Grassroots Efforts Make a Difference

John Blaha
Grassroots Efforts Make a Difference
Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Texas, founded as Gulf Coast Conservation Association in 1977, owes its longtime success and continued growth to the grassroots effort of tens of thousands of members, fifty-six local volunteer-led chapters and volunteer leadership on the state and national levels. What began as a small group of recreational fishermen concerned with the rapid decline in redfish populations has grown to become an organization of more than 52,000 members in Texas. Nationally, CCA includes state and local chapters in 17 coastal states with nearly 100,000 members. The success of the conservation efforts in each region and state is a direct result of unmatched grassroots efforts by the members and volunteers leaders.

There are many examples of how the efforts of all members continue to make CCA the leading conservation organization of its type in the nation. In the early years, volunteers used their personal, professional, recreational fishing, and other networks to spread the word and gain the much needed support of congressional members in Texas to first pass the "Texas Red Drum Conservation Act" in 1977 and then the "Redfish Bill" in 1981, establishing game fish status for redfish and speckled trout and outlawing the use of gill nets in the coastal waters of Texas. These efforts had far-reaching effect and influence in the modern day management of Texas's coastal fisheries and set the stage for many conservation accomplishments down the road.

As the organization grew in size and reputation, the mission and focus of its conservation goals also expanded. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and CCA both recognized that the passing of significant legislation in 1977 and 1981 would not be enough, Mother Nature needed help. Through local volunteer effort a partnership was forged. TPWD, CCA Texas (then GCCA), and Central Power and Light (CPL) joined forces to build the first state operated saltwater fisheries hatchery in Texas. The CCA/CPL Marine Development Center (MDC) at Corpus Christi opened in 1982, and in the spring of 1983 the first red drum fingerlings were released into Texas bays.

Continuing with the stock enhancement theme, and drawing on its growing grassroots strength, CCA again partnered with TPWD to build Sea Center Texas.
Sea Center Texas, completed in 1995, was another volunteer-driven effort comprised mostly of CCA members that worked at Dow Chemical back in its infancy. With Dow assistance, a group of employees active in GCCA, worked closely with TPWD to construct a series of grow-out ponds on the company's property. These ponds would eventually serve the efforts of TPWD for nine years in the redfish stock enhancement program and were the precursor to the state-of-the-art Hatchery and Visitors Center known today as Sea Center Texas. An active local volunteer effort was able to help drive and build a partnership between CCA, Dow Chemical and TPWD that created a one-of-a-kind facility and is recognized worldwide as an outstanding accomplishment in conservation, achieved through dedicated grassroots efforts.

Much like the fledgling efforts in the late 1970's and early 1980's, CCA Texas volunteers were called upon again in 2008 to assist in the management of the southern flounder fishery. With a continuous decline in relative abundance for twenty-plus years, TPWD had to take aggressive steps to better conserve the fishery. Through a series of public meetings, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division reached out to fishermen and also to CCA Texas. Another groundswell of grassroots support poured forth.

With an approved position statement from the Governmental Affairs Committee and final approval from the Executive Board, CCA Texas looked to the entire membership to help ensure that southern flounder would receive greater opportunity to migrate to the Gulf of Mexico for their spawning process. CCA Texas proposed an annual moratorium on gig fishing during this critical spawning migration period, and with the help of over 5,200 member responses to TPWD, it also guaranteed that the recreational fisherman of Texas would be allowed to take these fish by rod and reel during this closure, although with a reduced bag limit provision. This bottom-up effort from the organization provided more than 90% of the total public comment delivered to TPWD regarding this important fisheries management issue.

As the organization continues to grow, CCA Texas' focus remains solidly that of "resource first" as we seek and explore new angles and approaches to insuring the future sustainability of our coastal fisheries.

Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow (HTFT), CCA Texas's habitat initiative, is another example of how conservation programs thrive through grassroots effort. Recently, members from across the state came together for a full day of transplanting marsh grasses in the Goose Island State Park marsh restoration project.

Each year, hundreds of CCA members participate in the Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program to rid Texas bay waters of gear scattered during storms or abandoned by commercial crab fishermen. Billy Sandifer's Big Shell Beach Cleanup is heavily supported by members from all across Texas and also the Corpus Christi Chapter of CCA Texas. Clean Shores Beach Cleanup at Port O'Connor and other similar projects and programs also benefit from the hard work of CCA Texas grassroots volunteer participation.

Grassroots efforts are more important than ever in today's fisheries management and marine habitat enhancement programs. Members and non-members alike continue to work hand-in-hand on many projects and the organization will continue to call upon its membership whenever Texas's coastal resources are in need of our help. You can become a part of the process and the progress by getting involved with your local CCA Texas chapter today.

For more information about CCA Texas and a schedule of local and state events, be sure to visit