Time to Formulate a New Plan

Everett Johnson
As editor of this magazine I receive tons of fishing reports. Some are encouraging and would lead one to believe our bays are full of spotted seatrout of desirable size while others are dismal and disappointing. It is necessary, of course, to sort and examine this feedback as seasons and general water conditions have great impact upon angling success. It is likewise necessary to glean experience and skill level, fishing method, along with bait/lure selection to avoid the trap of inaccurate conclusion.

In addition to the emails, calls and letters, I also fish. I worked as a year around fishing guide in the Port O'Connor-Seadrift region for nine years between 2000-2009 in addition to writing and publishing, running as many as 100 charter days some years. Lately my fishing has been more for recreation and publishing related than guide work. I get to visit places along the coast I rarely or never had opportunity to fish when I was working on the water. In my travels I am able to measure my own success against reports and in many ways substantiate or question that which I receive. I would like to think I am fairly well informed.

All too frequently the reports and my own experience lead me to conclude that our spotted seatrout fishery is being depleted and this can be backed by TPWD's spring gill net surveys. Each year Coastal Fisheries staff conducts population surveys during a ten week period in the spring and again in fall. The spring results, they say, are the better indicator of the two for spotted seatrout although both provide vital information.

The results of the 2010 spring gill net survey have been released and what I see deepens my concern. One could almost correctly assume that since our coast has escaped wide-spread killing freezes and red tides for twenty years, natural events that can all but wipe out a fishery in the span of a few days, spotted seatrout numbers would be at all-time highs in all bays. But alas, this is not the case.

In the 2010 spring gill net data, only Sabine Lake and West Matagorda show increases, and these following three straight years of decline on Sabine and five on West Matagorda. Galveston bays have been in general decline since 2002 with only a brief upward spike in 2008. East Matagorda is in a three year slump. San Antonio Bay has been in general decline for twelve years and Aransas for six. Corpus Christi Bay and the Upper Laguna Madre populations are trending below the levels recorded between 2002 and 2006. Surprisingly, the Lower Laguna shows a third year of decline, even with the five fish limit enacted in September 2007. It is important to note however fishing reports and creel surveys point to larger fish being landed more consistently since the regs took effect down there.

Seasoned anglers and guides say we have plenty of small fish and that culling a dozen or twenty to find a fifteen inch keeper is becoming increasingly common. Some biologists say the trademark of overfishing in the marine environment is a population comprised mostly of young fish, too small to keep. Given that we've experienced no natural die-off of any magnitude, I conclude we are overfishing the resource and the current seatrout management plan is no longer working.