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TPWD News Release — Jan. 25, 2012

JFK Seagrass Proposal to Emphasize Public Education, Voluntary Protection

AUSTIN — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission today approved a staff recommendation to protect seagrass in the Laguna Madre near the John F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway in Nueces County through a voluntary education and outreach program.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently held six scoping meetings on an earlier concept to create a new state scientific area and prohibit seagrass uprooting in the JFK Causeway area. The area contains more than 14,000 acres of ecologically important seagrass, experiences heavy boat traffic and has shown evidence of significant boat propeller scarring. TPWD received more than 430 on-line, email, and phone comments, most of which opposed the concept. Attendees at the scoping meetings were significantly opposed to the regulatory approach to protecting seagrass.

“Based on what we heard, it’s clear we have work to do to foster better understanding of the issue, and we propose to explore ways to show people how to protect seagrass on a voluntary basis,” said Robin Riechers, TPWD coastal fisheries director. “We’ll continue to monitor seagrass around the JFK Causeway to track what happens over time and help guide our efforts in the future.”

The department proposes to begin collecting updated aerial imagery of seagrass beds around the JFK Causeway and to continue monitoring both biological and human-use factors of this area. TPWD staff will use this as baseline data to track seagrass changes over time and assess the effectiveness of voluntary protection.

The JFK causeway area was chosen because it has extensive shallow seagrass flats that would benefit from protection, plus heavy boat traffic with many access points. Also, the site offers beneficial “overlap” with the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area 10 miles away, where there have been previous outreach and conservation efforts, and existing partners are dedicated to helping the cause.

TPWD will go forward with a proposal to clarify rules to protect fish during prolonged freezing weather on the Texas coast. For example, last Feb. 2, the agency issued a temporary closure to saltwater fishing at specified areas, or thermal refuges, along the Texas coast. Texas has about two million acres of bays and estuaries susceptible to freeze. There were three major freezes during the 1980s, including one in 1989 when the temperature at Brownsville dropped to 16 degrees and an estimated 11 million fish died.

The existing rule specifies that no one can fish with a hook and line, pole and line, or throwline in an affected area during a freeze closure. There has been some confusion over the taking of fish with dipnets, even though a dipnet is not a legal device as described in another section of TPWD proclamation.  The proposed rule change for 2012 makes it clear that no one may take or attempt to take any aquatic life by any means in an affected area during a freeze. The TPW Commission will vote on the freeze rule along with other statewide fishing and hunting regulation changes at its March 29 meeting in Austin.

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