The Future of Sportfishing as We Know It

Everett Johnson

Last month I wrote of what could have been a disastrous weather event for our Texas spotted seatrout fishery. Evidently most readers accepted it for the message even if they might not have fully agreed with all the words. A few objected loudly and some of these were friends fearing, perhaps even believing, I'd finally flipped my dipper.

Luckily though, we dodged the brunt of the impact with the only significant losses occurring in the Matagorda Island lakes of the San Antonio Bay ecosystem. As near as can be determined the trout fishery of our main bay waters came through it in reasonable fashion and Mother Nature will get busy putting things back the way they were. Given a decent chance, the lakes will surely repopulate and while the best opportunity for local trophy seekers will be lost for a while, all should recover in the fullness of a few years.

Viewing an impending collapse of a distressed fishery through a natural event gave me cause for thought. During the last year of his tenure as Director of Coastal Fisheries, Dr. Larry McKinney wrote a "State of Texas Fisheries" paper that we published. In Dr. McKinney's words, saltwater fishing participation in Texas was growing at an astounding rate compared with other states. During the period 2001-2005, license sales in Florida, California, Louisiana and other major saltwater states were seen to decline in double digits while Texas grew in double digits. Dr. McKinney cited Texas' robust energy-based economy and sustainable fisheries through careful management as primary reasons. Simply put; Texans can afford to go fishing and the fishing has been good.

Sustainable fisheries are the heart and soul of sportfishing - without fish there will be no need for fishermen. Along with sustainable fisheries, fishermen depend on a fragile infrastructure of goods and services providers. At the water line, these are boat launches and bait camps, restaurants, motels, and convenience stores. The next tier includes local boat builders, boat dealers, tackle shops and local tackle manufacturers. Further up the chain we find larger businesses supplying the same goods and services on national and international levels, all dependent on people catching fish. Here in Texas, recreational angling in saltwater currently contributes more than $2.0 billion annually to the state's economy.

Another very important and necessary part of this infrastructure are the fisheries management agencies, in our case TPWD. These are the folks that redirected Texas inshore fisheries from historic commercial utilization to primarily recreational use, a job that required nearly three decades of diligent effort. And, given those same three decades of unparalleled economic growth and greatly expanding fisheries ripe for recreational utilization, recreational fishing participation exploded. These agencies depend on fishing participation the same as every other part of the infrastructure. Fishing license dollars comprise a major portion of their income. Without these dollars the programs that create and manage the fisheries will be lost and, eventually, so will the fisheries. So while we dream of bays with few boats, no waiting at restaurants and readily available motel reservations, it is actually their combined impact that fuels the engine of sportfishing.

What happens when a generation of recruitment is lost in any industry or organization? The entity suffering the loss is weakened. Have you ever considered what might become of recreational fishing as we have to know it if we miss recruiting the next generation of fishermen?

Sustainable fisheries will always drive fishing participation and fishing participation will always support the infrastructure of sportfishing. Herein lies the reason I will never abandon my mission to encourage others to use our fisheries wisely.