Conserve It, Respect It, Use It Responsibly

John Blaha
Conserve It, Respect It, Use It Responsibly
Photo by John Blaha – Everyone likes to keep and eat fish. Take it a step further and only keep what you need and release the rest.

As I sit here reflecting on 2020 and what lies ahead for 2021, a thought that continuously comes to mind is, how do we continue to maintain the beautiful Texas coast and the marine resources available to us? In the face of the COVID pandemic, people from all over the state fled to the coast for time away and the opportunity to enjoy the coast we all love. Once restrictions were somewhat lifted and relaxed, people simply wanted to be outdoors whether it was at the coast, lake, or simply going for a stroll down the street. The outdoors and the coast was simply the getaway.  It didn’t come without a price socially, but that’s a story for another publication and for leadership within communities to figure out, and hopefully in a constructive and reasonable manner.

What did this mean for the coast?  Number one above all, it was another jump in pressure on the resource.  Fridays became Saturdays, Thursdays become Fridays, and Mondays became Sundays. People came to the coast and did not want to leave.  Take a look at real estate sales for communities like Rockport/Fulton, Port O’Connor and other coastal communities. People are investing in the coastal communities, and it’s time they invest in the very reason they have come to the coast. Whether it is fishing, hunting, birding, or simply walking the shores of the bay-fronts, we all need to step up and take care of it.

How can we all get involved and make a difference? We can start by being stewards of the resource and above all respect it. We all love to keep fish to eat, give a little to our families and friends, but take what you need and put the rest back. The fishery is not infinite and we have to take care of it. This is not about one user group over another, and it really does not matter what you used for bait – a dead fish is a dead fish.  Whether you are the weekend angler, an avid angler that fishes 10 or more days a month, or a guide, we all need to hold ourselves accountable. There is nothing worse than seeing a fish going to waste in a freezer. These statements are not meant to say do not keep fish, they simply mean take what you need and let the rest go. Speaking of letting go, consider releasing those upper slot redfish and over 20” trout.  These are prolific breeders and frankly, the smaller ones are a lot tastier.

Be an educator! This is especially important to those that are avid anglers and guides that have an understanding of the resource and habitat. Explain to your beginning friends and clients the importance of habitat, letting some fish go, and above all respecting the resource as well as one another. We have all seen way too many times where respect is simply shoved out the window.  We all make mistakes and a legitimate mistake is just that. Own it and move forward with it as a learning experience. We all have the opportunity to be an educator and/or set an example on the water.  Take that opportunity, seize it, and make a difference in someone’s day. At the end of the day, it will be remembered.

The health of the coastal habitat is a huge part of the overall health of the entire eco-system and the fisheries. Without healthy seagrass beds, oyster reefs, upland and lower marsh, and water quality to name a few, the eco-system simply will not thrive to the fullest extent possible.  CCA Texas has worked tirelessly to help ensure these parts of the eco-system are healthy and continue to remain as strong as possible.  Whether it is working with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and industry members to ensure reasonable harvest practices within the oyster industry; helping TPWD educate the public about importance of seagrass beds; working with TPWD and others to ensure fresh water inflows to bays; and working with TPWD and others to restore and create habitat up and down the Texas coast, CCA Texas is committed to ensuring the coastal habitat is healthy for present and future generations.

Taking care of the resource does not stop with CCA Texas, TPWD, and other organizations or agencies. We need to all be part of the solution.  Several opportunities exist for taking part in cleanups, including the Abandoned Crab Trap Renewal Program, Billy Sandifer Big Shell Beach Cleanup, and Marsh Mania events around Galveston.

The current COVID situation is putting some events on hold and discussions are being held on how to modify some, but the TPWD Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program will happen once again. The crabbing season will be closed between February 19th and 28th, and the main push for the all-volunteer event will take place on February 20.  Be sure to follow TWPD on social media and check their website for more details. 

In addition to these opportunities, we can help in other ways every time we head out on the bay, and one of the greatest ways is to simply respect the resource. Unfortunately we see way too many instances where anglers have driven over grassbeds needlessly or cut through small marsh creeks - just because they can. Running through these little creeks and making “new paths” through the marsh is a huge detriment to the resource.  ALL users need to remember this.  High tides seems to give many the “look at me” bravado, and in the end the marsh pays the price.  These small little creeks are widened by erosion and the newly created indentions allow water to flow where it did not flow before, and in the end the flow creates erosion and the marsh slowly disappears. 

All one has to do is look at St Joe and Matagorda Islands. Creeks and trails created by boaters have slowly grown larger due to erosion, and the force of Hurricane Harvey has opened many areas were water had not flowed before. We all take a shortcut, and especially when it is windy and rough, but just think about what you are doing and the long term consequences. Just because we can does not mean we should.  We all have our moments, and it is time for all users to check their attitudes and think about the future.

It is on each of us to be a better steward, educator, and user of the coastal resources available to us. In the end it comes down to this: Conserve It, Respect It, and Use It Responsibly. If we do not, there is always someone willing to change the rules and access to it for all of us.  Let’s keep that reasoning out of their hands. The new year will offer many challenges, for sure. Let’s all move forward together and help ensure our coastal resources are healthy and available and ready for future generations.

Moving Forward in 2021: