AUSTIN, Texas -- Following an extensive biological data review and public scoping process, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is advocating regulation changes designed to improve opportunity for angler success by bolstering spotted seatrout populations.

While the recommendations would not affect the current 10 fish daily bag limit or 15-inch minimum size limit for trout, it would cap the maximum legal length limit at 25 inches and establish a boat limit during for-hire outings. Biologists suggest the effectiveness of guides in catching trout makes a restriction of this type a feasible solution since it would have little impact on the average angler, but could have a big impact in reducing overall harvest numbers. A boat limit would equal the combined daily bag limit for all customers. Guides could still fish and retain fish.

Also, under the proposed rules, anglers would still be allowed to retain one trout longer than 25 inches per day. "The effect of this maximum size limit, combined with the guide boat limit would be a 13 percent increase in the spawning biomass," cited Hal Osburn, TPWD Coastal Fisheries division director. "Our modeling efforts also indicate these changes would produce a 39 percent increase in the population of trout over 25 inches. Not only would there be more large trout to catch, but they would be caught by a greater distribution of all angler types over a longer period of time."

The last alteration to spotted seatrout regulations occurred in 1990 when the minimum size limit was increased from 14 to 15 inches. Since then, the angling population along the Texas coast has increased by 19 percent and the number of fishing guides has grown by 300 percent since the early 1980s. The proposed changes are designed to meet the additional needs of this growing segment of resource users, while ensuring a healthy future for the fishery, according to Osburn.

In addition to the trout proposals, TPWD staff briefed the Regulations Committee of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Wednesday, Nov. 6, on a series of issues that could result in changes to hunting and fishing regulations next year. Each year, TPWD considers changes in hunting and fishing regulations to achieve resource management objectives and maximize outdoor recreation opportunities.

The regulatory review process begins each fall after resource assessments by biologists and game wardens as well as independent recommendations received from various groups. During this scoping portion of the process, TPWD gathers public input and weighs the biological implications of each issue before presenting the commission with a set of proposed regulation changes in January. Additional discourse is sought during special public meetings in the spring, and the commission at its April meeting determines the final regulation changes.

In addition to the boat limit bag restrictions for professional guides, which would be applicable for all species caught in Texas freshwater and saltwater, the department is assessing other requirements. A guide permit fee increase commensurate with the impact on the public resource is among the potential changes, as well as a U.S. Coast Guard proficiency certification as a for-hire captain or equivalent training and testing.

Other proposals previewed include:

*Several suggestions related to deer management practices, such as expanding the Managed Lands Deer permit system to include the issuance of permits for mule deer in the Trans Pecos, and broadening of approval authority and imposition of an application deadline for Antlerless and Spike Buck Control permits. The agency is also looking at altering wildlife management plan components to replace 'deer census data' with 'deer population data,' which would allow consideration of such habitat indicators as browse surveys.

*Increasing the white-tailed deer bag limit from three deer, no more than one buck and two does, to four deer, no more than two bucks and two does, adding "doe days" to the hunting season and implementing a muzzleloader season in Harris County. (Also implementing a muzzleloader season in San Jacinto, Trinity and Walker counties).

*Implementation of a unique identification system for desert bighorn sheep skulls.

*Closure of pheasant season in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Matagorda, and Wharton counties, where harvest has been minimal in recent years due to pheasant habitat changes.

*Lengthening of the pheasant season in the Panhandle to 30 days and reducing the bag limit to two cocks per day. Current regulations provide for a 16-day pheasant season in 37 Panhandle counties, with a daily bag limit of three [censored] pheasants.

*Closure of the lesser prairie chicken season statewide to conserve populations and provide potential brood stocks for Texas and other states currently involved in prairie chicken restoration efforts. Currently, only eight counties in the Panhandle have a two-day open season for prairie chickens.

*Implement a statewide season for Mearn's quail and allow two Mearn's quail a day as part of an aggregate bag limit of quail. Mearn's quail only occur in the western Edwards Plateau and the Trans-Pecos regions. This proposal would be similar to the current rules relating to white-tipped doves, which allow for harvest statewide even though the species rarely occurs outside South Texas.

*Moving the closing date for the fall Rio Grande turkey hunting season in Brooks, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties from the last Sunday in February to the third Sunday in January to preserve sufficient numbers of turkey for reproduction in an area that has been affected by an extended drought.

*Replacement of the 16-inch minimum length limit with the statewide 14-inch minimum for largemouth bass on Lost Creek Reservoir.

*Replacement of the 14-18-inch slot limit with the statewide 14-inch minimum for largemouth bass on Lake Waxahachie.

*Replacement of the 12-inch minimum length limit with the statewide 10-inch minimum for white bass on 12 reservoirs and stream segments. Decreasing the minimum length limit to 10 inches would standardize size limits for white bass statewide, which could increase the opportunity for angler harvest and possibly increase utilization of the fishery. The change would also reduce angler confusion and make enforcement easier for TPWD game wardens.

Public comment on these issues and others of interest may be made to TPWD, Attn: Robert Macdonald, 4200 Smith School Road, 78744, or by phoning 800-792-1112 or by visiting the TPWD Web site ( and going to the public comment page.

SL 11/12/02

[This message has been edited by J.P. Greeson (edited 11-10-2002).]

The solution to any problem - work, love, money, whatever - is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be. --John Gierach

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