The Times They Are A-Changin’

Five years can pass in the blink of an eye or drag on for what seems like eternity. Like beauty, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Five years ago, TPWD invited coastal anglers to attend public hearings to give comment on a proposal to reduce the spotted seatrout bag limit from the Lower Laguna all the way to the Louisiana border. A five trout limit had been enacted in the Lower Laguna back in 2007.

Middle-coasters yanked the doors off the hinges to support. Upper-coasters mostly stonewalled. Upper-coast guides opposed vehemently. The five trout limit was enacted on the middle-coast in September 2014. The upper coast limit remained unchanged.

The upper coast, Galveston mostly, was enjoying the biological rejuvenation of the region’s estuaries in the seasons following Hurricane Ike. Hence, the pushback. But Ike swung a double-edged sword.

While the storm’s initial nutrient load produced phenomenal year-classes of spotted seatrout, it also destroyed much of the historic reef habitat with blankets of sediment. Reef habitat in upper coast estuaries is often likened to the seagrass beds of the middle and lower coast – the foundation of the marine food chain.

Then came three years of successive record-breaking springtime flooding in the Trinity and San Jacinto basins, capped by another monster of a hurricane named Harvey. The resulting freshening events in the Galveston system displaced millions of seatrout toward saltier environs where they “stacked like cordwood” on East Galveston Bay’s reefs. Fishermen had field days. Some longtime anglers and guides called it slaughter. The scenario on Sabine Lake played similarly.

Soon enough, the bounty began to dwindle. Smaller trout could be found everywhere but what we call “solid mid-size trout” were growing scarcer by the season and anglers were noticing.

Public concern, as registered in TPWD surveys mailed randomly to upper coast anglers last summer indicated an emerging willingness to accept a reduced bag, in hope that more numerous landings of larger trout might be restored.

The times are changing – again. The TPWD Commissioners have directed Coastal Fisheries to conduct more public hearings to gauge support of another proposal to expand the five trout bag limit, to include the Galveston and Sabine estuaries.

Mark your calendars: Feb 26, Nessler Center – Texas City; Feb 28, Port Arthur Civic Center – Port Arthur; Mar 4, San Jacinto River Authority Board Room – Conroe.

A portal has also been opened on the TPWD website through which anybody unable to attend a public hearing can still provide comment. You will also soon find the time schedule of the regional public hearings on that site.

Social media has been ablaze, fishermen speaking mostly in support of this proposal, while some remain adamantly opposed. But social media isn’t where the rubber hits the road.

If you want your comments and opinions to be counted you must attend a public hearing or send them via the TPWD web portal.

This is your fishery. Make sure the commissioners receive your comments before the next round of Commission Hearings on March 19 – 20, 2019.