Statewide Recreational Fishing Proclamation - Special Spotted Seatrout Rules

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Executive Summary

Based on the mortality estimates of the February 2021 winter storm and the reduced catch seen in the 2021 gill nets, this proposed rule would reduce the Spotted Seatrout bag limit to 3 fish and restrict the allowable size to 17-23 inches for two years. The goal of this rule is to leave more spawning fish in the water for two spawning seasons in order to help the populations recover quickly. These rules would only affect Matagorda Bay, San Antonio Bay, Aransas Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, and the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre systems.  The proposed rules would protect the four bay systems most impacted, and bolster Seatrout populations in adjacent bays that were less affected by the freeze but are genetically connected to those vulnerable populations. Corpus Christi Bay was included in the regulation to prevent an increase in fishing pressure due to shifting fishing behavior in response to the new regulation.

STATEWIDE RECREATIONAL FISHING PROCLAMATION

SPECIAL SPOTTED SEATROUT RULES

PROPOSAL PREAMBLE

1. Introduction.

        The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department proposes new §57.983, concerning Spotted Seatrout — Special Provisions. The proposed new rule would establish special temporary bag, length, and possession limits for spotted seatrout in specific waters to reflect the department’s continuing concern over the impact of Winter Storm Uri in February 2021 on spotted seatrout populations in middle and lower coast bay systems. The proposed new harvest rule is intended to increase spawning potential to allow populations to recover more quickly until pre-freeze levels are re-established.

2. Justification for the Rule.

        During the week of February 14th, 2021, Texas experienced extreme winter weather that caused the die-off of an estimated 3.8 million fish coastwide, with at least 61 species affected. Among recreational game fish, spotted seatrout comprised the majority of the mortalities, particularly on the lower coast. In response, the department adopted an emergency rule effective April 1, 2021 (46 TexReg 2527) to protect spotted seatrout in the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre from over-harvest. The emergency rule expired September 27th, 2021; however, the department has determined that there is continuing concern about the status of spotted seatrout populations in those bay systems as well as additional bay systems. The proposed new rule would impose the bag, possession, and length limits identical to those imposed by the emergency rule (minimum length limit of 17 inches, maximum length limit of 23 inches, possession limit of three fish) over a larger geographical area and specify a date certain of August 31, 2023 for those limits to expire, at which time the harvest regulations would revert to the previous limits. 

        The department manages fisheries resources to ensure sustainability and resilience. Fishery-dependent and independent monitoring programs allow the department to quantify harvest pressure and assess population status with respect to spotted seatrout. Department sampling and monitoring efforts confirmed that the spotted seatrout populations in the areas affected by the emergency rule were impacted significantly by the freeze and show declines from historical averages, but it also confirmed that other areas of the lower coast and mid-coast bays that were not subject to the provisions of the emergency rule are also worthy of concern. Low catch rates during spring gill net surveys indicate declining abundance of spotted seatrout in various areas. Four bay systems had catch rates that were much lower than the ten-year average: Lower Laguna Madre, Upper Laguna Madre, San Antonio, and Matagorda. Spring gill net sampling indicates that catch rates are approximately 34% and 44% below the ten-year mean in San Antonio and Matagorda bays, respectively. Aransas Bay also experienced declines in catch rates of 10 — 12%. Corpus Christi Bay experienced a modest increase in catch rates.  While other environmental variables also impact seatrout catch rates, such as lowered salinities due to high spring rainfall, the extent of the declines seen after the freeze mortality indicate that the freeze likely had a large impact on the abundance of spotted seatrout in several of the bay systems. Historical data indicate that gill net catch rates returned to pre-freeze levels within 2-3 years following other major freeze events in the 1980’s; accordingly, the proposed new rule would remain in effect until August 31, 2023. The department will continue to conduct assessment and monitoring activities to analyze the impacts of the February 2021 freeze event and recovery of the spotted seatrout population.

        The proposed new rule would include all bays from Matagorda Bay to the Lower Laguna Madre to speed recovery of trout populations in the four bay systems most severely impacted, include adjacent bays that were less affected by the freeze but are genetically connected to the vulnerable populations, and include Corpus Christi Bay to prevent negative impacts resulting from increases in fishing pressure resulting from angler effort being shifted from surrounding systems, as well as to reduce angler confusion and aid in law enforcement of the new regulations. 

2. Fiscal Note.

        Dakus Geeslin, Science and Policy Branch Chief, Coastal Fisheries Division, has determined that for each of the first five years that the rule as proposed is in effect, there will be no fiscal implications to state or local governments as a result of administering or enforcing the rule.

3. Public Benefit/Cost Note.

        Mr. Geeslin also has determined that for each of the first five years that the rule as proposed is in effect:

        (A) The public benefit anticipated as a result of enforcing or administering the proposed rule will be the dispensation of the agency’s statutory duty to protect and conserve the fisheries resources of this state by protecting fisheries resources from depletion.

        (B) Under the provisions of Government Code, Chapter 2006, a state agency must prepare an economic impact statement and a regulatory flexibility analysis for a rule that may have an adverse economic effect on small businesses, micro-businesses, or rural communities. As required by Government Code, §2006.002(g), the Office of the Attorney General has prepared guidelines to assist state agencies in determining a proposed rule’s potential adverse economic impacts to small businesses, micro-businesses, or rural communities. Those guidelines state that an agency need only consider a proposed rule’s “direct adverse economic impacts” to small businesses and micro-businesses to determine if any further analysis is required. For that purpose, the department considers “direct economic impact“ to mean a requirement that would directly impose recordkeeping or reporting requirements; impose taxes or fees; result in lost sales or profits; adversely affect market competition; or require the purchase or modification of equipment or services.

        The department has determined that the proposed rule will not result in direct adverse impacts on small businesses, micro-businesses, or rural communities because spotted seatrout by statute cannot be harvested for commercial purposes and because the proposed rule regulates recreational license privileges that allow individual persons to pursue and harvest wildlife resources in this state and therefore does not directly affect small businesses, micro-businesses, or rural communities. Therefore, neither the economic impact statement nor the regulatory flexibility analysis described in Government Code, Chapter 2006, is required.

        (C) The department has not drafted a local employment impact statement under the Administrative Procedures Act, §2001.022, as the agency has determined that the rule as proposed will not impact local economies.

        (D) The department has determined that Government Code, §2001.0225 (Regulatory Analysis of Major Environmental Rules), does not apply to the proposed rule.

        (E) The department has determined that there will not be a taking of private real property, as defined by Government Code, Chapter 2007, as a result of the proposed rule.

        (F) In compliance with the requirements of Government Code, §2001.0221, the department has prepared the following Government Growth Impact Statement (GGIS).  The rule as proposed, if adopted, will:

                 (1) neither create nor eliminate a government program;

                 (2) not result in an increase or decrease in the number of full-time equivalent employee needs;

                 (3) not result in a need for additional General Revenue funding;

                 (4) not affect the amount of any fee;

                 (5) not create a new regulation per se, but will modify an existing regulation;

                 (6) not repeal, expand, or limit a regulation;

                 (7) neither increase nor decrease the number of individuals subject to regulation; and

                 (8) not positively or adversely affect the state’s economy.

        (G) The department has determined that the proposed rule is in compliance with Government Code, §505.11 (Actions and Rule Amendments Subject to the Coastal Management Program).

4. Request for Public Comment.

        Comments on the proposal may be submitted to Dakus Geeslin, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas 78744; (512) 389-8734; e-mail: cfish@tpwd.texas.gov or via the department’s website at http://www.tpwd.texas.gov/.

5.  Statutory Authority.

        The new rule is proposed under the authority of Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 61, which requires the commission to regulate the periods of time when it is lawful to hunt, take, or possess game animals, game birds, or aquatic animal life in this state; the means, methods, and places in which it is lawful to hunt, take, or possess game animals, game birds, or aquatic animal life in this state; the species, quantity, age or size, and, to the extent possible, the sex of the game animals, game birds, or aquatic animal life authorized to be hunted, taken, or possessed; and the region, county, area, body of water, or portion of a county where game animals, game birds, or aquatic animal life may be hunted, taken, or possessed.

        The proposed new rule affects Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 61.

6. Rule Text

        §57.983. Spotted Seatrout — Special Bag, Possession, and Length Limits.

                 (a) In the waters of the Laguna Madre (upper and lower bay systems), Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay, San Antonio Bay, and Matagorda Bay from the Brownsville Ship Channel and South Bay in Cameron County northward to FM 457 in Matagorda County, and in the waters within the area of a line beginning at the Gulf of Mexico beachfront at FM 457 in Matagorda County and extending perpendicularly from the beachfront for a distance of 500 yards into the Gulf of Mexico and continuing parallel to the beachfront southward to the convergence of the beachfront and the Rio Grande, the bag and possession limits for the take of spotted seatrout shall be as follows.   

                         (1) Minimum length limit: 17 inches. 

                         (2) Maximum length limit: 23 inches. 

                         (3) Possession limit: 3 spotted seatrout. 

                 (b) To the extent that any provision of this section conflicts with the provisions of §57.981 of this chapter (relating to Bag, Possession, and Length Limits), this section controls. 

                 (c) The provisions of this section cease effect August 31, 2023.

        This agency hereby certifies that the proposal has been reviewed by legal counsel and found to be within the agency’s authority to adopt.

        Issued in Austin, Texas, on

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