Shrinking Resources

Everett Johnson
I have written many times about my concern over the state of our inshore fisheries, especially spotted seatrout. A seemingly endless rise in fishing license sales (TPWD reported 1.2 million in 2008) coupled with sudden and enormous leaps in angling efficiency have created pressure on the fishery like nothing ever seen. More anglers catching more trout has exacted a toll in more than a few areas and, naturally, as angling success wanes, conflict arises between user groups. Fingers are pointed and methods are challenged, yet these are not constructive and serve only to divide us.

Now we have another situation. There are more of us along any given shoreline and sprinkled across any given flat on any given day, yet the bite on all shorelines and flats is not always equal. In this era of cellular telephones and the worldwide web, news of fishing success travels like lightning, and this concentrates fishing effort. If you thought your latest honeyhole was busy during the week, just watch what the weekend brings.

Amid all this "shrinkage," it seems ironically unfortunate that there has been uncommon growth in certain styles of shallow water fishing that have a strong requirement for undisturbed water and lots of it. Kayak fishing has exploded over the past decade and there have never been as many poling skiffs as we see today. Sight-fishing is very popular with these users, and the general mobility inherent in paddling and poling affords much greater range than, say, wading. While a half mile of shoreline might be sufficient for three or four boatloads of waders to spend several contented hours, a couple of poled skiffs or kayaks might cover it in less than one.

I have been attempting to understand what I will term "angler density" on Texas bays. Texas is reputed to have some 4,500 square miles of bays and estuaries stretching from Sabine to the southern reaches of the Lower Laguna Madre. Given that far more fishing effort is applied to shorelines compared to mid-bay waters and for purpose of discussion, I will reduce that number by two thirds.
Ditto the number of licensed saltwater anglers; it would be impractical to assume that all might decide to go fishing on any given day. However, and again for the purpose of discussion, let's assume that twenty percent might head to the coast for a summer holiday weekend. That's 240,000 anglers hoping to find a quiet spot within 1,500 square miles.

So now it's simple math to arrive at 160 anglers per square mile, or 4 anglers per acre, and we haven't factored in favorite spots and fishing reports that are certain to concentrate effort. And while my calculations are quite mythical, I think you get the idea. Our coastal resources are shrinking in more ways than one.

When a fishery starts to decline, resource managers can enact regulatory changes by reducing bag limits. While it is impossible to please all the people all the time, at least in this scenario we find a "one size fits all" solution.

Unfortunately, there is no such easy solution to the puzzle of angler density. One thing is certain, though; the problem will not solve itself and will likely continue to grow. Granting our fellow fishermen the same space and respect we expect is all we can do. Bay rage and conflict will get us nowhere.