The Future of Seatrout Regulations

Writing on September 13, we have Tropical Storm Nicholas heading toward the Texas coast. Landfall is predicted later today or early tomorrow. Predictions vary, which is normal at this stage of storm development. I remember Hurricane Claudette in 2003; what was forecasted to be a tropical storm of moderate strength intensified just before landfall and hammered Port O’Connor and Matagorda as a Cat-3 hurricane. Many coastal residents were caught unprepared. We are preparing and praying for all our friends and neighbors.

On the fishing scene, the spotted seatrout emergency regulations enacted earlier this year by TPWD for the lower coast – JFK Causeway to South Padre – will expire this month and pre-emergency (5 fish daily bag limit) regulations will again become effective in all Texas waters. This is of concern to me, and I will elaborate.

The goal of the emergency enactment was to conserve spawning biomass during the peak summer spawning and fishing seasons. Natural spawning and recruitment are the primary building blocks for the species to rebuild and recover following the devastating freeze this past February.

Let’s now think ahead. Spawning-size seatrout will not miraculously rain from the sky. Some smaller fish will have matured to become capable of spawning – but the majority of next year’s spawners are still the survivors of the February freeze – and the remainder of that number that were lucky to avoid harvest during the summer fishing season. Think that through. We could potentially enter the 2022 spawning season with fewer spawning-size specks than we had this year.

The recovery of this fishery will not happen overnight, neither will it be accomplished in one or two years. Many science-based projections call for three years minimum, maybe four or even five.  

Many conservation-minded anglers were hoping the TPWD commissioners would be able to continue the lower coast emergency regulations another year or two, and possibly expand the coverage to include middle coast bays. Unfortunately, this is not how the system works.

I expect to see the Coastal Fisheries Division utilizing the formal regulatory process this fall to gauge public opinion of more conservative trout regulations for the middle and lower coast regions. This will likely include public scoping meetings along with opportunity to participate and register preferences electronically.

Favorable public responses could provide an avenue via which longer-term conservative regulations could be enacted; longer-term meaning a period of one, two, or several years, after which such measures would sunset and re-evaluation of the fishery might then direct a return to pre-freeze regulations.

I heartily encourage that all Texas coastal anglers participate in this scoping process, if indeed such becomes reality. The future of our precious speckled trout fishery hangs in the balance.

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