AUSTIN, Texas — Anglers in the Lower Laguna Madre could see spotted seatrout bag and size limits that are different from those in effect in other bay systems as early as September 2007.

A regional management plan for the Lower Laguna Madre is one solution being considered by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department coastal fisheries biologists to address a downward trend in both the number and size of the popular game fish being landed in Texas’ southernmost bay system.

In a briefing to TPW commissioners Aug. 23, Randy Blankinship, TPWD’s ecosystem leader for the Lower Laguna Madre, said that the department’s data shows that good numbers of spotted seatrout are being recruited to the fishery. Still, Blankinship said, fewer fish over 20 inches are being landed, even though fishing pressure has remained constant or even slightly increased in recent years.

“Because coast-wide trends are positive and the Lower Laguna Madre is the only bay system exhibiting negative trends in spotted seatrout, a regional management approach appears to be one option to accomplish the goal of maintaining a world-class fishery,” Blankinship told commissioners.

Spotted seatrout still flourish in the large, hyper-saline bay, which boasts more than 185 square miles of seagrass meadows. Catch rates for speckled trout, as they are commonly called, are measured in number of fish caught per hour or “catch per unit of effort.”

Coast-wide CPUE has continued to rise. In the Lower Laguna Madre — from the Land Cut down to South Bay — the CPUE has been declining. The catch rates in the lower Laguna Madre are still high as compared to other bay systems, but clearly are not being maintained at historical highs.

“This is not a fishery in crisis,” Blankinship said in an interview. “There is no danger of spotted seatrout stocks collapsing; it’s more a question of reversing these trends and getting a high quality fishery back to the very high quality fishery we have historically known.”

Blankinship acknowledged that two fish-killing freezes during the 1990s, the drought of record for South Texas and reduced freshwater inflows may all be factors in the fishery trends.

“Ours is basically a two-pronged approach of dealing with long-term environmental issues like habitat and water quality in conjunction with fisheries regulations,” said TPWD Coastal Fisheries Director Larry McKinney, Ph.D. “While we can often influence management of environmental factors we do not control them. We do control fishing regulations and action there can have more immediate and positive results.”

McKinney said any proposed regional management plan would be submitted to the Commission as part of the standard statewide hunting and fishing regulatory process.

The commission will be updated in November on these considerations and then the formal process typically begins with a briefing of the proposed rules in January before the commission.

A regional approach to coastal fisheries species management would be a change in a philosophy where coast-wide management (equivalent bag and size limits) have been the norm.

In considering regional management approaches, fisheries managers would be considering the biological implications of the rules as well as shifting fishing pressure which may impact adjacent areas and other species; the ability of game wardens to enforce different regulations and the ease with which anglers can comply with different regulations; and the socio-economic impacts to local communities.

Coastal Fisheries will be holding a series of additional scoping meetings prior to the November commission meeting to discuss specific management options.

– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide