New Era for Seatrout Management?

Everett Johnson

I would think by now most everybody with more than a casual interest in Texas saltwater has heard; all is not well down on the lower Texas coast. TPWD's population sampling effort of recent years says that spotted seatrout numbers are sagging under the pressure of recreational fishing. The commercial harvest of this popular species ended a long time ago, so we can only conclude the guys who once claimed we couldn't hurt 'em with rods and reels simply could not guess how many rods and reels there might be one day.

On page 52 in this magazine, we are pleased to have Dr. Larry McKinney's assessment of the fishery and explanation of a proposal for regionalized management of the spotted seatrout resource. Dr. McKinney is the Director of TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division. The proposal to implement regionalized management plans in the Lower Laguna Madre would mark a new era; all prior plans were based upon one set of regulations that applied to the whole coast. Even a beginning salt might spot the vast differences between a river mouth estuary like Sabine Lake and a hyper-saline system such as Baffin and the Lower Laguna Madre. Common sense should be enough to justify the change.

The concept of regionalized management, though new to saltwater here in Texas, is really nothing new in the world of resource management. It has been used extensively in Texas freshwater fisheries and nearly all wildlife species for a long time. Other state's agencies have built pretty near all of their marine fisheries management schemes on regionalized concepts. So why if they are seen to work like a charm in so many other areas are there so many factions hoping to derail the plan?

Somehow the opponents of regionalization have convinced themselves that they will no longer be able to have fun or justify a trip to the coast if bag limits are cut.

One of the more common arguments is founded on an attempt to shift blame from overfishing to water quality, alleging that agricultural fertilizers reaching the bays are the real culprit. Others protest that it isn't fair to cut limits until the channels and passes are restored. Even more surprising are saltwater fishing guides who believe a reduction in the bag limits will take away their livelihood. I guess they are hoping that no matter how many we take there will always somehow be plenty more.

To these opponents of regionalization I would say, a bag of four, five or six is surely better than a day spent catching none; which is where we could be headed if we cannot apply the time-honored "stitch in time" remedy here. I would further cite the growing popularity of Catch and Release and "Just Keep Five" within the saltwater community. To the guides especially, I would also like to say you are selling your clients short, there's far more to a day on the water than a bulging sack of fillets. If all you want to do is sell seafood, get a job at HEB, they offer paid vacation, health insurance and retirement.

Unless this is the first time for you to read this magazine you are probably well aware that many of us here would vote readily for more conservative trout regulations, and not just for the Lower Laguna. I believe our editorial position on this matter has been one of the cornerstones of our success and we remain staunchly dedicated to it. I heartily encourage that you read Dr. McKinney's work and also to follow up by reading Part II that will run next month. I would also encourage that you go online and visit: