The How and Why of Fisheries Management in Texas

Mark Lingo | Coastal Fisheries Science and Policy Branch Chief
The How and Why of Fisheries Management in Texas
TPWD staff retrieving a gill net. Gill nets are used to census larger fish and crabs that inhabit bay shorelines. This is an example of fishery-independent data collection.

The fish and shellfish found in Texas waters are a natural resource that is shared among many groups, including “catch and release” anglers that enjoy catching fish for sport; commercial fishermen who harvest oysters, shrimp, crabs, and finfish for a living; those who like to take a few fish home for supper; and even those who just like knowing they are there. It is important to note that, although our fishery resources are renewable (they can reproduce and replenish their populations, within limits), they are not infinite, and great care must be taken so our fisheries are conducted responsibly. That is where fisheries management comes into play.

In general terms, fisheries management is the process of gathering data and public input, analyzing the data, and then making sound management decisions based on that data to ensure the sustainability and health of our fish populations. In Texas, it is the responsibility of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) to manage Texas’ fisheries for the benefit of Texas’ residents and visitors, and provide outdoor recreational opportunities for present and future generations.

A fishery is defined by a combination of the people involved, species targeted, geographical area, and method of fishing (i.e. Gulf of Mexico red snapper hook and line anglers).Responsible fisheries management starts with sound scientific information about fish populations and the ecosystems in which they live as well as the fisheries that harvest them.  TPWD biologists use a variety of methods to gather this information, including examining fishermen’s catch and gathering socio-economic data (fishery-dependent data) and conducting scientific studies (fishery-independent data)1. Managers use this information to determine appropriate fishery management strategies to safeguard the health of the resource.

Since TPWD’s decisions directly impact our stakeholders it is vital that we solicit their suggestions as we define our management goals and strategies.  We encourage public input through our various advisory panels, public scoping meetings and hearings, and during meetings of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (the Commission). The Department encourages public participation throughout the management process to not only make certain stakeholders’ interests are considered but also to ensure they understand the regulatory process and resulting management actions.

In Texas, TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division is responsible for managing fisheries out to 9 nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 statute mile). The data collected by our biologists help fishery managers and administrators make strategic management recommendations to the Commission. This process typically starts with a meeting of our biologists where fisheries issues are discussed, over a year before any new regulation is put into place. If there appears to be a need for some type of management action to help protect a fish stock, The Commission gathers public input, analyzes recommendations, and ultimately decides on how to achieve sustainable fishery management goals and objectives for Texas.

Management in Federal Waters

When recreational anglers and commercial fishermen travel beyond state waters they are subject to federal regulations set forth by federal fishery managers. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are responsible for monitoring and managing fishery resources in Gulf federal waters (from the state water boundary to 200 miles offshore). The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act guides how federal fisheries are regulated and how the regional fishery management councils should operate.

Compliance and Enforcement

Having laws and regulations without enforcement would be of little use.Therefore, TPWD game wardens, NMFS enforcement agents, and the U.S. Coast Guard ensure fishermen are complying with the rules and regulations that are in place to help protect fish stocks and their habitats. They use traditional enforcement techniques such as patrols and investigations to catch violators but also rely heavily on outreach and education efforts to help prevent illegal activities. The most common fishing violations include fishing out of season, fishing in restricted areas, and exceeding catch limits.

I hope that this article helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding how and why fishing regulations are put into place in Texas. If you have any questions about the process or how you can have input into it, please contact your local bay’s Ecosystem Leader (see list below). So get outdoors and enjoy all the beauty and recreation our great state has to offer!

Sabine Lake
Carey Gelpi, (409) 983-1104

Galveston Bay Ecosystem
Glen Sutton, (281) 534-0100

Matagorda Bay
Leslie Hartman, (361) 972-6253

San Antonio Bay
Norman Boyd, (361) 983-4425

Aransas Bay
Chris Mace, (361) 729-5429

Corpus Christi Bay
Brian Bartram, (361) 729-2328

Upper Laguna Madre
Faye Grubbs, (361) 825-3353

Lower Laguna Madre
Jason Ferguson, (956) 350-4490

For more information on the different types of fisheries sampling programs used in Texas see “Harvest Monitoring and Estimation of Landings” by Zaida Faye Hagar in the August 2013 issue of the Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine.

Next month Dr. Mark Fisher, Science Director, writes about one of the most numerous animals in Texas bays, brown shrimp.