Estuaries are a love-them or lose-them proposition
Our upper Texas coast estuaries rank pretty high among things I hold dear. I’ve often said saltwater runs through my veins. Of all the bay systems I’ve waded into or navigated a boat on, the Galveston Bay complex remains at the top of my list as the most important. It is, and will always be, my home.
That said, I’ve seen the estuary undergo some dramatic changes over my tenure as a passionate angler. And I’ve fished alongside many others who’ve experienced even more transformations across the complex than I can even imagine. Some of these changes have simply been a result of natural processes. Others, however, are a direct effect of the actions taken by users of the resource.
Most of us who recreate on the Galveston Bay complex generally avoid talking about the imprints we all leave, especially the negative ones. The truth is, we’re all affecting the system whether we like it or not. Some of us are doing it for pleasure and enjoyment, and some of us to make a living. Neither is right nor wrong — it’s just the facts.
Given the current condition of Texas coastal fisheries, it’s time step back and look at what we — anglers, boaters, outdoor enthusiasts and all others who use the resource — are doing to our beloved estuary.
At the time of this writing, nearly six weeks have passed since the Texas Gulf Coast experienced a freeze unlike any since the 1980s. We were very fortunate here on the upper coast, particularly in Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake, not to have had the extreme-weather fish kills that occurred in estuaries farther south. As a coastal community, we should take this as both a blessing and a wakeup call.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department recently approved an emergency regulation change for speckled trout bag limits in waters of the Laguna Madre from the JFK Causeway south to the Rio Grande River. The rule reduces the bag limit from five fish to three, sets a new size slot restriction of 17 to 23 inches, as opposed to 15 to 25 inches, and allows only one trout over 25 inches. This change is in response to fish kills caused by the freeze, and in hopes the Laguna Madre speckled trout fishery will rebound quickly after spawning season this spring and summer.
Although I wholeheartedly support this decision, I can’t help but wonder what kind of response our upper coast angling community would have if the regulation change had been necessary for our waters. I know some folks who would argue it was necessary even without the freeze. Other anglers would be downright furious if such a regulation change were put into effect on the Galveston Bay complex.
The point is, we should all be mindful of our actions and their effects on our precious resource. We seem to have dodged a bullet in February, although it’s safe to say things aren’t what they were 10, 20 and 30 years ago.
It’s no secret there’s more pressure on our fishery than in past decades. More and more folks are hitting the water and taking advantage of the tremendous opportunities our estuaries offer. Combine that with the amount of free information instantly available now to pretty much anyone about angling via social media and the internet, and it’s easy to see how our fishery could be in trouble.
I’m in no way arguing we should all practice only catch-and-release going forward. Texas Parks & Wildlife has regulations and bag limits for a reason. They are supposed to be enough to conserve and sustain the fishery. What I’m getting at is this: If you love the Galveston Bay Complex as much as I do, then be aware of your actions while enjoying the opportunities it provides.
If you want to keep some fish for the dinner table, by all means retain what the laws allow. At the same time, make sure to remember the importance of cherishing the experience. What did it take to catch those fish? Was the sunrise brilliant? Did you learn a new tactic to get them to bite? Did you make memories with fellow anglers that will last a lifetime?
I promise you these aspects associated with a day on the water will far outlast a bag of freezer-burned fillets forgotten at the bottom of your deep freeze. It seems so many folks nowadays just want to go straight to the where fish are biting, catch as many as they can in the shortest time possible, take a photo of a pile of dead fish, and then go back to their device- and technology-driven lives.
Take the time to learn to become a better angler and try new things. Treasure each and every second on the water, and try to make them last as long as you can. Every bite and every catch is special. And if more folks don’t begin to realize this, then there could come a time when everything that has been taken for granted is suddenly gone.
Appreciate the resource. I’ll see you out there.