In the wake of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it has become apparent that some areas of the Texas Gulf Coast have seen an increase in recreational fishing activity. In particular, the Port O’Connor area of the San Antonio Bay Ecosystem has seen a dramatic increase in the number of vessels at local sites where TPWD conducts angler harvest surveys, also known as creel surveys. Though it remains to be seen what the effects of such an increase in vessels will be, there are a few that are readily evident. These include the impacts on facilities and personnel resources, financial encumberments, and the anglers of the great state of Texas.
Creel surveys are a type of in-person survey performed by TPWD resource managers in which an interviewer asks an angler questions about their fishing experience. These questions may include the duration of the trip, how many fish were caught, and if the angler was satisfied with their experience. Additionally, harvested fish are counted and measured. Creel surveys are performed to gain insight about recreational angling perceptions, efforts, and harvests in order to inform future decision making. Creel surveys are a valuable tool that TPWD fisheries managers use to understand the systems they manage and how the public interacts with them.
According to a recent compilation of survey data taken over the past five years, the number of creel survey interviews conducted in May of 2020 was roughly double that of all previous surveys. These numbers clearly point to the fact that there are more people on the water who are making use of public boat ramps. Additionally, there have even been some reports of bait scarcity at several popular stands.
So, what does this mean for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department? First, in order to conduct the increased amount of surveys, it has become necessary to increase the workload of our field technicians and biologists. Also, as we are embroiled in a pandemic, ensuring that proper precautions are taken for the safety of our employees and the public are of tremendous importance. This means that certain items of personal protection are required, all of which leads to a supplementary increase in budget encumberment. However, there could also be a proverbial silver lining. An increase in anglers most likely results in an increase in fishing licenses sold, which helps to defray the costs of the previously mentioned additional expenses.
Furthermore, what does this mean for anglers? Maybe their favorite holes are often more occupied or, perhaps their “secret spots” are no longer very secret. Additionally, it has become increasingly difficult, or at least more time consuming, to launch at public ramps. I asked local charter captain Patrick “Pickle” Ragusin of Salty Dog Outfitters for his thoughts on the increased angler activity. He stated, “There is certainly more pressure on the fish, which makes fishing tougher. You know, there are more boats but not more water.” That was certainly true for the month of May.
Until then, even with an increase in activity, it’s hard to beat a good day of fishing along Texas’ Gulf Coast. TPWD would encourage anyone to enjoy the sport and our natural resources. However, TPWD would also suggest that everyone be safe and follow proper guidelines for social distancing while doing so and remember, “Life’s Better Outside.”