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Donations, Angler Dollars Help Achieve Shrimp Buyback Goals
AUSTIN, Texas — It’s taken more than a decade and close to $12 million, but an effort to purchase and retire commercial shrimp licenses and improve the ecological health of Texas bays has achieved its goals, thanks to support from recreational anglers, shrimpers and conservation-minded financial supporters.
Bay shrimpers have voluntarily sold more than 1,800 licenses to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and retired from the business since the buyback program began in the 1990s. As a result, peak bay shrimping effort has decreased by 91 percent since 1994.
During the same period, shrimper bycatch, or accidental catch of other marine life besides shrimp, has decreased by 84 percent. Abundance of bycatch species such as croaker, sand trout and anchovies has increased by 61 percent. Croaker abundance in Texas bays has almost doubled since 1994, and 2007 marked a record high catch in TPWD bay trawls. Anglers can expect to see the return of the fall croaker run.
"Our goal was to return bay shrimping effort to the levels of the 1970s, and we’ve achieved that," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D., TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division director. "Our red drum and trout fisheries are in their best conditions in 30 years, with populations increasing. And reducing the impact of near-shore shrimping has been significant in getting us to where we are today. Our objectives continue to be higher catch rates for shrimpers, reduced bycatch and healthy ecosystems."
Private donors played a key role in the buyback effort. On May 22, a check for $1.2 million was presented to the TPW Commission by Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation Executive Director Dick Davis.
"This success story involves a diverse group of conservation philanthropists who all deserve recognition," Davis said.
The campaign began 18 months ago when former TPW Commission Chairman Joseph Fitzsimons recommended that the foundation establish a fund in honor of the late William Negley, a long-time advocate of Texas coastal conservation. Charter contributors to the campaign via the Bill Negley Fund include Fitzsimons, Ed Harte, Will Harte, the Harte Charitable Foundation, Commission Chairman Peter Holt and Commissioner Dan Friedkin, who together provided $400,000.
"We’ve finally reached the goal Bill Negley set decades ago," Fitzsimons said. "I was sitting at Negley’s breakfast table 20 years ago, when he told me this had to happen. His vision was that anglers and other conservationists would bear the cost of this, not through regulation but through purchase of licenses to help fund efforts to reduce bycatch. Later, the Harte family asked me what single effort would make the most difference for coastal conservation, and they made a $250,000 challenge grant to get things rolling. All Texans will benefit from the resulting improved health of our coastal ecosystems."
The Foundation, led by board members Mimi Zoch, Karen Hixon (now a TPW Commissioner) and Pat Murray, raised the remaining $800,000. Contributing partners included the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, the Amon Carter Foundation and Texas Coastal Conservation Association. Several other foundations and individuals also contributed.
For bay shrimpers, the buyback program has provided an exit strategy for an industry plagued by declining shrimp prices and skyrocketing fuel prices. Those who remain have benefited-although total landings have decreased, the shrimp catch-per-hour has doubled since 1994, meaning the bay shrimp fleet is now smaller but more efficient.
"We’ve offered a way for people to make a graceful exit from a business in decline, providing some funds to get retrained or go into other businesses," McKinney said. "That was also an original purpose of the program authorized by the legislature."
For the first five years, state funding for the license buyback came almost exclusively from a surcharge on commercial bay and bait shrimping licenses, which still generates funds dedicated only for shrimp buyback.
That changed in 2000, when the TPW Commission approved a $3 surcharge on saltwater fishing stamps required of almost all recreational anglers fishing Texas coastal waters. That surcharge was set to expire in 2005, but the commission later approved an indefinite extension.
"Our anglers have been tremendously supportive of our conservation efforts and their investment has paid off in healthy populations of trout and red drum," stated McKinney, "we will be working closely with them and the Commission to look at options to continue to generate similar benefits in other areas of the fishery."*
A portion of bay and bait shrimping license revenue remains dedicated for shrimp license buyback, so TPWD will likely continue to purchase smaller numbers of licenses in coming years, although the program’s main goals have been achieved. More than 1,000 bay and bait licenses remain in the fishery, so if the industry turns around and more shrimpers return to the bays, license buyback could still be important to reduce effort and protect bay ecosystems.
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