Donations, Surcharge Bolster Shrimp License Buyback Program

Steve Lightfoot, 512-389-4701,

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AUSTIN, Texas — Thanks to recent financial boosts to a voluntary license buyback effort, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is well on its way to achieving the objectives of the state’s commercial shrimping limited entry program, not the least of which is to ensure the long term health of Texas bays and estuaries.

Since the beginning of the buyback program in 1996, TPWD has retired 1,187 of 3,231 licenses on the books at a cost of $7.2 million. The overall number of inshore shrimp vessels in Texas waters has decreased from around 2,100 down to around 1,200 since the buyback program began. The most recent round wrapped up this year, when the agency retired 104 shrimping licenses, with the agency paying an average of $7,600. Of those licenses, 30 were purchased with assistance from the Earl C. Sams Foundation through a grant agreement with TPWD.

"With this round of buybacks, we are continuing our objective of reducing the number of commercial bay and bait licenses," said Robin Riechers, management director for TPWD’s coastal fisheries division. "Our objectives continue to be higher catch rates for shrimpers, reduced bycatch mortality and a healthy ecosystem."

The result of the voluntary buyback program is the number of shrimping licenses issued for state waters has dropped by 37 percent. With fewer shrimpers on the water, remaining commercial shrimpers have less competition for the limited shrimp resource, a shot at increased profits and, resource managers hope, a stabilized shrimp fishery.

Reduced shrimping effort means less bycatch of finfish, crabs and other non-target animals, plus fewer nets scraping the bottom of the bays, damaging the hugely important but often ignored benthic ecosystem.

For the first five years of the limited-entry program, state funding for the license buyback came almost exclusively from a surcharge on commercial shrimping licenses. The commercial license surcharge annually generated only about $170,000 — enough to buy back only a relative handful of licenses. In those first years TPWD did acquire a $1.4 million dollar grant that enabled the program to get off to a good start; however, long-term stable funding was not in the mix.

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 scheduled to expire in 2005, but the commission recently approved an indefinite extension.

Bolstered by the additional funding, the buyback program has made good progress reducing shrimping effort in Texas waters. TPWD has held 14 shrimp license buyback rounds, said Riechers.

"Having grown up around Corpus Christi, I was aware of what the nets had done to the flounder population. I had seen the blue crab disappear and the golden croaker and red drum decline," recalled Bruce Hawn, president of the Earl C. Sams Foundation. "I knew it was real important to minimize the impact of shrimping in our bay system and that’s why we felt compelled to give the money we did to help the buyback effort."

The Earl C. Sams Foundation was created in 1946 by Hawn’s great grandfather, Earl C. Sams, and has a long history of conservation efforts along the Texas coast. Hawn’s sister, Susan Yuras, is chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.

Among the group’s accomplishments include the creation of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, which was donated to the city. The foundation recently helped the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association create a red drum grow-out pond at the Texas State Aquarium, which has the potential of rearing one million redfish a year. The foundation has also funded numerous wildlife and marine studies during the years and has been a substantial supporter of Texas conservation efforts.

In addition to the Earl C. Sams Foundation, the buyback effort has been supplemented by donations from conservation groups including: the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Saltwater Conservation Association of Texas and the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association as well as private donors.

The buyback process for commercial license holders is a reverse bid by which license holders provide TPWD the price for which they are willing to sell their licenses back to the department. The 15th round of the license buyback program is currently ongoing and the deadline for applications is Oct. 1.

For more information on the buyback program, contact Bobby Miller in Seabrook at (281) 534-0110, or, Art Morris in Corpus Christi at (361) 825-3356, or, or Robin Riechers in Austin at (512) 389-4645, or