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    Categories: Freshwater

Commission Chairman Addresses Gar Proposals

On Jan. 23, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Director of Information and Regulations Ken Kurzawski unveiled a list of formal proposed regulation changes related to alligator gar harvest in Texas during a TPWD Commission work session held in Austin.

The list includes a statewide ban on the harvest of alligator gar at night using bow and arrows, placing the section of Trinity River from the I-30 bridge in Dallas to the I-10 bridge in Chambers County under a four-foot maximum length limit and leaving the current one-fish daily bag limit in place.

A four-foot maximum length limit would protect alligator gar longer than four feet from harvest. A four-foot alligator gar weighs about 26 pounds, according to Dave Terre, TPWD Chief of Inland Fisheries Management and Research.

Additionally, TPWD is proposing the implementation of a mandatory reporting requirement for alligator gar harvested on all Texas waters, excluding Lake Falcon. Mandatory reporting would require anglers to report each harvest within 24 hours online via a mobile app. It could potentially be a useful tool to help scientists track how many big alligator gar are being harvested, where they are being taken and the primary harvest methods.

Texas Fish and Game Freshwater Editor Matt Williams recently reached to out to TPWD Commission Chairman Ralph Duggins with a few questions to gain a better understanding of the commission’s stance on this sensitive issue.

What follows is a summary of that correspondence (Editor)

Williams:

Hi Mr. Duggins,

Hope all is well.

I am writing about the alligator gar proposal, which was made formal on Jan. 23. I listened in on the public audio and I was surprised to hear that the proposal now calls for a statewide ban on bowfishing for alligator gar at night, in addition to a 4-foot max on the Trinity River and mandatory reporting statewide, excluding Lake Falcon.

As mentioned in our previous e-mail, TPWD inland fisheries staff spent a considerable amount of time and resources several years ago doing research on alligator gar populations (mainly on the Trinity). The findings ultimately led to the implementation of the statewide, 1 fish limit, per angler, per day in 2009, with the exception of Lake Falcon.

TPWD research data indicated at that the time that the Trinity River population could sustain itself under that reg, so long as exploitation rates did not exceed five percent or an extended period of time. As Ken Kurzawski explained in his recent presentation, the current exploitation rates are believed to be below five percent.

If that’s the case, and there is no other biological data to indicate that a change is needed in order for the alligator gar population to sustain itself, please explain why you and the commission are pushing for a regulation meant to eliminate the take of large alligator gar on the Trinity?

And now the nighttime ban on bowfishing for alligator gar statewide? If there is no solid biological data to show bowfishing at night is doing the fishery any harm, what is the reasoning behind taking that opportunity away from TPWD constituents?

Believe me, I understand your passion towards these fish. Nobody wants to see the population harmed, including me.

However, I am of the opinion that fisheries and wildlife management decisions such as these should be supported by sound science and solid research data. At this point there appears to be none that supports changes in the current regs, although the mandatory reporting concept seems like a great idea to continue gathering valuable information on the species.

Editor’s Note: Following Kurzawski’s Jan. 23 proposal presentation, TPWD Commission Chairman Ralph Duggins asked Kurzawski to evaluate the logistics of creating a limited draw system for non-transferable alligator gar permits that would allow for a small number of large alligator gar to be harvested, should the Trinity River proposal pass and be expanded statewide. At that time, Duggins indicated that he was not suggesting that it be prepared for a vote in March. However, TF&G has since learned different. 

“I have confirmed with Carter Smith (TPWD Executive Director) that staff intends to include in the alligator gar proposals for consideration at the March meeting a limited draw for tags that permit a party to take an alligator gar in the Trinity in excess of four feet in length,” Duggins said in a Feb. 2 e-mail. “So I do expect that when the proposals are published they will include this option.”

TPWD Commission Chairman Ralph Huggins

Dear Mr. Williams:

I am responding to your January 25th email inquiry about proposed rules—soon to be published for public comment, that if passed, would provide needed reporting on the taking of the state’s largest freshwater fish, and would protect the largest of this valuable natural resource from overharvest and waste.

My interest in this fish goes back to around 2009 when then Inland Fisheries Director, Phil Durocher, made a presentation to the Commission in support of his recommendation that the harvest of these fish be limited to one per person per day to give the staff time to do more work and study of protections needed for this fish. As you likely know, because it is long-lived, only spawns intermittently, spawns in very shallow water, and frequently surfaces for air, it is vulnerable to exploitation. In just the last 60 or so years their historic range has contracted significantly. Now, Texas has the best remaining alligator gar populations that contain numerous very large females. Some of those fish are over 40 years old. Our Inland Fisheries team has made estimates of the numbers of alligator gar. Importantly, the data you reference is from a snapshot estimate made in 2011—nearly eight years ago.

Data and populations estimates are certainly relevant but not the only factors to be considered. The Commission seeks to promote stewardship on both public and private lands and waters including the promotion of a conservation ethic, fair chase sportsmanship, and preventing waste of natural resources.

Moreover, since that last estimate was prepared, interest in large gar has grown. And the rapid evolution of technology and equipment available to kill large alligator gar has made it much easier to take these fish when on the surface, in shallow water, or at night. So, the Commission has been interested in proposed rules that would reduce the number of big gar killed and in getting more reporting of gar taken.

Nothing in the proposed rules affects an angler from trying to catch and release a large gar on a rod and reel anywhere at any time. But obviously, if each adult Texan killed a large gar, or even if a few hundred individuals each took one large gar a day for 30 days, the large gar would soon disappear, something we do not want to see.

Further, are you aware that the Texas Department of State Health Services has a “DO NOT EAT” advisory for alligator gar taken from most of the Trinity? It is difficult to imagine that anyone would disregard this important caution and consume alligator gar caught from that river.

Loss of habitat for spawning and alteration of flow in rivers has also contributed to their decline. These factors have negatively impacted alligator gar populations, which only increases the need to reduce and monitor harvest.

My personal interest here is to preserve for future generations of Texas families the experience of seeing and having the chance to catch one of these gentle giants. We also believe that the large alligator gar in Texas attract interest from many non-resident anglers who can only catch a huge alligator gar by coming to Texas waters.

I believe the Commission is committed to acting with deliberation but caution to avoid allowing this magnificent species ending up where we see paddlefish or sturgeon, two other large freshwater fish that are in trouble due in part to exploitation.

Staff is expected to include in the alligator gar proposals that will be published for public comment and possible Commission action at its March meeting a limited draw for tags that permit a party to take an alligator gar in the Trinity in excess of four feet in length.

Thank you for your interest in protecting the large alligator gar.

Editor’s Note: You can listen to the Jan. 23 commission meeting audio at tpwd.texas.gov/business/feedback/meetings/2019/0124/agenda/. Kurzawski’s alligator gar presentation begins approximately 1 hour, 38 minutes into the audio.

Public hearing dates, times and locations have not yet been decided, but should be available on TPWD’s website soon. Public comments also can be made online. Comments should be directed to Ken Kurzawski, ken.kurzawski@tpwd.texas.gov or Dave Terre, dave.terre@tpwd.texas.gov.

Matt Williams

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