By Shane Bonnot
CCA Texas Advocacy Director
The 2021 Texas Winter Storm will go down as one of the costliest natural disasters in our state’s history. It seemed to affect us all in some form or fashion and unfortunately our fisheries were no exception. Mortality estimations will be released soon, with full realization of impacts coming after Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) conducts spring gill net and recreational angler surveys. See the latest news release from TPWD here.
Undoubtedly this is a bad fish kill and based upon the length of time in which water temperatures were at critical levels for numerous species it is fair to draw comparisons to 1983 or 1989. Despite this setback, there are reasons to be hopeful. For one, entering into this event stocks of red drum and spotted seatrout were quite healthy, based upon TPWD gill net catch rates and coastwide recreational landings. What we had done in the past had worked well to build and maintain healthy fisheries. It stands to reason that we can do it again.
Another reason for hope lies in the coastal cities of Lake Jackson and Corpus Christi (Flour Bluff). CCA Texas has helped build two saltwater fish hatcheries to help maintain adequate recruitment of juvenile red drum, spotted seatrout and flounder. Nearly 25 million red drum and spotted seatrout fingerlings (1-2 inches in length) are released each year into coastal waters. With the help from grow out ponds at the Perry R. Bass Marine Research Facility in Palacios, TPWD has a robust fish-producing-machine in place to crank out fingerlings and kick-start the recovery of our fisheries. Rest assured, TPWD staff is ready to heed the call and respond appropriately.
Finally, speckled trout are a resilient lot. Fifty percent of females are sexually mature by the time they reach 10 inches and 100 percent are mature at 12 inches. They will spawn numerous times from late spring through fall, releasing a tremendous number of eggs in that time frame. For reference, a 2-pound female spawning eight times in a season can easily produce three million eggs. So, while we will certainly notice declines of speckled trout in some regions of the coast, we can expect to see rebounds in this fishery within a couple of years.
Anglers can and will make the difference in the speed of this recovery; Personal accountability for our individual actions will have accumulative effects. Practice “keep whatcha eat” or “CPR” (catch, photo, release). Learn how to properly handle a fish to reduce stress and improve survivability. Get involved in organizations and initiatives that promote sound conservation efforts. CCA’s best-fishing practices program – ReleaSense – offers some excellent safe-release practices, resources and the latest research on reducing mortality of released fish.
As the images continue to roll in and final numbers are crunched, let us remain hopeful. We know the fishery will rebound as it has in the past, we know that hatcheries will kick-start the recovery, and we fully expect that anglers will step up to support resource recovery and marine habitat projects more energetically than ever. I am confident that we as an angling community will seize this opportunity to display our better nature. Remain hopeful, stay engaged and keep fishing.