Changes Proposed to Texas Exotic Aquatic Species Regulations

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AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is proposing changes to regulations regarding harmful or potentially harmful fish, shellfish and aquatic plants. The proposed changes significantly reorganize the existing rules to enhance accessibility, meet the changing needs of the regulated community, and address current and potential future threats posed by these exotic species.

The proposed rules will be published in the Texas Register no later than Friday, Oct. 2. At that time, comments on the changes can be provided on the TPWD public comment page until Monday, Nov. 9. The TPW Commission will take public comment on the proposed changes at their meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10 in Austin. Comments on the proposed changes also can be submitted to Ken Kurzawski at (512) 389-4591, email:

Exotic species can become invasive, meaning they are causing or have potential to cause harm to the ecosystem, economy, or human health and quality of life. If exotic species are not detected until after introduction, the infestation can progress past the point when eradication is possible for some species. After that point, the infestation can quickly progress into costly, long-term treatment and control.

Regulations are an essential form of prevention against impacts from these species. TPWD regulations specify a prohibited species list, with the primary focus being prevention, and only a few species are allowed for use.

TPWD is proposing to add seven species to the controlled exotic species list, including four fish (stone moroko, European perch, Amur sleeper, Wels catfish) which are federally listed as injurious. These species are not currently present in the United States, but there is a high risk that they could be introduced and become established in Texas, resulting in harmful impacts. The addition of these species to the list would restore federal protections against their transport into Texas in the event they are introduced in the U.S.

The golden mussel, which is not presently in the U.S., are proposed for addition to the list due to a high risk of introduction, establishment, and impacts similar to those of zebra mussels. In addition, two aquatic plants, yellow and crested floating hearts, are proposed for addition to prevent their spread. These species were recently introduced to Texas and have become established, requiring management.

TPWD is also proposing some changes to rules governing possession of exotic species. Under these proposed changes, exotic fish and shellfish other than oysters, which must currently be beheaded or gutted, could also be possessed if gill-cut, killed using another means, frozen or packaged on ice. The requirement for oysters to be shucked or otherwise removed from their shells would remain in place. Possession and transport of zebra mussels attached to boats, alive or dead, remain prohibited to prevent their spread.

Additionally, proposed changes address the needs of pond and landowners. These new rules would allow the possession and transport of exotic plants, zebra mussels, and applesnails by pond and lakefront landowners for the purposes of disposal without a permit if securely contained.

This proposal also creates a permit for sellers of tilapia and triploid grass carp for pond stocking that eliminates the requirement to have an aquaculture facility, provided that the fish are not cultured and are held at a physical location only for a short time. These sellers buy the fish from an aquaculturist before delivering them directly to ponds or temporary holding and distribution locations.

TPWD is addressing the interests of aquaculturists by providing new multi-year renewal options for aquaculture permits for three or five years in addition to the current annual renewal option. Additionally, reporting for tilapia aquaculture would no longer be required. In response to aquaculturist requests in recent years, the department is proposing to allow the aquaculture of the Wami tilapia, a species that does not pose a greater ecological risk than species currently in aquaculture.

Given the rise in hobbyist aquaponics—where fish are raised to provide nutrients for cultured plants and are not sold—the department is proposing an allowance for possession of four species of tilapia in these escape-proof systems without a permit provided the fish are not sold and are killed prior to transfer to another person.

Currently only Mozambique tilapia can be possessed without a permit for stocking in private ponds, but under the rules proposed by TPWD, blue, Nile, and Wami tilapia would be allowed for possession to stock in private ponds. Hybridization among species in aquaculture is rampant, thus making it impossible to confidently confirm the identity of these species. The issue of identification and enforcement would be eliminated with this new regulation.

However, in order to prevent an increase in ecological impacts from allowing stocking of additional species, the department is proposing a zonal approach to tilapia pond stocking based on scientific research. In the “conservation zone”—approximately that area west of I-35—department authorization would be mandated prior to stocking tilapia, but no permit or fee would be required. In the “stocking zone”—the remainder of the state—no department authorization would be required. Also, in the stocking zone, the department is proposing an allowance to “fast-track” applications for stocking of 10 or fewer triploid grass carp.

The rules would also provide clarity that the department may prescribe a disposition protocol for controlled exotic species illegally in possession, upon cessation of permitted activities, or upon permit renewal denial. Should the department have to implement the protocol due to noncompliance, the individual in violation would be responsible for costs incurred by the department.

To accompany these rule changes, TPWD is proposing to establish fees for new permits and update the aquaculture permit fees in accordance with the new multi-year renewal structure and five-year inspection interval. There are no changes being proposed to the current permit administrative or inspection fees.