The quality of fishing in southwest San Antonio Bay, Ayres Bay, Mesquite Bay, Carlos Bay, and Aransas Bay will continue to decline as long as Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough remain closed to Gulf water access, and as area anglers we need to become part of the solution.
Here’s the reason why: Formed in nature many, many years ago, Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough possessed their own ability to provide continuous inward and outward flow of Gulf water that’s desperately required in maintaining rich and healthy estuary systems in Aransas Bay, Carlos Bay, and Mesquite Bay. Fish, crabs, shrimp and other marine organisms in these estuaries depend on Gulf access to nurture and retain their delicate life cycles. With an increase in fishing pressure resultant of ever-growing angler populations along our portion of the Texas coast, it’s our shared challenge to become caretakers of our area bays by doing our part in helping to restore Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough as soon as possible.
That means working together with organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association of Texas (CCA-Texas), and their national habitat program known as the Building Conservation Trust (BCT).
A Bit of History
Coastal navigation charts dating as far back as 1884 and aerial photos from as early as 1967 indicate there once was a naturally-sustaining water flow union between Cedar Bayou, Vinson Slough, and the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Bay of Campeche oil spill in 1979, Cedar Bayou was purposely filled with sand as part of emergency measures to keep oil out of our bays. Since then, three attempts at dredging and re-opening Cedar Bayou have been made, but the first two tries at restoring the pass proved unsuccessful.
The 1979 closure remained in place until 1987, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department made its first attempt to re-open Cedar Bayou. Unfortunately, the project was underfunded, and the Bayou only remained open for a short time. It silted closed again by 1993. Texas Parks and Wildlife tried dredging Cedar Bayou again in 1995, but were also unsuccessful on this second attempt due to budget and engineering constraints.
A Different Approach
Previous attempts at re-opening Cedar Bayou have failed because various important factors were not taken into consideration, but the latest effort in 2014 was different. Extensive studies revealed to engineers a need for an increased water flow through the Cedar Bayou channel, and for hydraulic resistance to be reduced. Increasing the water’s flow rate through the channel allows the water to move at a greater speed, thereby scouring silt and sediment from the Gulf entrance at the mouth of the Cedar Bayou channel, without which would lead to eventual closure of the channel due to sediment build up.
For the 2014 re-opening project, engineers opted to re-establish the Cedar Bayou channel in its original form by connecting Vinson Slough to it. By reconnecting Vinson Slough, the total amount of water flowing through the Cedar Bayou channel would increase, thereby also increasing the water gradient and water speed where it is needed most, which is at the Gulf entrance to Cedar Bayou.
After more than a decade of perseverance on the part of a group of local people in Rockport, known as Save Cedar Bayou, Inc., along with the aid of the General Land Office, Aransas County officials, and many other partnerships such as CCA Texas, Matagorda Island and San Jose Island were separated from each other on September 25, 2014, for the first time since 1987, with the re-opening of the Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough channels.
The Wrath of Harvey
This natural connection between the Gulf of Mexico and Mesquite and Aransas Bays was once again silted shut by a Category 4 hurricane late in the summer of 2017 when Hurricane Harvey made landfall on San Jose Island on August 25, 2017.
Harvey’s wind, storm surge, and powerful water currents altered portions of the Texas coast, with one positive change being the widening and deepening of Pass Cavallo at Port O’Connor. This crucial avenue for water exchange between the Gulf of Mexico and West Matagorda Bay had been slowly silting shut, but Harvey’s powerful strength scoured the channel running through Pass Cavallo, and even created a new Gulf access point at Sunday Beach at the tip of Matagorda Island on the west side of the pass.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey didn’t have the same positive effect on the Gulf’s entrance to Cedar Bayou some thirty-five miles to the south of Pass Cavallo. For whatever unexplainable reason, this massive storm that turned out being among the costliest natural disasters ever in the United States didn’t scour the opening at Cedar Bayou, but instead filled the entrance to the channel with sand, silt, and debris. These two natural Gulf-water passes, Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough, remain closed to this day.
The mobile sediments carried by the Gulf’s water currents are trying to stabilize sections of Texas beaches that were destroyed by Harvey. This process, along with Harvey’s elimination of Vinson Slough, is causing a natural build-up of sediment at the Gulf entrance to Cedar Bayou.
Ever since the last opening of Cedar Bayou in 2014, local, state, and federal organizations have been developing dredging plans to keep Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough open. The original plan was to perform maintenance dredging operations every five to seven years, but the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey means that the maintenance dredging schedule will now need to be pulled in by a couple of years.
Aransas County has funds in place for future maintenance dredging and is in the process of acquiring regulatory authorization for a 10-year maintenance dredging permit. CCA Texas Executive Director, Robby Byers, commented last July that maintenance dredging has always been a part of the Cedar Bayou project and that CCA Texas is attempting to move the progress along as quickly as possible, as they are certain that the maintenance dredging plans will do an adequate job of keeping both the Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough channels open.
Final approval for the dredging permit is still being worked, and officials are currently talking with FEMA regarding funds for the effort. The goal right now is to have the dredging done in 2020, as the window of opportunity for getting that done in 2019 has already passed – any and all work that takes place on the Cedar Bayou project must be done between April 15 and October 15 in any given year due to certain environmental and natural wildlife regulations.
How You Can Help
Research specialists who have been studying the Cedar Bayou area since the time of its most recent closure in 2017 state that adult marine life will not be negatively impacted as long as Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough are re-opened within the next few years. However, juvenile fish populations will be affected as long as these two natural Gulf passes remain closed.
In a nutshell, this means that the current adult fish population will be alright until such time that it is depleted, and that there will be no new fish population to replenish the current population until Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough are once joined together and re-opened.
As you can imagine, dredging is a costly endeavor. The costs for this next Cedar Bayou / Vinson Slough dredging effort are expected to be close to that of the 2014 re-opening costs, which were in the millions of dollars.
With that said, participating project partners, like Aransas County and CCA Texas, are going to need all the help they can get. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have spent any time fishing the lower portion of San Antonio Bay, Ayres Bay, Mesquite Bay, Carlos Bay, or Aransas Bay during times when Cedar Bayou has been open to the Gulf, you know the difference it makes on the fishing in these areas. We owe it to ourselves, to the fishery, and to the future generation of Texas coastal anglers to become the caretakers of our bays, and there couldn’t be a better opportunity to start doing so than right now.
If you would like to contribute toward the vital re-opening efforts of Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough, you can do so by contributing to the CCA-Texas effort on our Bay Flats Lodge website at https://www.bayflatslodge.com/cca-donations.
Thank you, and God bless!