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Texas fisheries still struggling from 2021 freeze

TPWD surveys fish kill after the 2021 freeze
Courtesy photo
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
TPWD surveys fish kill after the 2021 freeze

Texas fisheries along the Gulf Coast were decimated by the freeze in February 2021. As a result, Texas Parks and Wildlife instituted emergency regulations that set much stricter limits on the spotted sea trout in areas hardest hit by fish kills. Those emergency measures expired on Aug. 31. But some say the fisheries have still not properly recovered from the devastation of the big freeze.

TPR's Jerry Clayton spoke with Shane Bonnot, Advocacy Director for the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas about the state of Texas coastal fisheries.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Clayton: The killer freeze of 2021 dramatically affected the fish population on the Texas coast. Talk to me about how bad it really was.

Bonnot: Yeah, literally, it was a killer and it affected species of concern from the middle coast all the way down to the lower coast. Primarily impacted species of concern to anglers was spotted sea trout and in response to that Texas Parks and Wildlife, enacted emergency regulations for the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre. And then subsequently in March 2022, they enacted some temporary regulations for the middle coast from Sargeant all the way down through the lower Laguna.

Those regulations were temporary, and we've now since reverted back to the historic bag limit and size limits for speckled trout, which is currently five fish, 15 inches to 25 inches.

Clayton: So, from your standpoint, what does the recovery of spotted sea trout and other species look like today?

Bonnot: Well, we're still concerned about the status of spotted sea trout, specifically on the middle coast and Matagorda Bay system and the San Antonio Bay system. Parks and Wildlife gillnet data is showing that those populations in those bay systems is still depressed when you compare the numbers to the historic ten year average.

And so it is our understanding that Texas Parks and Wildlife is going to go out to scoping this fall and get angler feedback on what they want the future of the fishery to look like. So there'll be some opportunities moving forward to see if there are some things we can do from a regulation standpoint to try to help the fishery further recover.

Clayton: Let's talk about your organization. CCA has made a big investment in oyster fisheries in Texas. Tell me about that.

Bonnot: Yes, so to date, we've invested ... about $2.2 million into oyster restoration and oyster fisheries research. And just this past month, we've announced an additional pledge to commit another $5 million to oyster reef restoration along the Texas coast.

And so we're looking forward to opportunities to work with our conservation partners and governmental agencies on getting our dollars that our membership has raised and putting that into the water and help out the oyster fishery through restoration efforts.

Clayton: How serious is the state of oyster fisheries in Texas?

Bonnot: The public fishery is still a concern. We have a little bit over 500 oyster fishing licenses out there that are being utilized. There is a moratorium on those licenses, so it is difficult to get one.

You can only buy one from existing fishermen, but we're continually keeping our eyes on that fishery and hope we can do some things to increase the sustainability of the fishing activity and also additionally recognize the value that those oyster reefs have and the services those oysters offer in the water.

So we're continuing to work on ways to improve the resiliency and the sustainability of the oyster fishery.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.