science. For many years, I have studied the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s creel, purse seine and gillnet survey results. They are by far the most thorough of any state in the nation and in my opinion as legitimate an account of what is happening in our bays as we can get. The raw numbers are real or at least as real as anything else out there.
When the TPWC goes by science, just by the raw numbers they do a good job of regulating the state. However, there have been times when certain issues had little to do with science and more with public opinion or commerce.
If we keep our focus on the science, examine it and question every aspect, then true conservation usually wins out.
The state and the fishing public owe it to our resource to fight it out over the facts, but suggesting decreasing one resource to benefit another does not help trout, flounder or anything else.
That is a disservice to the resource and the future of our beloved outdoors lifestyle.
—story by Chester Moore