Presenter: Robin Riechers

Commission Agenda Item No. 5
Action
2003-2004 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation Closed Season for the Use of Crab Traps
November 2003

I. Executive Summary: The Legislature has provided that crab traps left in the coastal waters of Texas during a closed season are litter that may be picked up and disposed of by any citizen (i.e., the pickup authority is no longer restricted to law enforcement personnel during portions of that closed season). Previously, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPWC) annually has adopted specific closing and reopening dates establishing a closed season for the use of crab traps. This action item creates a definition for the closed season which avoids the need to establish specific dates (i.e., third Friday in February for 10 consecutive days) as had been used in other TPWC Proclamations. If this item were adopted, annual Commission action to set specific closure dates would no longer be required.

II. Discussion: The crab resources in Texas provide for valuable sport and commercial fisheries. Over 6 million pounds are harvested annually with a dockside value of $4.0 million. Responsibility for establishing seasons, bag limits, means and methods for taking wildlife resources, including crabs, is delegated to the TPWC under Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 61, Uniform Wildlife Regulatory Act (Wildlife Conservation Act of 1983). The crab fishery is managed using guidelines in the Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP) adopted by the Commission in 1992. That FMP noted concerns about abandoned crab traps. It is currently estimated that tens of thousands of abandoned crab traps in coastal waters result in navigation hazards and contribute to resource depletion. Senate Bill 1410 from the 77th Texas Legislature provided the Commission new authority to establish a closed crabbing season for the purpose of removing abandoned crab traps. Senate Bill 607 from the 78th Texas Legislature, in regular session, declared any crab trap in public waters as “abandoned” on the first day of a closed season.

Proposed changes to 31 TAC, §65.78, Crabs and Ghost Shrimp, will establish a closed season for the period February 20 – February 29, 2004 during which the use of crab traps in public waters will be prohibited. Removal of abandoned crab traps will enhance boating safety and aid in the conservation and management of crab resources.

For the first two years of the closure, the closure occurred during the last two weeks of February and lasted for 16 days. Senate Bill 607 allows the Department to close the fishery for the minimum of 10 days as authorized in the previous legislation and still have two weekends to utilize volunteers and Department staff to pick up abandoned traps. Department staff met with members of the Texas Crab Advisory Committee on September 15, 2003 concerning the reduced closure period and the timing of the closure.

During the first two years of the closure approximately 12,000 traps have been collected and removed from the public waters of the state. Around 500 volunteers have participated each year in the abandoned crab trap removal program. Department biologists and observers randomly selected traps to determine the composition of organisms within the abandoned traps. The most frequent species observed were blue crabs and stone crabs. In addition, recreationally and commercially important finfish species including black drum, red drum, southern flounder, spotted seatrout and sheepshead were reported and released.

III. Recommendation: The staff recommends the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopt the following motion:

“The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopts amendments to 31 TAC §65.78 (located in Exhibit A), concerning Crabs and Ghost Shrimp as published in the September 26, 2003 issue for 30-day public comment (28 TexReg 8302).”

Attachments - 2
1. Exhibit A - Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation. - §65.78 (Crabs and Ghost Shrimp)
2. Exhibit B - Fiscal Note


Commission Agenda Item No. 5
Exhibit A

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Regulations

Crab Trap Removal Season
Proposed Preamble

1. Introduction

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) proposes an amendment to §65.78, concerning the Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation. The proposed rule would establish a 10-day closed season for crab traps.

The crab resources in Texas support valuable sport and commercial fisheries. Over six million pounds are harvested annually with a dockside value of $4.0 million. Responsibility for establishing seasons, bag limits, means and methods for taking wildlife resources, including crabs, is delegated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission under Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 61, Uniform Wildlife Regulatory Act (Wildlife Conservation Act of 1983). The crab fishery is managed using guidelines in the Crab Fishery Management Plan (FMP) adopted by the Commission in 1992. That FMP noted concerns about abandoned crab traps. Senate Bill 1410 from the 77th Texas Legislature provided the commission new authority to establish a season closed to the use of crab traps for the purpose of removing abandoned crab traps. The legislation authorizes the commission to create a closed season lasting a minimum of 10 days to a maximum of 30 days beginning no earlier than January 31st and ending no later than April 1st during any year of a closure. Senate Bill 607 from the 78th Texas Legislature, in regular session, declared “abandoned” any crab trap in public waters beginning the first day of a closed season.

Based on review of last two years of closure, and through consultation with the Crab Advisory Committee, the department proposes to begin the closure each year on the third Friday in February and continuing for 10 consecutive days. The commercial crab season then reopens after the 10-day closed crab season and placement and/or use of crab traps in public waters is then allowed. This language allows members of the public, as well as members of industry, adequate notice of future closures that provides benefits to both.

2. Fiscal Note.

Robin Riechers, staff economist, has determined that for each of the first five years that the amendment as proposed is in effect, there will be no fiscal implications to state or local governments as a result of enforcing or administering the amendment.

3. Public Benefit-Cost Note.

Mr. Riechers also has determined that for each of the first five years the rule as proposed is in effect, the public benefits anticipated as a result of enforcing or administering the rules as proposed will be:

(A) Better achievement of optimum yield for the crab fishery, increased conservation through reduced waste of the crab resource and other aquatic organisms, and increased boating safety by decreasing current navigation hazards. Overall, increased benefits to the public will be to provide on a continuing basis greater protection and enhancement of the crab population.

Anticipated benefits to the crab fishery include a reduction in current crab mortality associated with lost or abandoned traps. These crabs will be available for subsequent harvest and contribution to the spawning stock. Based on the number of traps removed in 2002 and the observed species found within the traps, it is estimated that on the day of the trap-removal event over 11,000 organisms were saved. The one-day release prevented the waste of over 5,500 crabs, 3,000 stone crabs, 855 sheepshead, and 36 diamond back terrapins. Studies from Louisiana indicate an average loss of 26 crabs/trap/year when no degradable panels are installed. Based on the observed traps, 66 % of the traps collected did not appear to have degradable panels. Using the percent that did not have degradable panels and the total traps collected, it is estimated that over 138,000 crabs were saved on an annual basis due to the removal of abandoned traps in 2002. The program will directly benefit the crab fishermen, the public, and the resource by wasting fewer crabs and other organisms. It is estimated that based on average weights of 0.5 pounds/crab, the direct benefit from the cleanup in 2002 was 69,000 additional pounds of crabs available for harvest throughout the year. The benefits listed above are based on the cleanup of 2002. The number of abandoned traps removed in 2003 was approximately one- half of the amount collected in 2002. While the benefits of the one-time cleanup in total organisms saved would have been reduced by approximately 50%, the overall cumulative benefit of the cleanup in consecutive years is that fewer organisms have the opportunity to be trapped in these abandoned traps. The direct release of organisms in subsequent years may likely be less due to fewer traps that may be available for removal. Previous estimates of lost traps are based on trap loss by legal crab fishermen and do not even consider illegal traps or recreational traps which are lost. While the current limited entry system has probably decreased the number of lost traps per individual it has not eliminated these losses.

(B) Mr. Riechers has also determined that for each of the first five years that the amendment as proposed is in effect, there will be no economic costs to micro-businesses, small businesses, or persons who are required to comply with the amendment.

(C) The department has not filed a local impact statement with the Texas Workforce Commission as required by the Administrative Procedures Act, §2001.022, as the agency has determined that the rule as proposed will not impact local economies.

(D) The department has determined that there will not be a taking of private real property, as defined by Government Code, Chapter 2007, as a result of the proposed rule.

4. Request for Public Comment.

Comments on the proposed rule may be submitted to Robin Riechers, Coastal Fisheries Division, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, Texas 78744; (512) 389-4645 or 1-800-792-1112 extension 4645; e-mail at robin.riechers@tpwd.state.tx.us by no later than November 1, 2003. Comments may be submitted orally at public hearings that are scheduled around the state. Please call or check the TPWD web site, www.tpwd.state.tx.us to find the most convenient hearing.

5. Statutory Authority.

The amendment is proposed under Parks and Wildlife Code, §78.115, which authorizes the commission to establish by rule a closed season for the use of crab traps in the public water of Texas, and requires that the closed season be not less than ten days or more than 30 days

between January 31 and April 1 in years designated by the commission.

The proposed amendment affects Parks and Wildlife Code, Chapter 78.

§65.78. Crabs and Ghost Shrimp.

(a) Bag, possession and size limits.

(1) It is unlawful while fishing on public waters to have in possession crabs or ghost shrimp in excess of the daily bag limit as established for those waters.

(2) There are no bag, possession, or size limits on crabs or ghost shrimp except as provided in these rules.

(3) It is unlawful to:

(A) possess egg-bearing (sponge) crabs or stone crabs;

(B) possess blue crabs less than five inches in width (measured across the widest point of the body from tip of spine to tip of spine) except that not more than 5.0%, by number, of undersized crabs may be possessed for bait purposes only, if placed in a separate container at the time of taking;

(C) remove or possess the left claw from a stone crab (each retained claw must be at least 2-1/2 inches long as measured from the tip of the immovable claw to the first joint behind the claw);

(D) fail to return immediately a stone crab to the waters where caught;

(E) buy or sell a female crab that has its abdominal apron detached; or

(F) possess more than 20 ghost shrimp (Callichiris islagrande, formerly Callianassa islagrande) per person.

(b) Seasons. There are no closed seasons for the taking of crabs, except as listed within this section.

(c) Closed Crab Trap Season: It is unlawful to place, fish, or leave a crab trap or crab trap component in the coastal waters of the state from the third Friday in February for 10 consecutive days [12:01 am Saturday, February 15, 2003 through 12:00 midnight Sunday, March 2, 2003].

This agency hereby certifies that the proposal has been reviewed by legal counsel and found to be within the agency's authority to adopt.

Issued in Austin, Texas, on


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