Trout and Flounder Back in the Crosshairs

The TPWD commissioners meeting happened a little over a month ago and word travelled fast. But if you haven't heard, during their regular November meeting the commission instructed Coastal Fisheries staff to put spotted seatrout back on the scoping agenda and they're going to talk to us about southern flounder too.

Scoping is a standard part of the process anytime a regulatory proposal is brought before the commission. Whether introduced by commission members, TPWD divisional staff or just folks who voice concern regarding any of Texas' many fish and wildlife resources that may result in regulatory changes; before the commission will consider taking action they instruct divisional staff to discuss it with user groups in public meetings to gain input.

This is our chance to put in our two cents.

Spotted seatrout are the most popular species in Texas coastal waters, and given the diverse habitat from Sabine to the Lower Laguna, they are managed regionally. Several regulatory changes have been enacted over the past decade, the most significant being the five fish daily limit for the Lower Laguna.

The most recent round of regulatory proposals and scoping during December 2010 and January 2011 ended with Coastal Fisheries staff recommending the proposal be removed from the process. Concern of dwindling stocks in the middle-coast had been registered by anglers and confirmed by TPWD's survey data. The caveat that reversed staff opinion was an encouraging bump in recruitment of juveniles to the fishery. "We need to keep track of this for a couple years as this year-class advances, before recommending a bag limit reduction," they said.

Well it's been two years and here we go again. The announcement of date, time and location for another scoping campaign should be released any day.

The middle-coast seatrout fishery, I'm told, is pretty much holding its own but the recruitment bounce is not registering in the anticipated amount. Fishing reports from the region echo this. We've seen a slight improvement and seasonal bounty created some bright spots, but in general, the fishing does not measure up compared to the late-90s and early-2000s years. Continued severe drought no doubt plays a big role in this.

Southern flounder management is also being revisited. The current regs reduced recreational bag limits from ten to five fish and commercial fishermen were cut from sixty to thirty per day coastwide for all months except November when the rod and reel limit is two per day and gig fishing is closed. Increases in landings and survey data indicates these changes produced the desired effect, but again, not quite to the level hoped.

The upcoming scoping sessions will introduce a proposal to expand the November regulations a week or two into October and also December to further aid the recovery of this popular fishery.

I encourage all TSFMag readers to participate in the scoping meetings and voice their opinions.