A package of proposed changes in Texasâ€™ 2019-20 fishing and hunting regulations, including potential new rules that stand to affect wide segments of the stateâ€™s 2 million-plus anglers and hunters, will be the subject of a series of public hearings and online informational webinars over coming days as state wildlife and fisheries managers seek input ahead of decisions next month on those proposals.
At issue is a broad range of proposals that include halving the daily limit of speckled trout for anglers in Galveston Bay and other bays along the upper coast, significantly tightening rules that govern the taking of alligator gar, substantially liberalizing the number of days hunters in 41 counties would be able to harvest antlerless white-tailed deer and loosening minimum length requirements for largemouth bass on Lake Conroe and a swath of river-associated fisheries in Southeast Texas.
The 20 or so changes proposed in January by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff are part of the annual statewide hunting and fishing proclamations that set seasons, bag limits, method of take and other regulations for the 12-month period year beginning Sept. 1.
The largest change proposed for Texas saltwater anglers would affect anglers targeting the stateâ€™s most popular inshore sportfish in Galveston Bay, the stateâ€™s largest and most heavily fished bay system. The proposal would extend the five-fish daily bag limit for speckled trout currently in effect for coastal waters south of FM 457 in Matagorda County to the rest of the stateâ€™s inshore waters.
The five-trout daily limit has been in effect along the lower coat since 2007 and along the middle coast since 2014. Currently, anglers in coastal waters along the upper coast â€”â€” Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake and adjacent inshore water under state jurisdiction â€” operate under a 10-trout daily limit.
In addition to simplifying regulations by having a single statewide limit on speckled trout, the move is expected to slightly improve quality and quantity of the trout fishery in affected areas and offer a buffer against hits to the fishery possible from natural events such as severe freezes or outbreaks of toxic algae or losses from oil spills or other human-caused events.
While a 2018 TPWD survey of anglers and fishing guides who fish for speckled trout along the upper coast indicated generally strong support for lowering the trout limit, some anglers have voiced opposition to the move, citing healthy trout populations in upper-coast bays and questioning justifications for halving the current 10-fish limit.
Similar opposition has been voiced by some anglers and bowfishers concerning a package of sweeping changes proposed that concern alligator gar. Texas holds the nationâ€™s premier alligator gar fisheries and is one of only two states still holding sizable population of the long-lived gar, which can grow to as much as 300 pounds and live more than 60 years.
In moves designed to protect Texas alligator gar fishery from overharvest, TPWD proposes to set a 48-inch maximum length limit for alligator gar taken from most of the Trinity River, the stateâ€™s most popular trophy-gar fishery. The agency also proposes to implement a random drawing of applications for a limited number of non-transferable permits that allow the permit holder to take one alligator gar measuring longer than 48 inches from the Trinity.
Anglers or bowfishers who take any alligator gar from Texas public waters other than Falcon Reservoir would be required to report that harvest, including information on when, where and how the gar was taken and the fishâ€™s size, within 24 hours via the agencyâ€™s website or a mobile app.
Also, TPWD proposes a statewide prohibition on taking alligator gar with bowfishing gear at night, defined as a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.
While proposing tightening regulations on taking speckled trout and alligator gar, TPWD proposed liberalizing rules for taking largemouth bass from some public waters. The agency proposes lowering the current 16-inch minimum length for largemouths in Lake Conroe to 14 inches â€” a move that would allow more harvest of bass from the hugely popular Houston-area reservoir while not damaging the lakesâ€™ very healthy bass population.
TPWD also proposes adding waters in Liberty County south of U.S. 90, Hardin County and Newton (excluding Toledo Bend Reservoir) to the area in Southeast Texas where a 12-inch minimum length requirement is in place for harvesting largemouth bass. The affected areas currently are under the statewide 14-inch minimum length requirement.
Tens of thousands of deer hunters in 41 counties in the Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savanah regions of Texas would see expanded opportunities to take what TPWD wildlife managers say is a burgeoning number of antlerless deer in those counties.
Under TPWDâ€™s proposal, rules in the 20 Blackland Prairie counties that have allowed the taking of antlerless deer only during four consecutive â€śdoe daysâ€ť that begin Thanksgiving Day would be greatly liberalized. In those counties, hunters would be allowed to take as many as two antlerless deer and affix an antlerless-deer tag from their general hunting license during the first 16 days of the general deer season.
Affected counties would be Bell (east of Interstate 35), Burleson, Delta, Ellis, Falls, Fannin, Franklin, Freestone, Hopkins, Hunt, Kaufman, Limestone, Milam, Navarro, Rains, Smith, Titus, Van Zandt, Williamson (east of Intgerstate 35) and Wood.
In 21 counties in the southern portion of the Post Oak Savannah region of south central Texas that have no doe days during the general whitetail season, TPWD proposes four doe days. Those four days would begin Thanksgiving and end the next Sunday. During those four days, a hunter could take as many as two antlerless deer with a tag from their general hunting license.
Counties where the four-day antlerless season is proposed are Austin, Bastrop, Caldwell, Colorado, Comal (east of I-35), De Witt, Fayette, Goliad (north of U.S. 59), Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hays (east of I-35), Jackson (north of U.S. 59), Karnes, Lavaca, Lee, Travis (east of I-35), Victoria (north of U.S. 59), Waller, Washington, Wharton (north of U.S. 59) and Wilson.
To allay concerns the liberalization will lead to overharvest of antlerless deer in those counties, TPWD proposes requiring hunters report the harvest of all antlerless deer taken in the affected counties, including during the archery-only, muzzleloader-only, and youth special seasons, to the department via the departmentâ€™s internet site or mobile application within 24 hours of harvest.
TPWD plans a pair of Facebook Live online webinars, one focused on hunting-related proposals and one on fishing-related proposals, to explain the proposals to the public and offer a question-and-answer opportunity. The fishing webinar is set for noon, Feb. 27, and the hunting webinar at noon, Feb. 28. Both can be accessed on the agencyâ€™s Facebook page.
Public hearings on freshwater-related proposals are set for March 5 in Athens (Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, 5601 Peninsula Point Road) and San Antonio (Lions Field Adult and Senior Center, 2809 Broadway) and March 6 in Livingston (Polk County Judicial Center, 101 West Mill). Hearings are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Public hearings on saltwater-related proposals are set for Feb. 26 in Texas City (Nessler Civic Center, 2010 5th Ave N) and Feb. 28 in Port Arthur (Port Arthur Civic Center, 3401 Cultural Center Drive), with both beginning at 6 p.m.
A combination public hearing on freshwater and saltwater proposals is scheduled for March 4, 6 p.m., at the San Jacinto River Authority offices, 1577 Dam Site Road.
Public hearings on hunting-related proposals are set for March 5, 1305 East Blue Bell Road, Brenham; March 6, TAMU AgriLife Extension Service, 255 Svoboda Lane, La Grange; March 7, Pattie Dodson Health Center, 2805 Navarro, Victoria; and March 13, Texas AgriLife Extension Office, 210 East Live Oak, Seguin. Contact TPWD for times.
Summaries of public comments with be presented to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, and additional in-person public comments will be heard at the Commissionâ€™s public hearing March 20 in Austin. At that meeting, the TPW Commission will vote to adopt, modify or reject the proposals. Adopted changes will take effect Sept. 1.