Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission
Regulations Committee Meeting
Nov. 1, 2006Commission Hearing Room
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
BE IT REMEMBERED, that heretofore on the 1st day of November, 2006, there came to be heard matters under the regulatory authority of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, in the Commission Hearing Room of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Headquarters Complex, to wit:
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:
- T. Dan Friedkin, Houston, Texas, Committee Chair
- Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons, San Antonio, Texas, Chairman
- Donato D. Ramos, Laredo, Texas
- Peter M. Holt, San Antonio, Texas
- J. Robert Brown, El Paso, Texas
- Mark E. Bivins, Amarillo, Texas
- John D. Parker, Lufkin, Texas
- Philip Montgomery, Dallas, Texas
- Ned S. Holmes, Houston, Texas
THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT:
- Robert L. Cook, Executive Director, and other personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
P R O C E E D I N G S
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. The first order of business is the Approval of Previous Committee Meeting Minutes, which have already been distributed. Do we have a motion?
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I so move.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I second.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Moved by Bivins, second, Brown. All in favor?
(A chorus of ayes.)
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Opposed?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Hearing none, motion carries.
Okay. Item Number 1, Land and Water Update. Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In FY '06, just to update you gentlemen on two or three things here, we increased the total number of Wildlife Management Plans to 5,482 different plans across the state, covering just under 19 million acres. That represents an approximate doubling of plans on acres since FY '01. So that program is going well. We believe there's still a lot of opportunity out there, a lot of interest, and we continue to work hard to get those plans in place, and we're involved in that process.
At the direction of the 79th Texas Legislature, the Coastal Fisheries Division has been exploring a rule proposal that would allow private citizens, organizations, or corporations to participate in our Artificial Reef Program in a more direct way. The results of scoping and a public hearing process will be brought to you during today's meeting.
Finally, offshore mariculture is a growing industry worldwide. Recent inquiries involving the Gulf of Mexico have revealed that our rules cannot address this potential industry in their current form. The results of scoping and public hearing process will be brought to you in today's meeting.
That's all I have. Any questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I believe the ‑‑ Item Number 2, 2007-2008 Statewide Hunting and Fishing Proclamation Preview. Dr. McKinney.
DR. McKINNEY: Chairman, Members, for the record, I'm Dr. Larry McKinney, Director of Coastal Fisheries. I've asked Robin Riechers, my Director of Science and Policy, to join me up here so we can go through this with you.
We have these items here, there are five items that we have proposed to go out on scoping with this round. So I want to go over those with you a little bit, starting with our primary one, the spotted seatrout. We briefed you on this fairly thoroughly previously, but I want to cover a couple of important aspects of where we are on this particular proposal.
And really ‑‑ it revolves around ‑‑ and, again, we've given you quite a bit of information in past briefings, but from the biological perspective, it revolves around three pieces of information, which I'd like to go ahead and present to you. And this is one of them that has certainly come to our attention, and that we're concerned about, and that is our population levels in Laguna Madre where in the ‑‑ statewide, in all of our bays, every one of them statewide, we've seen a steady increase in our numbers of spotted seatrout, as shown here.
In the Lower Laguna Madre is the one area in which the population numbers have gone down over this same period of time. In fact, this year, for the first time, the population levels in the Lower Laguna Madre dropped below the statewide average. So there's a situation going on there that's not going elsewhere in the state that we need to take a look at, and we are.
This is the other slide, and this is a spawning biomass, and really what that means is this is by pounds, the number of female fish that are in spawning situations that can contribute to a spawn in any particular area. And you can see the trend here is certainly downward and of concern to us. Right now, in the Laguna Madre, we don't really have a recruitment problem. There's sufficient biomass there to fill up the available habitat. It's there. But as this trend continues down, and we get into situations like a freeze, or a red tide, or something like that, our ability to recover from those situations depends on a sufficient biomass, and this is of concern.
And the third one, third graph, it talks about length frequency issues, and about how our fish ‑‑ what pressure are on our fish. We know we have ‑‑ we have some issues in the Lower Laguna Madre from an environmental perspective we're looking at. And we have that up and down the coast. But there clearly some areas we're looking at there as well. But one of the questions, of course, is, you know, why this population going down, what's contributing to that downward trend?
And this particular graph, I think, speaks to that, and when you look at how ‑‑ where the fish are disappearing from, once the fish pass that minimum length, and you can see it begin to shift, we're losing, in the last few years, more fish ‑‑ they start dropping out at that 18 to 20 inch. That's a classic fishing pressure graph. I mean, there may be issues going on there, but fishing pressure is contributing to the decline in that population. And this points that out. So we know that that is a factor, and that's a factor we can address directly, and take a look at it.
Now this issue has been so important to us ‑‑ of course, we have already been out scoping and talking to folks about it, ahead of our normal scoping process. And one of the issues that we've been laying out on the table is, is this an opportunity, or time, for us to take a look at regional regs. We typically have not done that. We talked about that here in the ‑‑ before the Commission, that we've always done statewide regulations, but is this the time that we begin to address some of these issues on a regional level. Is this the best approach to address this problem and can it fit.
And that's something we have scoped and looked at, and we certainly think there's an opportunity to do that. And there's a lot of opinions on that, I'm sure you've heard, and will hear them. But that's what this whole process is about, is to get that input.
Just to give you a little update on our recent scoping meetings, we did begin to lay out some scenarios of what would we do, what kind of regulations would we look at on a regional basis, and, of course, they really fall into two areas. One is changing the minimum length, and changing bag limits, or some combination of those. And so we modeled all of those primarily, for example, increasing the minimum size length to 16 inches, decreasing the bag limit by seven, six, five, four, even three fish, and those combinations.
One way to look at it is on this table here, the one decision that we did make pretty quickly is that the option of looking at increasing the minimum length of a catch up to 16 inches really didn't get us where we wanted to go. It didn't hit where we wanted on some of the spawning biomass and some of those other issues. And as a way to kind of keep it simple, we said, let's just take a look at bag limits, so we don't have any kind of comments, just look at the most simple approach, and, of course, these are the options here.
And as you might expect, the more restrictive you are, the more quickly you get ‑‑ the more ‑‑ the better results you get. And, in fact, about ‑‑ you get the most ‑‑ about half your benefits in the first two to three years. It's kind of a curve that goes up ‑‑ you see an increase in these spawning biomass and the populations very quickly in the first two or three years, and then it begins to taper off. But you get some pretty quick results in that period of time.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: What is this information based on, these previous ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: These are models. These are actual models.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Okay.
DR. McKINNEY: These are based on ‑‑ these are models.
COMMISSIONER MONTGOMERY: Does this assume certain rates of growth, or ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, and population levels, and based on our own data that we collect and the [inaudible] based on that data, they're very good. We ‑‑ a lot places where you don't have good information for models, we do, and so the models are pretty good, have proven to be in case.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is this specific to the Lower Laguna?
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Which is ‑‑ the Northern border of the Lower Laguna is which ‑‑ is what?
DR. McKINNEY: Blanco, along the Blanco.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Along the Blanco.
DR. McKINNEY: And that's one of those areas.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What other issues could attribute ‑‑ could you attribute this to, other than just fishing pressure?
DR. McKINNEY: Well, one of the things we looked at, there is ‑‑ it is a confined area down there, there is a lot of growth in that area, certainly the Arroyo Colorado and other discharges are coming in there with commensurate conversion over from ranching to intensive agriculture. The population growth down there is just off the charts. We've had brown tides and red tides. There's a series of things that no doubt are having an affect in that area that we are having to contend with.
But on the other hand, when you take a look at other sport fish, like red drum, red drum are record numbers down there. I mean, we've never seen red drum like that ever.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Now I think Commissioner Bivins' question though is what ‑‑ I believe was answered by Randy last time he was up here, on the water quality issue, and if maybe ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: I've got ‑‑ there's some other ‑‑ recently from people claiming that the economic impact of this is going to be devastating to the fishing guide industry. And I know you're aware of it.
DR. McKINNEY: Sure.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And then also there's silting issues that they think contribute more to this than the actual fishing pressure.
DR. McKINNEY: Oh, for the Mansfield ‑‑ well, I can respond to it this way, spotted seatrout, their reproductive pattern ‑‑ they stay within an estuary that they're in pretty much. They may go up to the pass a little bit, but they're mostly ‑‑ they're estuarine fish. They hang in their private water.
Redfish, on the other hand, of course, they school up in November and head off shore, they go through their spawning, the eggs drift back in on currents. Now there's no doubt that the shoaling in Mansfield, and so forth, is an issue for boat traffic and that type, and we'd like to see something change there. But one indication of is there sufficient water exchange to support the system is redfish, red drum. And red drum are just off the charts in that area. So that gives me some indication, at least from a biological perspective, our water exchange is adequate.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, the other thing is, the recruitment to our gill nets, which is basically a larger size fish, as Larry mentioned earlier, recruitment has not dropped yet. So we're actually reaching the fishery sized, the catchable-sized fish, and they're dropping after that period of time. And really the mortality that occurs after that period of time is mostly man at that point. It's mostly ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: And that's the key point ‑‑ I appreciate you bringing that up. That's exactly right. That chart I showed you ‑‑ let me go back to it ‑‑ I think it's important, this is an important topic ‑‑ here, when you look at that type of thing, those fish ‑‑ up to that point, up to ‑‑ they're getting into the legal sized fish, we're getting recruitments of fish, you know, to hit those populations numbers, but where the fish begin to disappear is at the size where you catch them. So that's there.
Now to respond to your question about the economics, and that's ‑‑ I understand that, but from a biological perspective, my response to that is, you can either pay me now, or you can pay me later. Because when I look at these trends ‑‑ I look at these trends, and if you'll all wait another four to six years, I'll come back and tell you, guys, we'll be closing seasons, or we'll be doing some other things, because our options will be much less.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Larry, are these fish too delicate to have a slot like you have for redfish?
DR. McKINNEY: Well, we already have one almost ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Well, you know, if you had a 15 to ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Are you talking about catching the mortality from catch and release, that type of thing?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes.
DR. McKINNEY: No, we're not really ‑‑ I mean, you've got some numbers right there.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, from a release mortality standpoint, it's not really a ‑‑ basically most of the fish survived when we were dealing with this issue in the early 2000s. We get a great deal of survival of those fish. But the most important part about the difference in the characteristics is this fish only lives to seven or nine years, and so as ‑‑ they don't have the same characteristics. What we're trying to do with the slot in red drum is escape fish to the Gulf to spawn and that's just not the issue here. We already have them to the spawning age, they're disappearing after that. Our minimum size on it is already set where they would have ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: But spawning age is, what, 20 inches?
MR. RIECHERS: No, no, more like 12 to 14.
MALE VOICE: Yes, 12 to 14.
DR. McKINNEY: About half the spotted seatrout are ‑‑ in one year they're sexually mature, and in two years it's 78 percent. So they're whacking it ‑‑ they're in there ‑‑
MR. RIECHERS: When we changed from a 12 to a 14, we were trying to guarantee spawning success. And so that really ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Put the map back up there.
DR. McKINNEY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Now let's talk about water quality, and the numbers of the seatrout. Now if you ‑‑ is there a little line there, going across there, is that a little green line going across there, about half way up?
DR. McKINNEY: It could be. That's probably not a scale map, that's probably a county line there or something.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: A county line or something.
DR. McKINNEY: You're thinking arroyo or something?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Yes. Then ‑‑ no, I wasn't thinking about that, but what ‑‑ do we have the numbers of seatrout in the north half, as opposed to the numbers of seatrout in the lower half?
DR. McKINNEY: No, our sampling scheme is basically a system, a system where we do a randomized sampling type thing. So we don't sample sufficiently to cross out any of our system. It's just system-wide. I don't think there's anything we can do with that, that I'm aware of.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Okay. What I was trying ‑‑ you mentioned the Arroyo Colorado a moment ago, and do you have any information with respect to the quality of water near and around the Arroyo Colorado?
DR. McKINNEY: We do, and, in fact, there are some issues there. And as I was reminded earlier, that Arroyo ‑‑ although I tend to think of the Arroyo, because that's ‑‑ I think it's a big source, there are other inputs as well, a few other tributaries, but it's ‑‑ there are some issues there. And we have a crew ‑‑ a group that's working with TCEQ on a TMBL study for that area too. So there's ‑‑ and I'm ‑‑ our guys are beginning to look at it, and there's some relationships in there that I can't quite sort out, but there's something there. And our guys are going to look at it, and are looking at it, to see if we can figure it out. But it's part of the issue. There's no doubt that we have changed that dynamic down there, and there's some water quality issues ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Because, you know, there's been a population explosion, and like you say, an exchange in agricultural uses ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: The rains have been more heavy ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: ‑‑ and more things may be ‑‑ we'll get another lawyer down there ‑‑ that may have some sort of influence in the reproductive process of the fish down on the lower part. You know, I would think that we would want to know those things ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, I mean, that ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: ‑‑ prior to making a solid decision.
DR. McKINNEY: Well, the thing with that, on the environmental side of it, those are long term issues. I'm going to deal with those no matter what, I mean, and we're going to go at it. But laying on top of that, no matter what happens down there, a lot of which is not in our control, TCEQ and others, we still have to portion out our fishing resource to make sure that it does the best it can. So it's kind of a two-pronged type deal. There's just no way ‑‑ that's the one thing we can control, and we'll have to deal with no matter how good or how bad the water quality in Laguna Madre gets, we need to trust them both, and we're going to do that. But we have to do them both.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, I don't think it should be looked at as this is an alternative to dealing with the other issues. The other issues are there, and we're going to ‑‑ and we're working with TCEQ to advance that, but the data's pretty clear that you've still got recruitment to that ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ cash stake. So the weak link is not, right now, the recruitment of biomass to that point, that's ‑‑ the weak link may be water quality and quantity in the future, but today that evidence doesn't show that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Go to the next ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Back up ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: ‑‑ panel please. Or the ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Okay. Yes, that's right.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: ‑‑ model. Here we go.
DR. McKINNEY: This is what we propose to go out and scope here. Here are the ‑‑ basically here's some options to look at.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Harvest ‑‑ the harvest line ‑‑ obviously there's variability there. Is that an input in the model?
DR. McKINNEY: That's ‑‑ go ahead, Robin.
MR. RIECHERS: Well, the harvest basically is based on current recreational fishing mortality and current fishing pressure and so the model ‑‑ one of the outputs of the model is to basically estimate what the change would have in regards to harvest, and that's obviously one of the reasons we threw the 10- fish, 16- inch minimum. The minimum size limit immediately has a 25 percent reduction in the harvest level. So it wasn't as palatable an option in our mind as some of the other options that are on the table there where people would still be able to go and harvest fish at near the same levels, but we still get an increase in the overall biomass and an increase in the population abundance through time.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So you're saying if we went with the 10 fish, minimum 16 inch we would have a 25 percent reduction in the harvest?
DR. McKINNEY: Right away, yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: And that would be second only to the three fish, 15 minimum?
MR. RIECHERS: That's correct. But it didn't ‑‑ and one of the reasons why we went ahead and kind of moved it off the table was it didn't necessarily change as much the spawning biomass, and then the total population as some of the other options that we had up there.
DR. McKINNEY: In fact, it hurt ‑‑ it continues down. It goes down.
MR. RIECHERS: Now I might say, we're still in the scoping ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And it gives you relatively little in the population increase in large fish.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes, I will say we're still in the scoping phase, so I don't think, while we may have looked at this option as not as feasible an option, it'll really be January when we come to you with the proposals stating what the staff proposal is at that point in time. So certainly in our next scoping phase, the 10-fish, 16-inch minimum could be discussed, as well as even ‑‑ we have had some discussions about changing other statewide rules and not do a regionalization approach.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, but 10 fish really doesn't mean anything because the average is far less than that anyway. Right?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Do we have a ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'm sorry, what's the average?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: And do we have it for the Lower Laguna Madre?
DR. McKINNEY: I'll have to get it for you.
MALE VOICE: It's low.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Do we have a timeline, in other words, if we implement the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth, is there a timeline as to when you ‑‑ as to when we would achieve what we want to achieve from a time perspective? In other words, if we implement the 10, it'll take us four years to get there.
DR. McKINNEY: Well, the bad news, of course, is that the life expectancy of these fish are seven to nine years, so in order for a regulation to have its full effect, you're going to have to go through an entire life cycle of fish, seven to nine years. But what the model does show, on the plus side, is a great percentage of those benefits, the increases in the large fish and the spawning biomass occurs in the first three years. You get a big curve, and then it begins to level off. So you get a big bang in the first ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But that big ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ couple of years, but ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ but you think that that big bang does not reach a level to restore it to where it should be?
DR. McKINNEY: If you wanted ‑‑ well, what should it be? And that's ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, what it should be is in comparison to the, I guess, the Upper Laguna Madre. In other words, there's got to be a standard to which we're shooting for. And my question is ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: My goal right now on these things is to turn those ‑‑ the spawning biomass curve and the population curve around ‑‑
MALE VOICE: That's starting to decline.
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ then we can come back and say, okay, do we want to back off, or do we want to stay on this, do we ‑‑ whatever it takes to keep that trend up is where I want to go. And that's ‑‑ I want to turn it, that's my first goal.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: But we then take that spiral, or that upside, and what do we compare that to, to what the Upper Laguna Madre's doing?
DR. McKINNEY: No.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: What's the ‑‑
MR. RIECHERS: What is the comparison here was the change in the Lower Laguna Madre numbers. And so Lower Laguna Madre, until just most recently, the last data samples, was still at or near the top of our bay systems, but it wasn't equal to its historic highs, and so that's what we're trying to ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Okay. So we're trying to go back to the historical highs at the Laguna Madre, independent of the rest of the systems.
MR. RIECHERS: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: And reverse the trend, obviously.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Okay.
DR. McKINNEY: And who knows if this situation ‑‑ I mean, if this thing goes like we'd like, to where we go in this type of thing, when you look at that bottom line, population of trout 25 inches or greater, and you see what happens there, in three or four years, if we're doing what we would like to see and we're starting to get bigger trout there. People may say, wait a minute, we don't necessarily want quantities of fish. We like the fact that we got all these big fish, we want keep on that trend. Then I want to be in a position we can make some management decisions based on what works best for that system and the people down there.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Holmes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Larry, you may have said this, and I just didn't hear it, but over what time period do you expect these results?
DR. McKINNEY: It'll take ‑‑ for the full run it could take up to nine years, but three years is what we ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: But that's a nine-year run, that model is the result after nine years?
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, but ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: But most of it occurs in the first three.
DR. McKINNEY: Fifty to 70 percent after three; then it's a steady incline. So we don't need to see ‑‑ this is like on the rules on the big trout type of thing, it's about three years is what we'd to expect to see.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So whether we take the 10 fish, three fish, it doesn't make a difference, you still have the same nine year run?
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, that's what ‑‑ if you're going to put those regs as a full life cycle.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Brown.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Dr. McKinney, you're drawing the line at the land cut, so you're not including Baffin Bay in that?
DR. McKINNEY: No, that's in our ‑‑ statistically it's our Upper Laguna Madre ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BROWN: You know?
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ group.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: But your number's coming out of Baffin are still where they need to be, so they're still going up and ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Up in big trout and lots of trout. Excellent shape. Excellent shape. That's the biggest trout we've ever had.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, this last summer was great.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions or discussion?
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Let me ‑‑ oh, one question. What do you attribute the Baffin Bay and north?
DR. McKINNEY: Mr. Cook's management.
DR. McKINNEY: Well, you know, I think, although my biologists would say we're not ready ‑‑ where we need to make that statement yet, but the changes we made in trout regulations before, they're starting to show up now. In 2003, when we did that, I think we're starting to see some of that impact. And we've had good years. No freezes. That's a big deal. There's a lot there ‑‑ I'd like to take as much credit ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Take credit for that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Do you think the freezes in the Lower Laguna had any impact in what you're seeing now?
DR. McKINNEY: They were devastating. They were devastating.
DR. McKINNEY: The freeze in Lower Laguna is just a killer. I mean, it's just ‑‑ I'll show you some pictures ‑‑ I mean, it was just ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I've seen them ‑‑ so ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: I don't want to see those again, that's a fact. But that's one of the problems is we get spawning biomass populations down so low it could take us a long time to recover. That's where that biomass business comes into play.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right.
DR. McKINNEY: I'm sorry. Should I proceed with ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: This is not the last panel. Carry on. Sorry.
DR. McKINNEY: No, unfortunately I have ‑‑ this is the before ‑‑ but I have other ‑‑ let me get through this. Okay. One of the other areas that we'll take a look at is the sheepshead. The sheepshead fishery ‑‑ and kind of whole different perspective on it ‑‑ but this, as it shows here, comprises about 4 percent of all our recreational landings, and it's certainly growing in popularity throughout the state. We do have even a commercial fishery with this too. A landing's about 70,000 pounds a year and this type of thing.
But one of the things that ‑‑ and our current limits are here ‑‑ one of the things we want to go out and scope though is to take a look at increasing the minimum size limit up to 15 inches. And this is on track with a concern of mine, a kind of looking down the road situation, is that as our ‑‑ and the good news is, we're going to see more people fishing on the coast. Of course, the bad news is we're going to see more people fishing on the coast.
And so I'm seeing a situation ‑‑ I want to be able to put all of our fisheries, our recreational fisheries, potential fisheries in a situation where those populations have a chance to reach sexual maturity, reproduce, begin to build the population before we start taking them out. And so as we go along, I want to be ‑‑ over the year, be able to lay these things out and scope this out to see if we can move that direction so that when the pressure does come on the sheepshead and others that the population will be at a situation to handle it, and not wait till we have to react to something and do something more drastic. So that's what we want to go out and scope on sheepshead.
Even further is the protection of diamondback terrapin, this is a marine turtle. This is an issue. These turtles do occur up and down the coast. Historically, they're a little more restricted now, but we do find them and they do get taken in our crab trap from time to time. When we look at our Crab Trap Removal Program, for example, we have come across them, both dead and alive. And one of the things that ‑‑ some informative information we see, that of all the turtles that are taken, 50 percent of them, we see them in crab traps and shrimp trawls.
And one of the things that I want to take a look at and scope is that I don't want to get in a situation down the road, if these things are listed ‑‑ they're not listed now but they are of concern ‑‑ if they become Federally listed or protected, I really don't want to get in a situation if I can avoid that, of where our crabbers have to have escape panels and TEDs and crab traps and things like that. I'd rather try to address this up front and just say, let's just have a no take situation.
When you look on the internet, you begin to see that these terrapins are being sold, they're being captive bred, but some are being captured in the wild too, but they have some value, in this particular had $125 a piece for these terrapins. Here's one that kind of scares me that some fellow wants to buy them by the ton. I mean, that's optimistic. That's why ‑‑ they won't even find a ton of them when they're ‑‑ but he's ‑‑ and he's talking particularly to crabbers. That gets a crabber's attention, so we're kind of concerned about that.
You can see they want to buy them live. A few things make a very common sight. They had ‑‑ he had eight and a half adults. I don't know where that half adult is, maybe it's a juvenile, but he wants to sell them for $3,000 a pair. The point is, there's a value to these things. We want to get ahead of that deal and put out a scope, let's have a no take on this type of thing.
Now I know that our ‑‑ we're working very closely with out Nongame Program, and they're looking at the turtle issue altogether and appropriately so. I know you've heard comments in all of this, and so we're going to work with them and scope this out to see what people think about coming up with a no take for this marine turtle, see where we need to go.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Could we be underestimating by catch, or maybe it's a lot higher than we think, or you think our numbers are good on it.
DR. McKINNEY: I don't know. Robin, what do you ‑‑
MR. RIECHERS: Well, we ‑‑ the Nongame permit is where we would determine whether or not there was a lot of catch that is then going into some sort of market. But they have to possess greater than 25, and then they also have to have that permit, supposedly, if they're going to sell it. It's our viewpoint though that if you're in the crab fishery and you catch a few of these animals, you're not going to catch them in those high quantities. But once they get to their house, it's pretty hard to track what they might be doing, and with the kind of values you're seeing, we would just like that to stop before there's actually a market developed.
DR. McKINNEY: And we hope that they're not doing it. And, in fact, if we can ahead of it, they never will be. And then no one's hurt by this thing. That's part of the deal.
On another area, tarpon scoping. We put into effect the rules now that you can keep one fish over a certain length to go for a state record. Well, we have a new state record. So caught by ‑‑ off the Galveston Pier on a piece of dead menhaden. So technically you don't need a boat; you just need a dead menhaden and a line and a pier and you catch a state record.
At any rate, so one of the things we'll have to do, or want to do, is raise the minimum length to 90 inches from 80 inches, so someone could have a chance to get a State record, but it's to protect all those fish under 90 inches.
We had the fish at Expo, as you guys know. I guess ‑‑ I've never tried to pick up a 200-pound fish, had to help pick that thing up and load it in the back of the truck and it weighed every bit of 200 pounds.
DR. McKINNEY: A couple of clean up items ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: How old would that fish have been?
DR. McKINNEY: 200 pounds. Well, they can live up to 50 years ‑‑ 75 ‑‑ 50 or 75 years of age, and that fish could be 50.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So and increasing from 80 inches to 90 inches, what would be the age differential, more or less?
DR. McKINNEY: I'd have to get back with you. I'm not going to guess, but from 40 to 50, you know, that range, something like that. I could ‑‑ we have some ‑‑ but that's the range we're talking about 40, 50 years.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: They can live as long as an elephant.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: What would be an average tarpon? I have no idea.
DR. McKINNEY: Average ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: tarpon.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Size?
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes, size-wise, length.
DR. McKINNEY: Well, at maturity they're going to be running 6-7 foot.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Well, you can calculate ‑‑ I know I've done it fly fishing for tarpon ‑‑ you can calculate this just taking the [indiscernible] lengths and calculate the weight within, you know, a pound.
DR. McKINNEY: And as a matter of fact, we established after that, after dropping the tarpon tag requirements we [indiscernible] inland and established a catch and release record, based on that very thing. And you still get a state record without having to bring a dead fish to shore.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, IGFA prefers you don't.
DR. McKINNEY: It's a good trend to go in.
The last two items ‑‑ we do have on the record books ‑‑ and this was maybe 10 or 12 years ago when airboats were first starting to be used on the coast, they would ‑‑ some, I guess, would say they've used airboats to herd schools of redfish up into shallow waters and that type of thing, harass them. And so there was a rule passed to not allow airboats to take in that activity. Well, of course, nowadays we have shallow draft boats and others and they can go in those shallow waters too. So we thought, let's just clean this up and just say no vessel ‑‑ you can't use a vessel to harass fish. Let's just in case Law Enforcement could ever make one of those cases ‑‑ and they're very difficult to do ‑‑ we didn't want them to be locked in by just saying it's only airboats, if they see that activity. So that was there.
And then, again, we're going to talk about this later, we need to accept offshore aquaculture facilities when they have a permit from bag and size limits, when they bring these fish in and land them from their commercial operation. Clearly they could be smaller, or larger, or whatever, as long as there are five fish. But they would have to still adhere to bag limits, unless we gave them an exemption. So we want to ‑‑ we need to address that issue so that a commercial operation could operate. And we'll talk about that in the aquaculture rules coming up.
That concludes our ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
All right. Committee Item Number 3, Commission Delegation of Authority to Close and Open ‑‑ no, we're ‑‑
MR. COOK: Go to Inland Fisheries.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Inland Fisheries.
MR. COOK: Statewide.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, statewide, same one.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Still on our Statewide Hunting, that's right. Okay. Ken.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Okay. Commissioners, my name is Ken Kurzawski in Inland Fisheries Division. And today I'm here to brief you on some of the fishing regulation changes we're looking at for the coming year.
Our first one is Lake Texoma. Our current regulations there for striped bass, we have a daily bag limit of 10 fish. We ‑‑ no minimum length limit there, two fish over 20 inches or greater. The possession limit is also 10 fish, because all our possession limits are based on the statewide daily bag, and for striped bass it's five, and currently we don't have any exceptions to that, so the bag is twice the statewide daily bag, which is 10, not the Texoma daily bag. And some anglers were confused on this possession limit. There was ‑‑ we had some requests in there to take a look at this. Also, when you factor in we've been working with Oklahoma to try and get our possession ‑‑ our size and bag limits the same, and there's some different possession limits there on the Oklahoma side.
What we're proposing to look at here for a change is to increase that possession limit to twice, to 20, which would be twice the Texoma daily bag. We don't believe that would have any appreciable biological impact. Very few people usually catch the daily bag limit and possession limit, and it usually doesn't have much impact on the population. There still would be some differences. Oklahoma, although we have ‑‑ meet with the Oklahoma staff, their Law Enforcement Fisheries group, and so far they're okay with our proposal, and this is something we'll continue to look at with the constituents up in that area.
Our next proposal would be creating a new size limit for us, which would be a 16-inch maximum length limit for large mouth bass. Some of things that we'd be looking at here ‑‑ we're looking at seven reservoirs at this time, that we're looking at possibly putting this limit on, and what we're looking to address by that change is some of these reservoirs have slow growth, either due to low productivity, or inadequate sub-slot harvest. And slot limits that we have on some of these reservoirs just haven't redirected any angler harvest at these smaller size fish, usually 14 inches or less. That's impacted our harvest of quality fish.
We're not getting a lot of bigger fish through the systems. Our size structure overall, what we're looking at, as far as a good distribution of younger fish and older fish is in what we want in those reservoirs and then also a few of the reservoirs where we're looking to produce some trophy bass. We're not having much success there.
Some of the benefits there of the 16-inch maximum, which would be redirecting angler harvest at fish 16 inches and less. We're hoping that by increasing some of that angler harvest we see some improved growth, it would increase some opportunity for harvest among the anglers, and we would see some improvements in population structure. And also, we would hope to improve some opportunity for trophy bass catching, especially those fish 21 inches or greater.
There are some limitations to this regulation. This change may not motivate anglers to harvest. We've seen a lot of reluctance among bass anglers with their catch and release ethic, which has had ‑‑ paid great dividends for a lot of our fisheries. A lot of the anglers have evolved to not wanting to harvest many fish. So we have to ‑‑ in those situations where we've had slot, we've seen where anglers have been reluctant to harvest these. We would hope that maybe some of these changes would motivate them to do some harvest. And what harvest we would get under there, 16 inches or less, still might not be adequate to increase growth. And in some situations, we could experience some overharvest of bass 14 to 16 inches.
And we would have to address that the opportunity for harvest of larger bass would certainly be decreased with this 16 inch maximum. If we didn't set up any situation where we could get certified scales there, such as we do with the ShareLunkers where we have some of our catch and release lakes, where we allow anglers, if they catch a ShareLunker fish, they could turn it over to us, or weigh it on a certified scale. We would be eliminating the harvest of those fish over 16 inches.
As I said, we've been discussing this for seven reservoirs. We kind of anticipate that if we do pursue this regulation change, we wouldn't have ‑‑ we wouldn't be doing it in all seven reservoirs, we'd probably take a smaller sub-set of that. And it's something we're continuing to look at with our staff. And certainly in all our regulation changes though, we would want to evaluate them after the fact. And this one, since it is a new regulation, and would be somewhat experimental, we would certainly commit to evaluating the success of this one in the future.
Those are all the proposals we're looking at this point. If you have any questions on any of them, I'd be happy to address them.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What seven lakes are you thinking about? Did I miss that?
MR. KURZAWSKI: No, I just didn't ‑‑ since we were ‑‑ well, one is Lake Bridgeport ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Ridgeport?
MR. KURZAWSKI: Yes, Bridgeport.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Oh, Bridge.
MR. KURZAWSKI: Bridgeport, Georgetown, Joe Pool, Nacogdoches, Bryan, Hawkins and Cypress Springs are the ones we're looking at. So we currently have minimums, 14 or 16, and some of them have either 14 to 18, or 14 to 21 slots. So it's kind of a broad range of systems there, different productivities, different growth rates, so we're trying to look at them on that sub-set. If this was going to succeed, which of these reservoirs would have the best chance for that to succeed and have some impact.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions? Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. Mike Berger.
MR. BERGER: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners. For the record, I'm Mike Berger, Director of the Wildlife Division. I'm here today to discuss a couple of items that we're thinking about for the '07-'08 statewide. The first of these has to do with the Spring Rio Grande Turkey Season to modify that to offer better hunting opportunity for hunters. This is an issue that we've discussed with staff, we've discussed with some of the members of the Game Bird Advisory Committee. And before we bring you a proposal in January on this, we will have more discussions with our staff Turkey Committee and a full discussion with the Game Bird Advisory Committee.
Two years ago we simplified this Turkey Season by merging the North Zone and the South Zone together into a single zone to increase hunting opportunity by a week. We had had a seven day shorter season before, and as you see there now, it's a 44-day season. And we've concluded that while the 44-day season is fine, the hunting opportunity might be optimized by re-instituting the Zone Season allowing the South Texas season to open a little earlier, and the North Zone season to run a little bit later. And we would ‑‑ when we come back in January, we would have a specific line and the dates to offer.
The other items is some housekeeping relative to mule deer, and you may recall about two years ago, we adopted rules to eliminate the need for double tagging of deer. Hunters are no longer required to use a tag off their license if they use any one of a number of special tags we have, including MLDs, LAMPS, permits, special drawn hunt permits on WMAs, et cetera. And when we proposed these rules, we inadvertently failed to include the general antlerless mule deer permits. So this proposal, if ultimately adopted, would eliminate double tagging ‑‑ the need for double tagging of antlerless mule deer taken under the authority of the general antlerless mule deer permits.
Also, when we implemented the mule deer program, MLD Program, almost two years ago, we inadvertently failed to make provision for the archery mule deer season. So we would now propose to change the period of validity for the mule deer MLD to include the archery season for use with archery equipment only.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Mike, that didn't have an impact on us this year?
MR. BERGER: It did not have an impact on us this year. And that concludes our items that we have. And I'd be happy to try to answer any questions about it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions?
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: On the turkey ‑‑
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: ‑‑ you're going to run that by the Game Bird Advisory?
MR. BERGER: Yes, sir. We'll be meeting between now and January, and we will ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Okay.
MR. BERGER: ‑‑ run that through them.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Mike, how much did you say that you were looking at moving the turkey season?
MR. BERGER: We don't know yet. We want to ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And it's the spring turkey only. Right?
MR. BERGER: ‑‑ discuss that some more. Spring Rio Grande turkey season only ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Starting it earlier in the ‑‑
MR. BERGER: ‑‑ moved ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ South.
MR. BERGER: ‑‑ to include the South Zone to open a little earlier, still for 44 days, and move the North Zone to stay open a little later than it is now, still 44 days.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Okay. Opening it earlier in the South makes a lot of sense.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Yes, accommodating the gobble here, is that the idea?
MR. BERGER: Yes.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: You actually want to hunt them at the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any other questions or discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you, Mike.
Committee Item Number 3, Commission Delegation of Authority to Close and Open the Summer Gulf Shrimp season, Permission to Publish. Dr. McKinney?
MR. RIECHERS: Actually, I'm going to fill in for Dr. McKinney and do this one. Again, my name is Robin Riechers for the record.
This item is a briefing of a proposal of a rule for permission to publish as indicated. This is in regards to our Commission ‑‑ our authority given to us in Texas Parks and Wildlife Code 77.062 which allows the Commission to delegate its authority to the Executive Director. As a side note, and to clarify this proposal, we've been doing this since 1981. We have a joint closure with Federal waters either in a clean up or just by purposes that we always have just done it. It's been ongoing for quite some time. We have a joint closure with Federal waters out to 200 miles.
Since that time, we've had other delegations of authority and we've explicitly brought those forward in proclamation to make it very clear how that transfer of authority occurs, and that's what we intend to do here again. So this proposal basically is clarifying that and making it consistent with other regulations where we have delegated that kind of authority to the Executive Director.
That concludes that briefing, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions or discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: If there are no further questions or discussion, I'll authorize the staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
Committee Item Number 4, Scientific Breeder Permit Rules, Permission to Publish. Clayton?
MR. WOLF: Mr. Chairman and Members, for the record, my name is Clayton Wolf. I am the Big Game Program Director of the Wildlife Division. I have a couple of brief items that ‑‑ housekeeping measures, if you will, I'd like to cover with you this morning.
You may recall in April of this year, this Commission adopted some sweeping changes to our Scientific Breeder rules and regulations, basically to better achieve some processes in permitting, and also to address some disease management strategies. When we did that, and since that time, we've discovered one omission, and also one change that resulted in some unintended consequences. And so I'm simply here to propose some remedies and ask ‑‑ and request permission to publish these in the Texas Register.
The first one is fairly simple. The current regulations, which were adopted in April, require that a person need a purchase permit to sell deer. You probably will remember that we abolished the purchase permit and also the transport permit and replaced that with the transfer permit. So we would simply propose to strike the word "purchase" from the current rules and that would make this rule applicable to a transfer permit, or any other named permit in the future.
The other housekeeping measure is just a bit more complex. On the Scientific Breeders, the current rule allows for Scientific Breeders to take deer or move deer to other facilities on a temporary basis for breeding and nursing purposes. The current rule restricts that to Scientific Breeders only. This is not the way it was previously. Previously, before April, a Scientific Breeder could move a deer to another Scientific Breeder for temporary purposes, or they could take specifically fawns to nursing facilities for temporary purposes, and those nursing facilities and those people weren't necessarily breeders.
In the rewrite and in the consolidation, we simply missed this fact, and so we would propose that the holder of a valid Scientific Breeder permit could legally ‑‑ could transfer legally possessed deer to or from another Scientific Breeder on a temporary basis for nursing purposes, and to or from another person on a temporary basis for nursing purposes.
And believe it or not, that concludes my presentation. I'll be happy to answer ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: That's a record for the deer.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any questions, discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: All right. If there are no further questions or discussion, I will authorize staff to publish this item in the Texas Register for the required public comment period.
MR. WOLF: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Committee Item Number 5, Artificial Reef Rules. Dale Shively.
MR. SHIVELY: Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, for the record, my name is Dale Shively, Coordinator for the Artificial Reef Program. It's my pleasure today to present to you a brief overview of the Public Reef Building Program, which is a new initiative of the Texas Artificial Reef Program.
The purpose of this program is to increase marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico through the creation of near shore reefs to enhance fishing and some limited diving opportunities, to develop reef sites closer to shore to accommodate more small boat fishermen who do not or cannot travel that far off shore, to involve the public in reef building activities thereby establishing more of a sense of ownership, and to increase overall reefing opportunities.
In 2005, the 79th Legislature approved House Bill 883 and Senate Bill 455 which set the development of the Public Reef Building Program by allowing you, the Commission, to ‑‑ the authority to develop guidelines for the establishment of the program. And since that time, Artificial Reef staff have developed standard operating procedures for the management of the Public Reef Building Program, and they're available on our webpage. Three workshops were held in June 2006 in Dickinson, Corpus Christi, and Port Isabel to gather public support and input into the Public Reef Building Program. And the proclamation language for this Program was published in the Texas Register this last September.
The need for more public reefs near shore is evident when you look at where most of our current reef sites are located. Currently, the Artificial Reef Program has 57 permitted reef sites, shown here in red, that range for six to 100 miles off shore in water depths of 36 feet to over 300 feet. The majority of the sites were created from obsolete petroleum platforms and are located in the High Island area, which is that graded area up to the right hand corner. The blue line represents the state line which extends from shore to nine nautical miles off shore.
Proposed near shore reef sites will be located in the areas represented by the green blocks on this slide. The strategy is to develop near shore reef sites out of each major port area along the Texas Coast, and these would be the ones that we would start with first. In determining where near shore reefs should be located, over the years we've listened to the public and will develop sites in state waters as close to shore as possible and in water depths of 60 feet or less. The sites will be accessible from the major ports, as seen in the previous slide, and we invite continued public input into the specific reef site locations.
This slide represents how a typical public reef would be designed. Each site would be 160 acres in size and divided into blocks approximately 260 feet by 260 feet. The center of the reef site would be marked by 10-foot yellow spar buoy chained to an anchor. The public would be assigned an individual block to reef their material, and Parks and Wildlife would reef larger materials in between the public reefings. And we would be in a better position to do this ‑‑ better position to handle the larger materials than the general public would be.
The reef site would be designed so that there is a buffer zone, seen here in green, in which the general public would not be conducting reefings, but Parks and Wildlife would. And this would eliminate any accidental reefing outside the permitted reef site. For example, the public may be assigned blocks B-2 and B-4, shown here in yellow, and Parks and Wildlife could reef larger materials in the gray areas, like in A-3 or B-3 there.
Some of the materials the public may reef at their expense could be concrete in the form of engineered designs such as those commercially available in that top photo. These are known as Grouper Ghettos, for lack of a better term. And the larger materials Parks and Wildlife would use to supplement the public reefings would include concrete in various forms, bridges, bridge spans, those types of items.
The Public Reef Building Program overall can be reduced to three phases. Phase One involves an application submitted by a member of the public or a group. Reef staff will evaluate the application and discuss the suitability of the material, logistics and reefing plan with the applicant. Once there's agreement that the material is suitable and the applicant can perform the work, reef staff will make a field inspection of the material and all approved materials will be marked. The applicant will then receive approval to reef the materials at a specific block within that reef site.
They'll be given 90 days to reef the materials with a one-time 90-day extension, if needed. Once the material has been reefed, the applicant will give Parks and Wildlife the GPS coordinates for each piece of material that they reef at the site. We will then verify that those materials are located in these positions indicated through the use of divers, site scan sonar, and direct observation of the reefing process.
During the recent public hearing process, which started in September through today, we've received 19 comments in favor of the Public Reef Building proposal, and none that disagreed.
That concludes my brief, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What if someone were to put something unacceptable in the area? How is it ‑‑ I mean, how is it policed? You mentioned that divers and site scan radar ‑‑ or sonar are used, but then what if something's discovered that's not appropriate, how is that handled?
MR. SHIVELY: We would handle that through a couple of means. One is by the way that the program is developed, we do an inspection of the materials before they ever go out. So we pre-approve those materials, those materials would be marked. That does not necessarily intercept somebody who's going to take something out there illegally. In that case, if materials are put on that reef site that were not approved by us, then they're held accountable through the Federal Ocean Dumping Laws. Now if it goes outside the reef area, unfortunately, the way the program is set us, since Parks and Wildlife is the permit holder, we accept all the liability for that, and we will have to either move that material back in place, or expand the reef site to accommodate that, which is not what we would like to do.
We have a housekeeping issue that will take care of some of this and we're trying to build in. When this House Bill and the Senate Bill was approved, one of the issues that was left out was the ability to enforce what is there. And the new housekeeping issue will take care of adding a civil penalty, plus some other penalties, and hopefully through that we will be able to manage any kind of issues that come up where material is not appropriate, or outside of the reefs.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is this to control dumping? Is that where you're aiming? Are people out building reefs that are ‑‑
MR. SHIVELY: The main purpose ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: ‑‑ building reefs without knowing where they are?
MR. SHIVELY: No, that type of thing has gone on for years, but that is not our goal. Our goal really is to address public concerns where we have 57 different reef sites now. The majority of them are offshore, and over the years we've heard from the public that they would like to have a site closer in to shore where they don't have to go so far off shore to fish. And since part of our program deals with rigs to reefs, we're trying to refocus it and build more reef sites near shore, within state waters, which would be six to seven, eight miles off shore. And that's really to ‑‑ for the benefit of the fishermen.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Are you working ‑‑ has any group came forward and said that they want to start a process like this?
MR. SHIVELY: Yes. Actually several of them have. On the one slide ‑‑ let's see if I can go back here ‑‑ Port Mansfield, there is a reefing group in Port Mansfield that we've worked with over the last few years, and some of the photos in there that show the culverts are in a storage facility there at Port Mansfield. This group was adamant about having their own reef site, we call it their own reef site, but the idea is that they were really interested in creating something near shore. So we worked with them over the years to permit that site. That site is already permitted. We haven't moved the material into it yet, but it's set to go.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Any other groups?
MR. SHIVELY: There is another group that would sort of tie into this that ‑‑ they could actually ‑‑ it's ‑‑ actually Mr. Jim Smarr is here with the Texas Great Barrier Reef Group, and that concept is to develop a reef system from, say, the Port Arthur down to Port Isabel, allowing for anchorages and ship channels. And the connection there would be that they could join up with the reef sites that we've already created, or will create, and in theory we would have this continuous near shore reef system in place.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Very good. You like that idea?
MR. SHIVELY: I think it's a good concept. We went this route because of the feasibility of trying to get something started and knowing what our limitations are and what we can actually accomplish. And Jim and I have talked many times about this, and I wish him success. We'll support him in any way we can.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Very good.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Yes, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You said that the reefs would be in water 60 feet or less. Is that ‑‑
MR. SHIVELY: That's our goal.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: ‑‑ right?
MR. SHIVELY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And what would be the distance from the top of the reef to the surface, what's the ‑‑ is there a rule of thumb about that, or ‑‑
MR. SHIVELY: There is rule of thumb, and the reason we say 60 feet or less, right now our shallowest reef site is in 36 feet of water. But we have no material at it. The shallowest permitted reef site that we have material on, we have a 50-foot clearance. And that is an issue that we worked with the Coast Guard over a number of years. The idea behind this program is that if we move into 60 feet or less, we're going to ask the Coast Guard to re-evaluate their rule of thumb and give us some rulings based on location, ship traffic, and some other things and see how shallow we can actually get it. And in some cases we're hoping to get a 10 or 15-foot clearance instead of 50.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: You just need out of shipping lanes. Right?
MR. SHIVELY: Right. And to get the Coast Guard to agree to a generalized clearance is really difficult. They want to look at everything on a case by case basis.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any discussions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good. Thank you. Appreciate it. I will place this item on Thursday's Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action.
Committee Item Number 6, Offshore Aquaculture Permit Rules. Dr. McKinney.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: What is that, Item Number 6?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Six.
DR. McKINNEY: Mr. Chairman, Members, for the record, I'm Dr. Larry McKinney, Director of the Coastal Fisheries. The item I have for you here is consideration of rules for an offshore aquaculture permit. I thought this was an interesting slide. Just to give you some perspective, let me go into the next one. This is one of the types of constructions that you might see, it's kind of like a flying saucer type of thing, and with the net there, about 50 feet in height, 60 or 70 feet across. This is just kind of neat. You can see, that central structure there, you can see the feeder, automatic feeder on that tube is opened up there, and, of course, the fish are all diving in the feeder. So it's a great picture.
This offshore aquaculture is something that we think we're going to see more of. It was certainly highlighted in the President's Ocean Plan, although there's some issues now, concerns have been raised about maybe changing. But one of the perspectives that we were concerned about ‑‑ let me move on there ‑‑ this is what one might look like from that perspective, there, to give you an idea of what each one of these net structures look like.
But we have ‑‑ with the idea that folks would be interested in pursuing offshore aquaculture off of Texas, we had no rules in place to help give guidance there, so we had two objectives. One is ‑‑ was to prepare ‑‑ provide a framework for these folks in order ‑‑ if they wanted to pursue that activity they could have a business framework to work with and to move forward on. And, of course, the other directly aimed at our responsibilities to protect our existing fisheries and populations as well. So that's our two objectives, in putting the rule package together.
I'm not going to spend a great deal of time on any of the details, just kind of go over the main provisions, and, of course, you have those there in front of you. One of the sets of things ‑‑ of course, in our general provisions we have definitions of what some of these things are. We make the point that we're only interested in native species, we don't want any exotic species coming in; and that the permit duration would be for one year ‑‑ I want to address that in a moment, we're going to recommend changing that ‑‑ we provide for inspections in how we sample, and, of course, removal of stock.
Within that offshore permit application, some of the requirements, of course, they will required to obtain all the other permits from other agencies, and believe me, there's a number of them, Department of Ag, Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, TCEQ, Animal Health, there's a lot of steps to go through with other agencies to deal with this, so we want to make sure that those would be covered.
Within the facility design, of course, we want to minimize the scape; we want to make sure that we're up-to-date on any disease issues that are occurring; genetic integrity is an issue for us, we want to make sure that whatever animals are confined there stays confined and do not interfere with the genetic structure of our populations offshore; and then also how they remove their stock as they move forward.
Once they have a permit, we have in our rules provisions for how to renew it. Of course, we want to make sure that they've complied with their permit, that would be a condition; that they'd actually filled out an application for renewal properly; paid their fee, $1500 a year is what we're proposing for a permit fee; and, of course, that the existing permit hasn't expired, otherwise they'd have to do a new permit.
Now we would require amendments. For example, if you change the species or you're source to that stock, if you modify the facility in any way, or changed your procedure, and, of course, changed ownership, you'd have to amend that permit to reflect that so we'd be aware of it.
Record keeping important, of course, that ‑‑ how ‑‑ so we would inspect ‑‑ have records so we could do our inspections, and have an annual report due to us, and, of course, copies of all their permits and activities.
Obviously, some things that we would not want to happen, we don't want fish released out of those structures beforehand. We would want to know about the removal, give us notification so in case we wanted to we could be offshore to see it. One very important one is disease issues, telling us what ‑‑ when a potential for disease occurs so we can check on that. Any kind of damage to the facility, and, of course, if they abandon the facility, we have some issues with that.
There would be, of course, some reason for denial if they violated our stocking policy, or any of our management objectives, or didn't complete their application, we'd lay out the conditions under which we would deny those permits.
We did have some public comments on these rules, a number of them, and as a result of those comments, we have three changes ‑‑ they were very good comments ‑‑ that we wanted to make. One was ‑‑ some of the comments talked about that our organization was a bit confusing, and, in fact, it really was. You know, as you write these rules ‑‑ as you're writing rules, it seems real clear to you, but when someone comes up from the outside, it can seem pretty strange and mysterious, and we agreed with them after we looked at it. So we are restructuring the thing and make it much easier to read and to follow. So those were excellent comments.
There were some concerns about timelines for enclosures. We talked about facilities in our rules and it was pointed out to us that a facility offshore could have as many ‑‑ I guess on a maximum maybe have a 100 of these little saucer type things, or probably more likely 20 or so, and we wouldn't ‑‑ they wouldn't necessarily harvest or take action on all of their enclosures at one time. They want the timelines to go per enclosure. That makes sense, and so we clarified the fact that we're talking about each of these individual pens, that we need to understand that. They don't have to do everything in en masse.
And the third was that ‑‑ the business concern is that if you're going out to seek money from banks or loans, that if they only had a one-year permit, that made it very difficult. Obviously it made sense, so we'll provide some provisions for multiple-year, two-year-type renewable permits so they could have that kind of assurance for capital generation. So we made all of those adjustments. And if you consider this motion tomorrow, we would include those changes to reflect those comments, which were very good.
We did have a couple of comments over disease condition. The folks thought we might have been a little too tight on what we wanted to know about in the case of diseases. We have ‑‑ we don't really feel we want to make a change on that right now because this is a new situation for us. We want to be pretty conservative on what they have to report to us on diseases. As we get more comfortable with their situations, we understand things better in the future as we've done with shrimp, we can back off a little bit. But initially we want to know what's going on out there on a fairly regular basis, and pretty tight, just because disease issues are one of our big concerns. So we'd prefer to keep our existing proposal in place rather than modify it to back it off a little bit.
With that, I'll certainly be glad to answer any questions.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Any discussion?
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Was there any discussion of the difference between a modification, which requires a permit, and repair? I'm a little worried about the ‑‑ what you have in it, escaping out, and then you need to prepare it and it goes through a timeline to get a modification permit and all that. How do you make that distinction?
DR. McKINNEY: We haven't yet. And frankly I think it would probably be ‑‑ we clearly don't want them to wait around and not repair something.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Right.
DR. McKINNEY: And so that would be something I think we'll have to take a look at. I don't think we distinguished that.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Well, what are you going to do if you go out there and you find out a bunch of those fish are swimming out a hole, that some boat run by and tore up?
DR. McKINNEY: Well ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: It's bound to happen.
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ and something like that's going to happen at some place, and hopefully ‑‑ well, one, they don't want to be losing ‑‑ because they've got a huge amount of investment in that stock, that's one thing. It's absolutely ‑‑ they don't want to lose those fish because once they're in there, they've got to ‑‑ they're going to be working hard to stop it. In fact, I expect it will be probably so infrequent if we're going to depend on them to do it. But they're going to report it right away and try to do something about it.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: I mean, we can't be sending out people out there every other day ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: No, in fact ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: ‑‑ to check this.
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ the basis of our permit fee, $1500, that ‑‑ we figure that would cover about one trip a year. And that's for the boat cost and all. I mean, that's what it is. I mean, with boat costs, that's what it covers. But obviously we're going to do more if we had to, and if we have to make changes, we will. There'll be some escapes, but we're hoping ‑‑ on a scale of things, it's going to be difficult to have much of a harmful effect with one of these things ‑‑ if we start getting situations where they have constantly escaping fish, then that's one of our bases of violation of our permit. We'll close them down.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Where do they get their main source, where do they start with their fry?
DR. McKINNEY: Oh, they're commercial outfits, they'll sell them, or mostly there'll be more and more. Sometimes they raise them themselves, so obviously ‑‑ it's commercial outfits who get them started.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: I'm assuming other states probably have ‑‑ already have laws like this enacted, because there is some, you know, offshore ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Mississippi, some of those places are starting to do more of that.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: ‑‑ and so if we learn from maybe their mistakes, and have you talked to some of their people and ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Our guys have been talking with them, and we've taken where we could find some models, we pulled some things out of it. But it's pretty ‑‑ for us it's pretty ‑‑ and overseas it's been going for a while ‑‑ these type of fish cultures are still fairly new. So we're kind of experimenting. We're leading edge on some things.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: And maybe I missed it, but are we defining the type of fish that can be ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Native, they have to be native, the species. No exotics. And out in the Gulf of Mexico ‑‑
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Anything native to the Gulf of Mexico.
DR. McKINNEY: Yes.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So they can be snapper, trout, redfish ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, cobia is a big one; snapper's a possibility. Cobia seems to be pretty hot right now.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: If the Shell Oil rig can get blown over and put out of commission, how ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: ‑‑ do you deal with major weather events and these things?
DR. McKINNEY: Well, part of these ‑‑ you're relying on these things is to ‑‑ well, I'm going the wrong way. Well, I messed you up now. Angela, I'm sorry.
It wasn't me. It was me, but ‑‑ they're designed to actually sink ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: To drop them.
DR. McKINNEY: — to drop below turbulence.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: So they don't have to stay ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: They don't have anything showing above the surface. I mean, that would be ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Who tells them to do that?
DR. McKINNEY: Well, hopefully they would, because ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: They're watching the Weather Channel.
DR. McKINNEY: They're going to have several million of dollars invested in these outfits, so they're not going to do anything to not ‑‑
COMMISSIONER PARKER: Either they can be home watching the Weather Channel and punch a button and make the thing go down.
DR. McKINNEY: Well, I guess they could. Yes, well, everything ‑‑ they run the oil ‑‑ they run a lot of oil rigs ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Ramos.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Larry, I'm very naive in this area, but what's the whole purpose of this, what are we trying to accomplish?
DR. McKINNEY: For us we have two purposes. One is, of course, is aquaculture processes going forward. One is we want to do it in an orderly ‑‑ proceed in an orderly fashion, and we want to give those folks a business plan. When they made out their business plans, they have a certain path that they can follow and so they know they can get their permits, if they do these things, they can get a permit, they can get in business.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And then what do they do ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: The second part is, is when they do that, we hope we've designed our rules ‑‑ we protect our native stock from diseases, from genetic issues that could occur.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And what will they actually do with the fish? They're going to be feeding them and ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes. And that ‑‑ oops. Now I messed you up. I messed you up a long time ago.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: In other words, they're going to be introducing feed into the environment?
DR. McKINNEY: There we go. Thank you. Right there. There's a good example. That's looking inside one of those structures. That big metal central tube is monitoring and also feeding them, it's automatic feeders, and you can see there in the picture, off to my right, I guess, when you look, you can see the feed falling down into it and you can see the fish diving into. They put those fish in there as fingerlings or something like that and they grow them to the point where they're commercially viable.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And then they sell them at the Bay?
DR. McKINNEY: They suck them up ‑‑ they have a big ship out there, and they suck them up and ‑‑ or collapse a net, however they're going to do it, and they sell them. It's just like any other aquaculture facility.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Do we furnish the specs? In other words, can that facility be any bigger than 50 by 50, or could they theoretically grow 1,000 by 1,000?
DR. McKINNEY: That between them and the GLO as to how big an area they'll take. We don't ‑‑ we're not involved ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: We're not involved.
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ in that side of it.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And there's ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: There's practical limits obviously.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ the issue of safety, if people are out there, are there safety regulations to where they've got requirements of lights on the surface or something to where somebody's not going to run into them?
DR. McKINNEY: That's none of our particular area of business. Ours is the fishery side of it. But I can guarantee you from getting ‑‑ the Corps of Engineers or the Coast Guard, they'll have them well covered. Other agencies have that responsibility.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And do we have any input into the type of feed that they're putting in there? In other words, is there ‑‑ and, again, I don't know anything about this ‑‑ but is it possible that we would not want certain type of feeds being injected?
DR. McKINNEY: All of the things I'd be prepared about ‑‑ and it's not very practical, is live food, what kind of ‑‑ what animals they might feed them. But that's not practical. They don't do that. It's dead. And so the issues would be more TCEQ and Water Quality. Of course, they're moving it offshore because of the water moving through there and diluting pollution type issues, but TCEQ is ‑‑ will look at that. I think that's part of what you're getting at.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, what I'm talking about, not so much the water, as much as could there be feed that's being put out there that may be of benefit to these fish, but perhaps not good for another species? In other words, is the feeding in conflict between the feed ‑‑ and I don't know, I'm just asking a question ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, I can't answer that. I don't know. I don't think so. I think that the way they'll stock those things, not much will escape out of those nets because they'll be hungry. But, I mean, it's a legitimate question. I just don't know the answer to that one.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Yes. But they may be adding, I don't know, fertilizer ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, I see ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ or something ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ kind of where you're going. I just don't know enough about it to tell you.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Larry, the two main ‑‑ as I understand it, two main objections a lot of conservation groups have with aquaculture is the contamination of ‑‑ genetic contamination of wild fish, and then the amount of prey fish necessary to feed ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: To produce the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Right.
DR. McKINNEY: There's those issue that in the feed that they're putting together, that they talk about aquaculture being a way to go. Well, it depends on what you feed them.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Right. Will our proposed regulations be addressing those two issues?
DR. McKINNEY: Genetic integrity? Absolutely. We're on that. But not the other. There's really nothing we have ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: By the way you deal with that then, is the regulations in the wild harvest of any fish they would be using to feed?
DR. McKINNEY: How ‑‑ do we have a regulation, which we don't.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: So we don't regulate the type of feed that ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Should we show authority in that regard.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Even though that feed, theoretically, could impact our resource?
DR. McKINNEY: Well, if we can ‑‑ if that ‑‑ because of impact, the most I'd think about is ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: It seems to me that, to the extent that they're feeding something that could impact our resource, that we would have jurisdiction as part of a permit to say, you can do this, but you can't feed this, this or that.
DR. McKINNEY: If we could ‑‑ maybe if we could make that link that it was, clearly, we have under Section ‑‑ Chapter 12, we have that authority. I don't see how I can make that link at this time, but if we ever were to, clearly we'd be back to you all to say, here's an issue.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Do you know, Larry, whether in other areas where they have this same program, whether there's been an issue of contamination, or ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: I just don't know. I'll try to find out some answers for you, but I just don't know. That question has not come up with me, and I don't have ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I'd make a recommendation, Larry, David Guggenheim, the Harte Research Institute, Gulf of Mexico States, is doing some work in the area of sustainable aquaculture. And I know he's ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: I know him, and I'll go ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: You know him?
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ I'll call him and I'll get you an answer to that question.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: I'm just worried whether they're ‑‑ they may be injecting some feed that may accelerate their growth, or ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Are you talking about hormone type of things, or ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, not necessarily that, but maybe to create some immunities, maybe because of their environment, and then that may impact the other ‑‑ the resource ‑‑ I'm sorry, that's ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: I'll let you know tomorrow. I'll see what I can find out.
MR. COOK: Probably have some of those same issues in fresh water.
DR. McKINNEY: It's ‑‑ well, or any water, frankly, in any captive animal dealing situation.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, that's right.
DR. McKINNEY: That's what they're in business to do, they're in business to make meat.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Quickly.
DR. McKINNEY: As quickly and as cheaply as possible. That's it. That's their deal.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Well, to the extent that there is that risk, it seems to me that we ought to have some ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: I'll ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: ‑‑ regulation to where we either pre-approve the feed, or we have a right to inspect, you know, and terminate in the event that's it's having some adverse impact or something.
DR. McKINNEY: Yes, I just ‑‑
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: So we need to look into it, yes.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: And we can get to the significant issue ‑‑ because, you know, they're trying to create an environment, but I have to believe that, you know, whatever they're going to put there is going to be outside the scope of that.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Commissioner Holmes.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It seems like ‑‑ it's been an interesting discussion, because we're on a learning curve. We really don't know exactly how it's going to work. And I'm encouraged that, you know, you're going to review and try to figure out these things, some of which we probably won't really know until we get into it.
DR. McKINNEY: And I hope that the way we'll go is, as we did with shrimp, the shrimp diseases, when we started that ‑‑ went through that process, very contentious, we laid out some rules, we were very conservative. But we worked with the industry, and we're working with them here, as we moved through it. We came back to you all about three sessions in a row making changes to make it work. And now we haven't had to deal with those issues for years. This is what I think we're going to learn something. These kinds of issues will come up, we will be coming back to you all perhaps to make changes to make it work.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It seems to me like it is potentially an important industry for this state with the amount of coast line we have. And the pressures on the fishery are huge. And to the extent that this can be an important part of that food source.
DR. McKINNEY: Many people are starting to look at it, and particularly in our southern waters, the southern half is particular deep enough and close enough inshore, deep enough to maybe ‑‑ when you move up north, it's too shallow ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It's too shallow.
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ it's too far out to get the depths that they need. But further south is a possibility.
MR. COOK: Larry, I would really encourage you to look into some of these issues, but, and when I said that a while ago about probably having some of the same issues with fresh water, I guess my concern there is that what people feed to wildlife is not exactly in our bailiwick, and I would want you to look at the laws and whose responsibility it is because it's talking about fresh water, and it's talking about private land, migratory birds, some of those issues, you kind of get ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Well, as I said exactly I need to see what we can, what we have authority over and what we don't. But I'll certainly ‑‑ just the issue I'll take a look at it for you.
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Okay. It just seems to me that to the extent that we're authorizing an operation that will impact our resource, that we clearly have jurisdiction over that. I would think ‑‑
DR. McKINNEY: Well, it's interesting ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Not necessarily ‑‑ in other words, whether we're feeding them, or whether we're putting a species of fish that's impacting the resource, to that extent, and for the ‑‑ obviously we're regulating it. So to the extent that that operation is going to impact the resource, whether it's by feed or just by the type of fish that we're putting there, that we would have jurisdiction over that.
DR. McKINNEY: Well, it's ‑‑ aquaculture's a little bit different in Texas, and it's not necessarily the best way. It's partitioned out. Department of Ag has a piece of it, we have a piece of it, GLO has a piece of it ‑‑ well, that's ‑‑ I'm not saying that's necessarily fish, that's because of issues that came about. So we have parts of it. And ours is relatively narrow as to what we can ‑‑ as Mr. Cook said, it's relatively narrow given the stocking and removal and that type of thing. So I will certainly work with Ann and get ‑‑ but just on the big issues, just being concerned about it, I'll report back to you on that as well ‑‑
COMMISSIONER RAMOS: Okay.
DR. McKINNEY: ‑‑ Vice Chairman.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Further discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Good. I'll place this item on Thursday's Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action. Thank you.
DR. McKINNEY: Thank you, sir.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Committee Item Number 7, The Raptor Proclamation. Matt Wagner.
MR. WAGNER: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Commission. My name is Matt Wagner, I'm Program Director for Wildlife Diversity. In August we published two proposed changes in our Raptor Proclamation in the Texas Register. Those changes were to eliminate the trapping prohibition in Brewster, Culberson, El Paso, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Terrell Counties. And secondly, to clarify that the Falconry permit fees are to be prorated depending on the period of validity, either one, two or three years.
And this is for your approval tomorrow. Essentially that's ‑‑ those are the changes. I'll just let you know we had about 35 public comments, over 90 percent of which were positive and in agreement with the changes. The two or three that we had that disagreed either said our fees currently were too high, or too low.
COMMISSIONER PARKER: So there's a wash.
MR. WAGNER: Are there any comments or questions?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Discussion?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Okay. I'll place this item on our Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action. Thank you, Matt.
MR. COOK: I hope you all noticed, Commissioners, that Mr. Wagner had on his Raptor tie.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Committee Item Number 8, Harmful or Potentially Harmful Fish, Shellfish, Aquatic Plant Rules Amendments. Mr. Earl Chilton. Thanks.
MR. CHILTON: Mr. Chairman, other Members of the Committee, my name is Earl Chilton. For the record, I'm with Inland Fisheries. What I'd like to talk about today are changes to the fee structure of our grass carp permitting program.
What I'd like to do first is give you a little bit of background information. Triploid grass carp are an important part of our management activities for submerged vegetation in Texas. If you look at the screen, you can see how bad hydrilla can be. Hydrilla is their preferred food. And that picture on the upper right hand corner is what hydrilla looked like in Lake Austin just a few years ago, before an introduction of triploid grass carp.
In 1992, the Commission approved the use of triploid grass carp for vegetation management. Since that time we have issued over 15,500 triploid grass carp permits, the majority of which were for private water. Only 52 of these permits were for public water. That represents the ‑‑ approximately 800 and ‑‑ I mean, 486,000 grass carp that have been permitted so far. Associated with each one of those permits has been two fees. There's a $15 flat fee for permits in private water, and then a $2 per fish fee for permits in both public and private water currently.
One of the reasons for the ‑‑ what were the original reasons for the $2 per fish fee? The first one was to defray the cost of making pond inspections conducted by staff. Most of those 15,000 permits were for private waters that were inspected by TPWD staff. The reason for that is we're concerned about escapement in public water, where we don't want the grass carp to be, and there is also some concern about these grass carp escaping into estuarian areas where they might affect coastal species as well.
It's also ‑‑ one of the other purposes is also to provide money for grass carp research. We have conducted some radio-tracking experiments with this money, determined where they went and if they were going to escape from public reservoirs. And to provide a fund in case there is some sort of environmental emergency that required our help to remove grass carp, or deal with them in some other way. Since the permitting program was initiated, we've collected almost a million dollars, and ‑‑ on those $2 per fish fee. Eighty-three percent of the money that was collected was collected from private water permits.
Let's talk about the purpose for the proposed change. What we would like to do is to remove the $2 per fish fee in the case of permits issued for public water only. The rationale for this is, first of all, we would only waive this fee, and only ‑‑ really only approve these kind of permits for water bodies ‑‑ for larger water bodies if that water body was operating under an approved management plan, under a management plan approved by TPWD. Also, the removal of the $2 per fish fee in public water would help control the authorities and others that are helping fund the cost of the triploid grass carp. Some of the controlling authorities that would particularly benefit would be the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the San Jacinto River Authority, and the City of Austin, as well as the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Also inspection costs. We talked about the fact that each one of those permits required an inspection of the pond, but for public water those inspections really aren't necessary. Our public waters are on a schedule for surveys anyway. Many of them are surveyed annually ‑‑ some of them are surveyed annually, and most are on a three to four-year survey cycle, so our biologists know what's going on in the public water already without a survey ‑‑ or an inspection for the public waters. And basically that's it.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that for different types of management plans, or ‑‑ I mean, the frequency of surveys?
MR. CHILTON: Excuse me?
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Is that ‑‑ the frequency of survey, is that for different types of plans, that are different ‑‑ annual for some types of plans and ‑‑
MR. CHILTON: The ones that are water bodies that have particular problems, they get surveyed more often. Usually the ones that have exotic species, like hydrilla in areas and watermilfoil, water hyacinth, they're surveyed a little bit more often.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Discussion? Any questions?
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Yes, you know, there's been a lot of input from people that live on Lake Conroe and the problems they've got. Will they qualify under this proposal to ‑‑
MR. CHILTON: They would certainly qualify.
COMMISSIONER BROWN: Okay. What's the downside to having too many of these carp in a lake like that?
MR. CHILTON: Well, the downside is that basically, like anything that's green, if you overstock they'll eat out all the vegetation. When all the vegetation's gone, that's not necessarily good for the fishery, especially the bass fishery, because the vegetation is a good habitat for juvenile fish. It's also a good habitat for forage fish, for bass.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And I know we went through this before, because in this letter he refers to the previous methods. This is Conroe. We all got a letter ‑‑ or I mean, I did. It mostly had to do with all the pictures. Maybe ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: Previous ‑‑ I'm sorry ‑‑ for the record ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: You remember ‑‑ didn't it come in last ‑‑ was it last week, the Conroe group?
MR. DUROCHER: Yes, and previously ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And in the letter it just says here, it says, As urged by property owners since 2004, utilization of Lake Conroe's previously proven methods could have kept new growth of hydrilla and giant salvinia under control.
MR. DUROCHER: For the record, I'm Phil Durocher, the Director of Inland Fisheries.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: We're getting a little off, but I think everybody got this letter too.
MR. DUROCHER: There's a long history at Conroe ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes.
MR. DUROCHER: ‑‑ that goes back to the '70s. There were some ‑‑ it depends on whose side you're looking at, there was some mistakes made in the '70s and we paid for those mistakes for a lot of years. What it did was it really made people, especially the anglers, fear grass carp. I mean, grass carp were looked at like it was the worse thing that ever happened.
And all grass carp, or fish that eat grass, they can be a tool, but we're trying to reach some sort of balance. If you eliminate all the vegetation in a lake, what you end up with is water that's a lot greener. You know, your water's not as clear as it was. If we can reach some kind of balance and keeping good vegetation and getting right of the bad stuff, that's what we're shooting for.
MR. CHILTON: I think what they're talking about in that letter was the previous use of grass carp when they were ‑‑ when they overstocked. In the early '80s they stocked 270,000 grass carp in the ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So they didn't have any hydrilla.
MR. DUROCHER: They didn't have grass growing on the banks either.
MR. CHILTON: But he also ‑‑ remember that guy was urging for that to happen again.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: He wants ‑‑ of course, he wants much ‑‑ many more stock, is that what he's essentially ‑‑
MR. CHILTON: I think that's what he was after.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Because he doesn't get into what it is.
MR. DUROCHER: We have so far put in about 30,000. We're basing the stocking on the data.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, you're trying to do it scientifically.
MR. DUROCHER: We're trying to do it scientifically. If we see an increase in the amount of hydrilla, we will add more carp. You know, it's going to reach a point where it's going to break over, and it'll start going down, the same as it did at Austin, we hope. But we have made a commitment to those people ‑‑ Mr. Cook was there ‑‑ we have made a commitment that we're going to solve this problem. Unfortunately, if you solve it overnight, which is what they want, you've probably gone too far in one direction.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: I think the drive ‑‑ if I remember correctly, because it got way down, particularly in the inlets and where the houses are and all that, so that hydrilla really was ‑‑
MR. DUROCHER: Absolutely.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: ‑‑ all you were looking at.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What? You're looking at me ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: No, whether they came in or not, they were not happy this summer.
MR. DUROCHER: That's a little different problem there.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Is this representative of what's going on over there?
MR. CHILTON: No, the ‑‑ currently, hydrilla covers about 4 percent of the lake. Unfortunately it's growing in front of ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Growing in front of million-dollar homes.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Yes, there's some pretty nice houses there.
MR. COOK: Earl, if you don't mind, just take a couple of minutes and just tell them exactly where we are in Conroe, how many acres we believe, what our treatment is, what our plan is.
MR. CHILTON: As of our last survey, we had just under 1200 acres of hydrilla in the lake. Up until that point we had approved the stocking of about ‑‑ a little over 14,000 fish. With that increase, we approved the stocking of another 13,800 fish, which would leave the stocking rate exactly what the average stocking rate was in Lake Austin, it was 23 fish per vegetative acre of hydrilla.
MR. COOK: And that was about a month ago, month and a half ago.
MR. CHILTON: That was just about a month ago. The last of those fish actually went in last week.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: So they haven't seen the results of those additional fish.
MR. CHILTON: That's right.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: And you said 1200 acres of hydrilla, and no other ‑‑ out of how many acres is the lake, I don't ‑‑
MR. CHILTON: The lake is down right now but ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLT: Yes, normal?
MR. CHILTON: ‑‑ it's typically 21,000 acres. Right now it's about 19,000 acres.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: And your current number's 30,000?
MR. CHILTON: Well, our current number is a little over 28,000, and it ‑‑ if you take mortality into account, we should have about 27,000 fish, live fish, in the lake right now.
COMMISSIONER BIVINS: What's the life span of a grass carp?
MR. CHILTON: In Texas, the triploid are a little different from the diploids. The triploids are the sterile ones, and those are the only ones that are permitted right now. But typically from five to seven years you get efficacy. We're not sure whether they're dead, or whether they aren't eating as much. The normal fish, the diploids, can live over 20 years.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Part of it is hydrilla, and part of it is ‑‑
MR. CHILTON: The ‑‑
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: ‑‑ Salvinia?
MR. CHILTON: ‑‑ plant that you saw was giant salvinia. And that's the next challenge.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: What do we do about that? They don't eat that?
MR. CHILTON: Well, we're not sure. There's some anecdotal evidence from California that they might actually like it. But hydrilla is their preferred food, so they'll probably concentrate on hydrilla first, before they do anything with the giant salvinia. They generally don't like floating weeds as well as they like submerged vegetation.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And do we have a plan on the giant salvinia?
MR. CHILTON: We are just about ready to complete ‑‑ I finished drafting a plan today, I'm sending it to the San Jacinto River Authority and we're going to have a meeting in a week or two to see if everybody can agree.
MR. COOK: I think that's a real important point here. The lake is owned by the San Jacinto River Authority.
MR. DUROCHER: The City of Houston.
MR. COOK: The City of Houston, right, managed by San Jacinto River Authority.
MR. CHILTON: That's right.
MR. COOK: The managers and we are working that plan in conjunction with them and with the landowner/homeowner associations in the neighborhood there, we're all working together. It's a problem, but we're going to work on it, and we're going to solve the problem.
MR. DUROCHER: And, you know, Earl and the staff have done such a great job there bringing people together, not only the homeowners, the River Authority, but the angler groups have all come to consensus on something needs to be done, and that was a surprise.
MR. CHILTON: Some of the angling groups have actually agreed to purchase some grass carp if necessary.
MR. DUROCHER: To help the homeowners.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Well, some of this looks like it's to the point where the anglers would have a hard time fishing it anyway.
MR. COOK: Giant salvinia will be ‑‑ probably have to be treated chemically. Is that correct?
MR. CHILTON: This summer we were using the giant salvinia weevil, and it was starting to work quite well, but basically what we feared happened, they got rain and it washed it out of the cove that it had been in, so now it's a bad problem. We're using money that we received from Fish and Wildlife Service to treat it. We're sharing that herbicide with the San Jacinto River Authority. So we're going to have two crews out there, and the San Jacinto River Authority is going to have as many people as they can get out there spraying it next week.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Did you say that it was 1200 acres of hydrilla?
MR. CHILTON: That's right.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: And how many acres of giant salvinia?
MR. CHILTON: It looked like there were ‑‑ I didn't get the final numbers from the staff yet. I think there were about 200 acres of giant salvinia.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: It just happened to all be in front of these houses?
MR. CHILTON: It's almost all in Little Lake Creek Cove, which is where the water and most of ‑‑ where two of the larger homeowner associations are.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: Other questions?
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They're not happy.
COMMISSIONER HOLMES: Well, they can't get their boat out.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: They can't get their boats in and out, because the water's way down too.
COMMISSIONER FRIEDKIN: I'll place this item on the Thursday Commission Meeting Agenda for public comment and action.
Mr. Chairman, the Committee has concluded it's business.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: Thank you. Anything else to come before the Committee, Mr. Cook?
MR. COOK: No, sir.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: The Reg Chair was loaded up.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I tell you, our Reg Chairman did a heck of a job.
COMMISSIONER HOLT: That Reg Chairman was trying to impress us, I guess.
COMMISSIONER FITZSIMONS: I've never seen someone get through the deer agenda so quickly. We should have put him in charge of Regs a long time ago.
Okay. All right. If nothing else, we stand adjourned. Thank you, Mr. Cook.
(Whereupon, the Regulations Committee meeting was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
MEETING OF: Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Regulations Committee
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
DATE: November 1, 2006
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 8686, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Stacey Harris before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
On the Record Reporting, Inc.
3307 Northland, Suite 315
Austin, Texas 78731