By Chris Horton, Midwestern States Senior Director and Fisheries
Earlier this month, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) released a series of proposed regulatory changes for freshwater fisheries in the state.
The proposed changes include modifications to the length limits and harvest regulations for largemouth bass, Alabama bass and alligator gar in certain areas. It also proposes to eliminate fishing for alligator gar at night using lawful archery equipment, as well as create a trophy alligator gar fishery in the Trinity River Basin using a random drawing to allow select harvest of one gar over 48-inches by successful permit applicants.
Chris Horton, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) Senior Director, Fisheries Program, submitted comments both supporting and opposing certain aspects of the proposed changes to the Texas alligator gar fisheries.
“Alligator gar are a long-lived species that do not successfully spawn each year,” said Horton. “We certainly appreciate the TPWD Commission for being proactive in wanting to protect a fishery that is growing in popularity. However, some of the proposed changes are not based on current population data, but rather an assumption that they need additional protections through eliminating some harvest opportunity.”
Alligator gar can live more than 60 years. Unlike other popular sport fish species in the state, evidence suggests that females do not reach sexual maturity until 5 to 10 years of age and do not spawn every year. Furthermore, their unique spawning habit of depositing eggs only in floodplains during high water events, while likely an effective mechanism for avoiding aquatic predators in the main body of the river or lake, is also a risky strategy that is heavily reliant on a flood’s duration to complete a successful spawn. Because of these factors, year-class strength can vary, and theoretically, specific populations of alligator gar could be more sensitive than others to harvest pressure under the right circumstances.
“Nevertheless, there has been no evidence that harvest of alligator gar, by any means, is near a level that would warrant population-level concerns,” continued Horton. “We support collecting better data through mandatory harvest reporting, as well as more intensive population monitoring by the TPWD. We also support exploring the idea of a trophy fishery on the Trinity River and its tributaries. However, we believe the proposal to eliminate nighttime bow fishing statewide was a step beyond the science and an unnecessary bias against a legitimate method of harvest.”
TPWD will be taking public comment on the proposed changes to the 2019-2020 Statewide Recreational Fishing Proclamation through March 19.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?