Coastal Conservation Association Texas (CCA Texas) enjoyed another successful and record-breaking year in 2019. This success would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of grassroots volunteers from across the state. Successful efforts at the local chapter level enables success in all areas of marine conservation in Texas.
CCA Texas was very active in the 86th Legislative Session resulting in positive changes for the management of marine resources; CCA Texas and Building Conservation Trust (BCT), CCA National’s habitat program, contributed $900,000 to habitat restoration and creation projects; CCA Texas continued its long-standing support of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Games Wardens and Coastal Fisheries Divisions; CCA Texas continued its support of marine fisheries and habitat research, and educational internships; and finally, CCA Texas continued its long-standing community outreach and education to inform members and the general public about marine conservation efforts.
Local Community Chapter Success
Local community chapters accomplished continued success across the state. The common theme was sold out banquets and record-breaking fundraising. This success would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of chapter volunteers, attendees, donors, and sponsors. The local grassroots efforts continues to be the greatest strength of CCA.
Beyond the fundraising/membership events, local chapters continued to be active in their communities by providing “Take A Kid Fishing” events, taking active roles in coastal bay and beach cleanups and habitat projects, hosting Angler’s Night Out (General Membership Meetings) events with guest speakers, and helping CCA Texas advocacy efforts by testifying at public comment meetings on behalf of the health of Texas coastal resources. In addition, the Aransas Bay and Corpus Christi Chapter hosted the Babes on the Bay and Babes on Baffin women’s fishing tournaments respectively. These events continue to promote women in the recreational fishing sector through conservative-based events. These events have generated over 1,700 members for CCA Texas annually, and positive impacts on local economies.
86th Legislative Wrap Up
House Bill 1300 passed with broad support from numerous stakeholder groups including CCA Texas. This bill directs Texas Parks and Wildlife to establish an oyster mariculture (aquaculture) program by September 30, 2020. CCA Texas looks forward to working with TPW to develop a cultivated oyster mariculture program that addresses concerns of the angling community, redefines the Texas half-shell market, and puts more oysters in our waters to benefit the coastal ecosystem.
Commercial Oyster Fishing Loopholes
Each year the Texas commercial oyster fishery opens November 1 and closes on April 30 – effectively a six-month season. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) monitors public oyster reefs continuously throughout the year by conducting random bi-monthly sampling. They also conduct additional sampling before and during oyster season if feedback from law enforcement or the oyster industry triggers them to do so. Using metrics that TPWD has established based upon the abundance of oysters and the percentage of their sample under three-inches (legal size), they may close a bay system to commercial harvest. Once a bay system is closed it will take 1- to 2-years for the reefs to recover and be re-opened for harvest by TPWD. That time table is highly dependent on how hard that bay system was fished and environmental conditions. It is important that the reefs are given the proper time to recover for a sustainable oyster fishery.
Unfortunately, there are bad actors within the fishery who ignore the closures and continue to harvest oysters from closed waters, often targeting the undersized oysters remaining on the reefs. While there is an enhanced penalty structure for undersize oyster violations, there is no true deterrent for fishing in closed waters, other than a Class C misdemeanor. That will soon change thanks to Representative Geanie Morrison (R-30) and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-30), sponsors of legislation (House Bill 2321 and Senate Bill 671) that cleans up language in current statute regarding harvesting of undersize oysters and increased penalties for commercial oyster fishing in closed waters. In the next commercial oyster season, persons committing harvest offenses can expect the following:
• Class A misdemeanor for harvesting at night and either harvesting in closed waters or restricted waters during same criminal episode.
• Class B misdemeanor for harvesting undersized oysters or harvesting in closed waters if defendant was previously convicted at least twice for violation regarding undersize oysters (less than 30% of cargo) and/or previously convicted for harvesting in closed waters.
• Class B misdemeanor for second violation of possession of cargo of oysters greater than 30% undersize oysters.
• Class A misdemeanor with attendant license suspension for third violation of possession of cargo greater than 30% undersized or fishing in closed waters.
• State-level felony for harvesting at night and either harvesting in closed waters or restricted waters if the defendant has been previously convicted once before within five years for the same crime.
You can read more about the need for these penalty enhancements in the June/July edition of the CCA Texas’ Currents magazine.
Unlawful Sale of Aquatic Products
No doubt the “back door” sale of aquatic products to restaurants and fish markets has increased over the years as fish, such as red snapper, fetch a premium price in the market. The Texas legislature passed House Bill 1828 to address this issue, increasing the penalty for the illegal sale of aquatic products. The normal penalty for a violation of this nature is a Class C misdemeanor which carries a fine of no greater than $500. This bill increases the penalty to a Class B misdemeanor, Class A misdemeanor or State Jail Felony with an escalating fine structure for increased poundage of illegal aquatic products.
Please reach out to Shane Bonnot ([email protected]) if you have any questions regarding any of these legislative measures.
CCA Texas and BCT funded eight projects for a total of $900,000 in 2019. This commitment has pushed CCA Texas and BCT commitment to habitat restoration and creation to over $7.3 million across forty projects. The current status of 2019 funded projects are:
$50,000 Dollar Bay Shoreline Protection and Marsh Restoration
This project is with longstanding CCA Texas partner Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF). This project will use shoreline protection measures that will protect up to 1,500 feet of shoreline and restore 72 acres of intertidal wetland habitat within Dollar Bay, located within the Galveston Bay system. Currently, GBF has contracted with an engineering firm to oversee the construction of the project. A contract is expected to be awarded for construction in the 1st Qtr of 2020 with construction to begin immediately after.
$50,000 - Galveston Bay Foundation Kemah Headquarters Habitat Protection and Restoration
The new Galveston Bay Foundation Headquarters in Kemah will not only provide a home for the GBF staff, but the property boundary shoreline will provide an excellent opportunity for local schools and citizens to see firsthand a healthy shoreline ecosystem. The long-term goal is to complete several demonstration habitat restoration projects on the property in addition to the living shorelines. This is to include, oyster reefs, freshwater wetlands, and prairie restoration. CCA Texas and BCT are committed to habitat restoration and providing educational experiences for the next generation of conservationists. GBF is currently reviewing design parameters for the project and making changes to bring the project within current funding levels. Once the reviews are completed, bids will be solicited and the project will move to the next step.
$75,000 – Harte Research Institute Serpulid Reef Study
This funding has allowed the team at HRI to move forward in the second stage of studying the serpulid reef communities within Baffin Bay. This phase of the study is evaluating the efficacy of using alternative substrates for restoration of serpulid reef habitats. Various potential substrates will be evaluated in the near future to see which might best fulfill similar ecosystem functions to natural serpulid worm reefs and will provide conservation benefits to remaining reefs.
$100,000 – Sabine Lake Oyster Restoration with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
CCA Texas has now funded a total of $205,000 to the restoration efforts in Sabine Lake. These funds are being paired with $500,000 in Harvey Relief Funds secured by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. TPWD is leading this project and is currently preparing specifications and designs. Once this stage is completed, TPWD will work with existing contractors and is targeting spring 2020 for cultch (oyster substrate) deployment.
$100,000 – Sabine HI20 Nearshore Reef
CCA Texas and BCT have pledged $100,000 in additional matching funds for reefing efforts in Sabine HI20 Reef site. These funds will be joined with funds from Cheniere Energy, Sempra LNG and TPWD to continue the next phases of reefing deployments into the Sabine HI20 Nearshore site.
$125,000 – Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Shoreline Protection and Marsh Restoration (Dagger Point and Matagorda Island) with Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program
The Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP) will be partnering with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to address damages suffered at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge from Hurricane Harvey. Specifically, CBBEP will be working with USFWS to install a shoreline protection structure in San Antonio Bay that protects the habitats on the Blackjack Unit from erosion and storm events and, over time, restores upland and aquatic habitats that have been lost due to erosion. CBBEP will also work with USFWS to repair damaged water control infrastructure on Matagorda Island and restore water flow and circulation to important habitats, improving their quality for fisheries and other wildlife. The project is currently in the planning and design stages, and construction is expected to begin in 2021.
$150,000 – Rio Grande Valley Nearshore Reef and Friends of RGV Reef
With this funding, CCA Texas and BCT have now provided $661,000 to the Friends of RGV Reef. This project has created a one of a kind complex reefing system that supports the entire life cycle of marine species in the area. This contribution will help the next phase of deployment which is expected to begin in early January 2020 and will include 10,000 tons of materials. This will start the 400 acre CCA Nursery Reef and will be made with 54 low relief reef patches of 25 tons of concrete rail ties, 25 tons of broken concrete, and 6 pallets (420 blocks) of cinder blocks. In addition, 16 patch reefs of 250 tons of concrete rail ties will line the reef’s northern side to keep shrimp trawls out of the nursery reef. An additional 1,500 tons will also be added to the CCA Corner of the reef. CCA Texas and BCT are proud to continue supporting Friends of RGV Reef and congratulate them on the Conservation Wrangler award from Texan by Nature.
$250,000 – Dagger Island Shoreline Protection and Marsh Restoration with Ducks Unlimited
The Dagger and Ransom Island Shoreline Protection Project is a wide-ranging project with the ultimate goal to eliminate or drastically reduce the rate of shoreline erosion and island migration. Three different types of shoreline protection (shoreline revetment, beneficial use, and offshore breakwaters) will be used at three priority areas. Once completed, the project will protect more than 5,000 acres of marsh and wetland, and create more than 40 acres. Mobilization for the project construction began the first week of November and construction is currently underway.