User Conflict and Seatrout Conservation

Everett Johnson
User conflict (see also inability or reluctance of fishermen to share water) continues to be a hot topic. I spent January 7-8 at the Harte Institute in Corpus Christi as an invited participant in the Challenges to Sharing and Conserving Our Bays Workshop organized by Coastal Bend Bays Foundation. The stated purpose was to bring a diverse group of users together to seek solutions to coastal habitat damage; disturbance of fish, wildlife and birds; on-the-water safety; and user conflict. Grapevine sources suggested the workshop was merely subterfuge. The No-Motor Zone lobby had a lock on it the rest of us were simply there to learn how to swallow it.

Actually, it turned out quite differently. I was encouraged that a tone of sound conservation and practical education to reduce user conflict prevailed in major part, with the establishment of No Motor Zones gaining little if any traction. Scott Sommerlatte has a piece in this issue that discusses this in greater detail. I will bring further news on this front as it develops.

Moving on; most regular readers understand my position on the management and conservation of our seatrout fishery. I have long held that we are privileged, through good stewardship, to enjoy uncommon angling opportunity. In short, we enjoy that which we help create. I was therefore quite disappointed when general sentiment ran hard against reducing seatrout bag limits during recent scoping meetings presented by TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division.

In all but a few scenarios, the most effective tool marine fisheries managers can employ is the regulation of harvest. The intent of the presentation was to advise fishermen of the present status of the seatrout fishery (we have no bay system at record population level or carrying capacity) and offer a simple solution for improvement. I was able to attend only one of the meetings yet I received reports from attendees of all, along with a flood of emails and telephone calls.

Mind you, there was no covert or preconceived scheme to coerce opinion or acceptance, merely a presentation of what the fishery might become given the implementation of reduced take especially with regard to the ability of a highly-utilized resource to withstand the forces of nature. It should be a given that the best route to accomplishing a quick recovery from widespread natural mortality (i.e. fish-killing freeze) would be to enter the event with spawning age stocks in greatest possible abundance, and also that an unbalanced fishery (unnatural ratio of less than legal length specimens) can be improved.

I found it quite ironic that the echo of discrediting and disparaging comments had barely faded when an arctic blast began its journey southward. Water temperatures fell into the high-30s along much of the middle coast for several days. And while reluctance to reduce the take of seatrout was still being analyzed, a fish kill of some magnitude was in progress. How sad it that?

I will continue to support greater conservation of Texas seatrout and I pray the effect of this most recent freeze will have minimal impact.
Please join me in limiting your take of seatrout with a goal of improving the state of our fishery.