Every Fish Counts
By John Jefferson
It is impossible to drain the ocean, count all the fish, and tell for sure what is going on with fish populations. It is, however, possible to take a kind of snapshot from time to time. If you do it for long enough and take as many snapshots as you can, you can make intelligent conclusions about what is going on in fisheries dynamics.
That’s exactly what the TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division staff has been doing since the mid-seventies, in an effort to manage a diverse and vital state fishery that is arguably second to none. To accomplish that task, Coastal Fisheries staff has employed a random sampling strategy with gillnets, bag seines, trawls, dredges, and several other devices (including cameras) in every coastal bay system and a major portion of the Texas Gulf waters.
Roughly 250,000 samples (using gillnets, bag seines, trawls, and oyster dredges alone) have been collected and have revealed roughly 13 million finfish and more than 16 million invertebrates. No matter how many are collected, or what size or species it is, each finfish and invertebrate gets the royal treatment,identified, measured, counted, and some species even tagged before being released. Each observation contributes to the already-amassed millions of records for all species.
The TPWD resource-monitoring program is the longest continuously running program of its kind in the United States. While the tremendous database generated from this effort is the chief tool used to manage our fisheries, it is also shared with researchers all across the U.S., and even other countries. The data is also used for stock assessments, for setting policy in Gulf waters by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and for creating fishery species management profiles by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission.
While the primary focus is on the recreational and commercially important species, like shrimp, red drum, and spotted sea trout, no species is overlooked or underappreciated. Since the program began, the department has encountered over 700 different finfish and invertebrate species. After all, each organism is important to the entire ecosystem’s health.
Over the 40-plus years of research, numerous peer-reviewed papers have been published and innumerable other publications created from the database. The sampling program has been peer-reviewed by other scientists and serves as a model that other fishery management programs imitate. The data has withstood legal review—and perhaps most importantly— the scrutinizing eye of public opinion.