One Plan for All Bays?

Our coast stretches nearly 400 miles and includes seven bay systems. We find a river mouth estuary, Sabine Lake, on the north with a hyper-saline lagoon, Laguna Madre, at the south. Each bay possesses ecology as unique as fingerprints; generated by regional climate, average depth, freshwater inflow and inter-tidal connection to the Gulf. Hence, each bay presents its own set of management challenges.

Even though we clearly understand the above, let's imagine being given the task of formulating a single coast-wide plan to manage Texas' coastal fisheriesfocus on seatrout.

Seatrout, we are told, reproduce and thrive best in moderate average salinity. They're highly susceptible to predation and often victim of red tide and freeze. Throw in the fact that trout are the number one quarry of inshore anglersto the tune of 25-30% of an individual year-class taken annually, each year they are eligible for harvest.

So let's recap. We are responsible for seven very different bays. We cannot control freshwater inflow or salinity, neither can we stop predation, red tide or freeze. Absent a magic wand there is but one tool in our bag of tricksharvest limits.

TPWD commissioners are dealt this less-than-glamorous task and are currently proposing to revise middle coast trout limits from ten to five, per day. Though fisheries management regs are (in theory) to be scientifically founded, there is also social science.

There is a growing shift in angler expectation as regards trout fishing and the commission has to consider this when executing their charge of "maximizing the socio-economic benefit that can be derived from the resource, with emphasis on future sustainability."

What it boils down to is styling regulations to please fishermen without allowing them to endanger the fishery.

The first regional management plan came in 2007 when the commission reduced the trout limit to five in the Lower Laguna and it brought backlash from guides and business owners who likened it to the kiss of death. Alas the opposite came true; business has flourished with an improved fishery.

Need proof? Take a seat at the southern end of the Land Cut during summer and watch the boat races. Guides and private anglers from Corpus running 50 miles to the Lower Laguna, hoping to land bigger fish. They could have fished at home for ten.

I am going to make a prediction. If the commission enacts a five trout limit on the middle coast; guides, private anglers and business owners will be grinning as widely as their southern counterparts. It might take a few years but when Joe Angler hears about better fishing, Joe will come to your bay.