Presenter: Robin Riechers
Commission Agenda Item No. 10
Coastal Fishing Forecast - 2008
I. Executive Summary: Each year Coastal Fisheries staff review the most current data available and project trends into the near future to forecast likely fishing success. The last three years has been a rollercoaster for Texas saltwater fisheries. Three years ago, anglers were shoveling snow off boat docks and building snowmen under the palm trees. There were a record number of hurricanes in the Gulf and our upper coast was pounded by two in particular that will always be a reminder - Rita and Katrina. Two years ago, the Gulf was spared the hurricanes but at the cost of a statewide drought that had many looking for relief anywhere it could find it, including hurricanes. In contrast, last year was one of the wettest on record, especially the summer. It is difficult to predict what this year will eventually deliver but it seems to have started off on a good heading. The relatively mild and dry conditions have been a big plus for saltwater anglers and prospects are good for the remainder of the year.
II. Discussion: Our Texas bays are subjected to a broad range of changing conditions as the last three years demonstrated. In fact, they have adapted to and really need floods and even droughts and hurricanes. Except for the Laguna Madre, our bays are primarily great mixing bowls where rivers and the sea meet creating a turbid looking soup thick enough to walk on at times. It is that soup and the dynamics of our bays that also make them extraordinarily productive - more so than just about any other marine ecosystem. Floods bring the ingredients, nutrients and sediments, into the bays that create the soup. Hurricanes mix it together and resuspend other materials that may have settled out during calmer times. The hot Texas spring and summer cook these ingredients and the result is one of the most productive fisheries in the world.
Last year was tough on anglers as the flush of freshwater turned many bays into freshwater lakes, sometime for long periods. Redfish, trout, catfish and bass could all be caught within sight of one another. Stripped bass were washed downriver into Galveston Bay adding some extra excitement to that fishery. Normal fishing patterns were disrupted to the consternation of guides and just about everyone else. The fish were still there but in different parts of the bay than normal as they sought out comfortable salinities and forage species that were doing the same.
One of the less easily observed effects of freshwater inflow is to establish salinity gradients within the bays. Conditions can range from near fresh to oceanic. Plants and animals of these coastal ecosystems have adapted to this dynamic and sort themselves out accordingly. Some species lifecycle are closely tied to and depend on that range of salinities - different stages requiring different salinities to prosper. Droughts or floods can disrupt or even eliminate this gradient. That is what has been happening over the last several years.
The silver lining to that cloud is the fact all of those conditions have come together and produced a "soup" that will almost certainly ignite productivity up and down the entire coast. That will translate into an abundance of fish, shellfish and forage that will sustain our fishery for years to come. The next several years will point out just how valuable freshwater inflows are to our bays and how important it is to make sure they continue. Altogether, it will be a welcome boost and our coastal anglers should start to reap the benefits this year.
Attachments - 1
- Exhibit A - Fishing Forecast
- Fishing effort declined 11 percent from the previous year, most likely because of high fuel costs and a stormy wet summer. Fuel prices are expected to rise again this year, which may result in fewer fishing trips.
- Total landings decreased 13 percent, but total landings per angler-hour declined only 2 percent. Less fishing effort will result in fewer landings, but catch per angler-hour should remain steady, if not increase.
- Spotted seatrout landings decreased 5 percent but angler catch rates increased 8 percent — not as many anglers but better success rates.
- Red drum landings decreased 24 percent and angler catch rates declined 13 percent compared to the previous year’s 10-year high catch rate. Last years higher than normal tides were a challenge for the shallow water angler to find reds.
- Gill net surveys show red drum populations remaining at near-record numbers, with fall 2007 catches the second highest on record.
- Spotted seatrout populations are also at near-record numbers, with the spring 2007 catches the highest in six years.
- Flounder landings and abundance are at a record low.
- Some popular boat ramps are still in disrepair from Hurricane Rita.
- No live bait (shrimp or fish) has been available in the area so check on it before heading to the coast if that is something of concern. Hopefully that will improve over the year.
- The system continues to receive above average rain since last fall. Lower salinities and higher freshwater inflows should push productive fishing to the southern reaches of the bay and out into nearshore Gulf waters.
- Red drum anglers should expect successful trips since last year’s recreational landings of red drum almost reach a new record high and TPWD’s fall season gill net catch rate was one of the highest on record, the highest seen since the 2002 season.
- Spotted seatrout abundance is at a near record high, and 2007 gill net catch rates were near record levels, well above this system’s 22-year average.
- Use extreme patience and caution when driving to Sabine Pass during early morning or late evening hours. During these times, traffic is extremely heavy due to several major industrial projects.
- Extreme caution must be exercised while boating due to liquefied natural gas pipeline projects underway in Sabine Lake and Keith Lake.
- Galveston Bay spring gill nets produced the highest spotted seatrout catches in 23 years. Recreational angler data collected during the same period of time indicates that both red drum and spotted seatrout catch rates have remained steady. This suggests that anglers should experience average or better than average trout and red drum catches for the remainder of 2008.
- Mangrove snapper landed by anglers and surveyed in TPWD gill nets keep getting larger as mild winters persist. Several mangrove snapper captured near the Texas City Dike averaged almost 18-inches in length. If the mild winter trend continues we may have a nice crop of large mangrove snapper available to anglers fishing Galveston Bay.
- Staff members and local anglers reported regular catches of striped bass in Galveston Bay near Oak Island. Some of the stripers were reported to be near 24” long and most were released. The occurrence of striped bass in Galveston Bay is not completely unheard of but the frequency and numbers reportedly caught this year is rather unusual.
- The spring black drum run along the Galveston jetties has begun with anglers reporting above average catches of “bull” black drum. The bait of choice is generally quartered or halved crabs fished on or near the bottom Though the black drum landed are usually much too large to keep the action can get fast and furious with several anglers on each boat “hooking-up” as the drum swim past.
- Spotted seatrout catches in spring 2007 gill nets were the highest ever recorded over the past 24-years of sampling Matagorda Bay. These impressive numbers suggest that spotted seatrout populations in this system are doing very well and potentially translate into exceptional fishing for the upcoming spring and summer.
- Summer 2007 was one of the wettest years on record. July proved to be one of the wettest months with Colorado River flows exceeding 1.5-million acre feet into the eastern arm of West Matagorda Bay. While the initial impression of these events is generally perceived as “bad” the overall impact is actually very beneficial. The nutrients, sediments and other “goodies” transported into the bay during high-flow events are of tremendous benefit to bay productivity. In the absence of similar extreme events this year, we should expect a better than average bait crop and an above average year for anglers.
- A recently concluded special study evaluating finfish abundance and use of mid-bay oyster reefs as habitat has produced some interesting results. Four mid-bay reefs were sampled and produced excellent catches of black drum, Atlantic croaker, spot croaker, spotted seatrout and a variety of sharks. All of this translates into alternate fishing locales and target species for the East Matagorda Bay angling population. Many anglers scoff at the suggestion of targeting black drum or croaker as species of choice, but these common estuarine fishes are excellent table fare and are quite fun to hook and land.
- The mild 2007-2008 winter temperatures should translate into continued angling success for mangrove snapper in Matagorda Bay. We expect to see larger catches of bigger mangrove snapper this year. These fish can be found in ports and near bulkheads at harbors and are excellent fighters and superb table fare.
- Another year and more positive reports of the fall “croaker run” near Sargent. Angler surveys and gill net samples are producing good numbers of surprisingly large Atlantic croaker and spot croaker. These fish, along with mangrove snapper, provide excellent angling opportunities for shore-based anglers.
- Anecdotal information suggests that fishing pressure for tripletail continues to increase in West Matagorda Bay. This once unknown and unusual species has received quite a bit of publicity and is now a highly sought after fish in this bay. A 28-pound tripletail was landed by an angler fishing the Texas International Oilman’s Tournament. Staff at the regional office in Dickinson and Sea Center Texas are discussing the possibility of procuring adult tripletail for study as a possible candidate for captive spawning. Stay tuned for further updates!
- Spring 2007 gill net catches of spotted sea trout in East Matagorda Bay set an all time record high. Angler success has generally mirrored trends seen in gill nets with some of the highest spotted seatrout catches ever documented occurring over the past 6-years. A group of anglers in the Matagorda area met with TPWD staff to discuss concerns about an increase in the use of live croaker as bait and potential impacts on the spotted seatrout population in East Matagorda Bay. Gill net, bag seine and harvest data indicate the population is in good condition but staff will continue to monitor abundance and health of the spotted seatrout population with special notice to status of larger fish.
- Landings of red drum taken by anglers plying the waters of East Matagorda Bay have been increasing since the devastating 1989-90 freezes. Gill nets set in East Matagorda Bay continue to produce some of the highest red drum catches of any bay system along the Texas coast.
- During 2007 the San Antonio Bay system again exhibited the classic estuarine characteristic: a dynamic hydrological regime! As a result of the above average rainfall on the watershed in 2007, the entire bay system was much fresher than normal during the summer. These conditions have gradually abated and salinities have climbed to slightly above long-term averages in early 2008.
- Angler catch rates of the three most sought after game fish (trout, redfish and flounder) are all exhibiting long-term upward trends. This phenomenon is unique to this system.
- Spring gill-net catch rates for seatrout were down in 2007 continuing a recent trend, and dramatically off the 1998 high. This downward trend does not compare favorably with other Texas estuaries where catch rates have generally been volatile but in a range around a 10-year average. It is not clear what the cause of this downward trend is but biologists will be watching it closely.
- The fresher bay conditions in 2007 resulted in reduced fishing effort over the system as angler success rates dropped for seatrout. These cyclical hydrological conditions resulted in a drop in recreational seatrout catch rates for the first time since 2003. The climbing salinities this year should present improved trout angling opportunities if current conditions continue into the summer.
- The 2007 red drum gill-net catch rate fell off the record high of 2006. Despite this, the trend is still upward. Like the DOW Jones Industrials stock index, it is not unusual to go through “bumpy times” on the way to new highs.
- Angler catch rates for red drum were also off in 2007. However, contrary to trout numbers, the angler success rates for red drum have been increasing in recent years and remain at near record highs. This condition should continue into 2008.
- With coastwide Southern Flounder population trends going downward as exhibited by netting and angler surveys, the opposite appears to be true for the San Antonio system. Despite reduced catch rates last year the recent trend is upward. There is no reason to suspect this trend will not continue.
- One look at our harvest data makes it clear that other less sought after saltwater species which make good table fare include black drum, sheepshead, gafftopsail catfish, and grey snapper. Often caught while other species are being pursued, these fish are good eating and can add variety to the abundant coastal cuisine anglers enjoy.
- For added adventure anglers visiting Calhoun County should try Hynes Bay near Austwell. Netting surveys indicate that large numbers of red drum frequent this bay during warmer months. Anglers can launch their boats at Austwell in Hynes Bay and avoid a long run to fishing spots.
- A non-traditional saltwater species that can be caught in the San Antonio Bay ecosystem is blue catfish. This species is a freshwater resident that ventures into the upper bay near the Guadalupe River in Guadalupe Bay and Mission Lake. Blue cats are fairly easily caught on live or dead bait after rain-induced "freshets" and make excellent table fare.
- This fishing season marks the beginning of the third year of the seagrass regulation within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area (RBSSA). However, anglers are reminded that access is allowed throughout the RBSSA. Hint for boaters: Lift, Drift, Pole or Troll in seagrass meadows.
- Spotted seatrout abundance exhibited a sharp increase in last spring’s gill net surveys from the low seen in 2006 and anglers should be able to reap the benefits with increased catches this spring and summer.
- Red drum abundance remains well above the coastwide average and increased during last fall’s gill net surveys. Angler landings of red drum this summer and into the fall season should rebound from the declines noted in 2007.
- The mild winter along the middle coast allowed many forage species to remain abundant throughout Aransas Bay. White shrimp were caught throughout the winter providing an excellent forage base for game fish.
- Salinity levels in all areas of Aransas Bay are within normal historical ranges, and with continued routine rainfall events, habitat conditions should enable excellent recruitment for most species.
- Although down slightly from the previous spring (the third highest on record) the catch rate for spotted seatrout in gillnets this past spring remained high in Corpus Christi Bay. Overall, the population of spotted seatrout in the bay is up and anglers should expect catches of spotted seatrout to remain good.
- The gillnet catch rate for red drum in Corpus Christi Bay this year was the highest it’s been since 2000 and the third highest ever recorded for the bay. Landings were a little lower than expected last year, perhaps as a result of high tides and turbid conditions in the bay caused by rain. The fish are abundant however, and if the weather cooperates, fishing for red drum in Corpus Christi Bay should be outstanding!
- The catch rate of Southern flounder in gillnets was the highest it has been in three years but overall the population of flounder in Corpus Christi Bay remains low. Angler catches of flounder will likely remain low.
- The gillnet catch rate for sheepshead in Corpus Christi Bay this year was about the same as last year. Catches of sheepshead in Corpus Bay are typically much higher than the coastwide average and are expected to remain at high levels.
- The trend of larger angler catches of gray snapper should continue since there has not been a significant freeze here for many years.
Upper Laguna Madre
- Spotted seatrout abundance in spring 2007 was the lowest recorded in the last four years and the sixth lowest recorded since 1990. Fish over 24” made up about 18 percent of spotted seatrout caught in last spring’s gill nets (about the same percent as last year). Upper Laguna Madre spotted seatrout landings generally increased between 1990 and 2006. Landings in 2006 were lower than 2005 but were above the long-term mean.
- Upper Laguna Madre fall gill net catch rates for red drum was the second highest recorded since 1984. Despite the relative high abundance of red drum in most years since 1984, recreational landings are estimated at less than 25,000 fish per year. Red drum is as abundant as spotted seatrout but are not harvested or targeted at the same rate as spotted seatrout.
- Black drum are often overlooked by upper Laguna Madre anglers. Black drum are extremely abundant in the upper Laguna Madre with gill net catch rates 4 or 5 times those observed for spotted seatrout or red drum. In most years since 1984, fewer than 10,000 black drum are landed by upper Laguna Madre anglers.
- Packery Channel and the Packery Channel boat ramp continue to provide area anglers access to Gulf and jetty fishing opportunities. Good numbers of large snook, spotted seatrout, red drum and some tarpon were landed from the Packery Channel jetties last spring and summer. Large schools of Spanish mackerel were also reported by jetty fishermen last spring and summer with occasional schools of king mackerel.
- Brown tide has been observed sporadically since the fall of 2003; however, it has not adversely affected fish populations. Large noisy lures or rattling bobbers are very effective at producing fish in brown-tide stained water as are natural baits, i.e. live shrimp or fish.
Lower Laguna Madre
- While harvest data showed that red drum catch rates for anglers were down slightly in 2007, TPWD gill net catch rates were at near record highs. Therefore, anglers targeting red drum should expect excellent catches in 2008.
- Private boat landings for spotted seatrout last year were at their lowest since 1990. However, with the new bag limits in place anglers should expect catches to improve and good numbers of smaller spotted seatrout (15 — 17 inches) can still caught.
- Reports from private anglers and guides indicate that snook, tarpon, and mangrove snapper catches were excellent in 2007, and this year’s mild winter should only improve the fishing for these warm water species.