Texas hunters along with fresh and saltwater anglers should make note of several regulation changes made final by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission during its first-ever “virtual” meeting held on May 21.
Originally scheduled for late March, the annual regulatory hearing was postponed for nearly two months due to COVID-19 concerns. The delay ultimately resulted in a teleconference meeting allowing constituents to address commissioners by phone before rulings were made on proposed changes to the 2020-21 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamations.
While most proposals passed as they were presented for public comment earlier this year, the Commission opted for a temporary amendment to a much debated saltwater proposal aimed at altering harvest regulations on flounder.
As proposed, the minimum length limit on the popular flatfish will increase from 14 inches to 15 inches beginning Sept. 1, 2020. The Commission also approved a closure to flounder fishing from Nov. 1- Dec. 15, the heart of the fall flounder run. However, the six-week closure will not take effect until 2021, a year-long delay from the date originally proposed by TPWD coastal fisheries staff.
The decisions came after considering more than 1,100 public comments taken online and by phone from recreational anglers, fishing guides and conservation organizations along with letters from two Texas politicians. The move to delay the season closure for a year was based largely on the economic impacts and hardships many fishing guides and bait shops have already experienced due the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Robin Riechers, TPWD’s chief of coastal fisheries.
Citing a continued downward spiral in flounder populations reflected by various sampling methods, TPWD’s coastal fisheries staff proposed the changes in flounder regs as steps towards reversing a negative trend being witnessed in Texas and numerous other coastal states.
Texas recreational anglers are currently allowed to keep five fish, 14 inches daily, while commercial anglers are allowed a 30-ﬁsh daily bag and possession limit, except for during the period from November 1-December 15, when there is a two-fish daily bag and possession limit for both recreational and commercial take. During the month of November, means of take is limited to pole-and-line only.
Experts say raising minimum length limit to 15 inches will allow significantly more female flounder reach sexual maturity. TPWD fisheries scientist Dakus Geeslin told commissioners females represent most of the flounder harvest each year. He said the increased size limit, combined with a complete season closure, could boost spawning stock biomass up to 58 percent over one generation of flounder, or about 5 years.
Not surprisingly, the flounder regs were hot topics during the public comment period earlier this spring. Geeslin told commissioners that 52 percent of the 1,100-plus respondents supported the proposal, and that more than 1/4 of them thought the proposals were too lenient. About 36 percent opposed the proposal, 1/3 of them against any closures.
Interestingly, another group opposed the proposals because they weren’t strict enough. Many called for a full season closure from Nov. 1-Dec. 31, a ban on flounder gigging and the closure of commercial fishing altogether, Geeslin said.
The biologist also cited letters from State Rep. John Cyrier and State Rep. Mayes Middleton. He said Cyrier supported the proposal, but requested an exemption to delay closure until 2021. Middleton expressed concerns about the economic impacts of the closure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Geeslin said.
TPW Commission Chairman Reed Morian of Houston closed the discussion with instructions for coastal fisheries staff to look into the logistics of a slot limit on flounder and to report back with their findings.
In other saltwater business, commissioners approved new Paddle Craft All-Water Guide License training course requirements and a proposal to strengthen the language of harvest reporting for commercial license holders to ensure that all catches are reported to TPWD, not just what is sold.
On the freshwater side, commissioners approved a laundry of proposed regulation changes on largemouth, crappie and catfish for a number of lakes, creeks and rivers, effective Sept. 1, 2020. The Commission also followed staff recommendations to leave intact the current 5 fish daily bag limit on alligator on Falcon Lake.
Freshwaters impacted changes include:
* Moss Lake - Place largemouth bass under a 16 inch maximum length limit allowing anglers five fish per day 16 inches and under. Bass over 16 inches much be released.
* Brushy Creek Lake and Brushy Creek: Reduce the minimum length limit on largemouth bass from 18 inches to 14 inches for Brushy Creek Lake. On Brushy Creek downstream from the lake to the Williamson/Milam County line, reduce blue and channel catfish daily bag limit from 25 fish to 5 fish, remove the 12-inch minimum length limit, and add gear restrictions limiting pole and line anglers to two poles.
* Lake Nasworthy - Replace the current 10-inch, 25 fish daily bag on crappie with a no minimum length limit rule and retain the 25-fish daily bag.
* Lake Texoma: Change from a 12-inch minimum length limit for blue and channel catfish to no minimum length, 15-fish to include one blue cat 30 inches or greater daily. For flathead catfish, change from a 20-inch minimum length limit to no minimum length limit, 5 fish daily.
* Texas waters of the Red River below Lake Texoma to Shawnee Creek: Remove the minimum length limits for catfish and change the daily bag for blue and channel catfish from 25 to 15 fish.
Migratory bird seasons were finalized as proposed, as were daily limit reductions on scaup (3 birds to 1) and light geese (from 20 birds to 10) in both hunting zones.
Seasons dates are as follows:
* North Zone: Sept. 1-Nov. 12 and December 18- January 3.
* Central Zone: Sept. 1-Nov. 1 and Dec. 18-Jan.14.
* South Zone and Special White-winged Dove Area: Sept. 5, 6, 12, and 13; Sept. 14- Nov. 1 and Dec. 18
- Jan. 23.
*High Plains Mallard Management Unit: Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2020 and Nov. 6-Jan. 31.
* Dusky Ducks: Nov. 9 - Jan. 31.
* North Zone: Nov.14-29 and Dec. 5-Jan. 31.
* Dusky Ducks: Nov. 19-29 and Dec. 5-Jan. 31.
South Zone: Nov. 7- 29 and Dec.12-Jan. 31, 2021
* Dusky Ducks: Nov. 12-29 and Dec. 12-Jan. 31.
* Early Teal: Sept. 12-27 (Daily limit, 6)
The daily bag limit for ducks is six, which may include no more than five mallards (only two of which may be hens); three wood ducks; one scaup (lesser scaup or greater scaup; two redheads; two canvasbacks; one pintail; and one "dusky" duck (mottled duck, Mexican like duck, black duck and their hybrids) during the seasons established for those species in this section. For all species not listed, the daily bag limit shall be six. The daily bag limit for coots is 15. The daily bag limit for mergansers is five, which may include no more than two hooded mergansers.
* Light Geese: Nov. 14-Feb. 14
* Dark Geese: Nov. 14-Feb. 14
*Light Geese: Nov. 7-Jan. 31
* Dark Geese: Nov. 7-Jan. 31
September Canada geese
* Sept. 12-27
Light Goose Conservation Order
* Eastern zone: Feb. 1-March 14
* Western Zone: Feb. 15-March 14
Youth Only Waterfowl
* High Plains MMU: Oct. 24-25
* North Zone: Nov. 7-8
* South Zone: Oct. 31-Nov. 1
* Zone A: Oct. 31-Jan. 31
* Zone B: Nov. 27-Jan. 31
* Zone C: Dec. 19-Jan. 24
* Sept.12-27 and Nov. 7-Dec. 30
* Sept. 12-27 and Nov. 7-Dec. 30
* Nov. 7-Feb. 21
* Dec. 18-Jan. 31
Additionally, commissioners approved new rules related to chronic wasting disease, including the establishment of CWD containment and surveillance zones in Val Verde County, a new surveillance zone in Kimble County and the expansion of the current containment zone in Medina, Bandera and Uvalde counties.
An automated process for application and issuance of permits for pronghorn antelope and mule deer also was approved.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.