Spotted Seatrout Regulations Extended 60 Days in Laguna Madre

AUSTIN – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is extending the emergency spotted seatrout regulations in the Laguna Madre for an additional 60 days. These temporary regulation changes for spotted seatrout in the bays and beachfronts of the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre bay systems include:

a three fish bag limit,
a minimum size length of 17 inches
a maximum size length of 23 inches and;
no fish over 23 inches may be retained.

These modified regulations are a continuation of changes made by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission that began April 1. The previous regulation changes are in effect from April 1 to July 29. The extension of the emergency rule will take effect on July 30 and are valid for another 60 days running thru September 27.

“The data from our Coastal Fisheries biologists clearly shows declines in spotted seatrout populations in multiple Texas bays,” said Carter Smith, TPWD Executive Director. “While the 60-day extension of regulation changes is warranted now in the Laguna Madre, additional focus on trout fishery recovery in the San Antonio and Matagorda Bay systems is needed as well. The Department’s next step is working with the TPW Commission this fall to further evaluate the data, to solicit additional public input, and ultimately to secure Commission guidance on what management and regulatory actions may be necessary to facilitate the quickest recovery possible.”

This data is preliminary and is still being evaluated by Coastal Fisheries biologists for quality control. But the trends are significant enough to warrant an extension of the April emergency rule in the Laguna Madre which would have expired on July 29. The TPW Commission will be given an update on the freeze impacts in a briefing at the Aug. 25-26 public meeting.

For these regulations, the Laguna Madre boundary is defined as south of the John F. Kennedy Causeway near Corpus Christi (including the adjacent beachfronts from Packery Channel) to the Brownsville Ship Channel on the bay side and to the Rio Grande River on the gulf side of South Padre Island. These changes were implemented to reduce harvesting pressure, thereby leaving more mature fish in the water during the summer spawning season. Along with TPWD hatcheries efforts, biologists believe this is the best course of action to improve recruitment and accelerate population recovery due to the fish kills from Winter Storm Uri in Feb. 2021.

In mid-June, TPWD Coastal Fisheries biologists completed their routine gill net surveys and began analyzing the data for trends. Data from these sampling efforts were compared to sampling efforts from previous years in spotted seatrout populations. Spring gill net sampling when compared to other years shows a decline in spotted seatrout in the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre bay systems. Spring gill net samplings were not completed in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Gill net survey data is available to the public on the TPWD website. The graphs shown in this data illustrates the mean catch rate per hour for spotted seatrout in a given bay system (i.e. the average number of fish caught in our gill nets per hour) compared to the numerical year.

In both the Upper and Lower Laguna Madre, gill net data found that the Spring 2021 spotted seatrout catch rates were both approximately 30 percent lower than the 10-year average. The data also indicated that there were noteworthy declines in the Matagorda and San Antonio Bay systems in 2021 spotted seatrout catch rates. Those catch rates were approximately 40 percent lower than the 10-year average.

For Aransas, Galveston, and Sabine Lake the data showed catch rates that were at or near the 10-year average catch rates. Corpus Christi, in fact, saw a 10 percent increase in catch rates for 2021. Considering the natural annual variation in populations, the freeze impact to these systems appears minimal.

Also of note were low salinity levels in multiple Texas bay systems when 2021 levels were compared to the 10-year historical average. While the extreme weather of Winter Storm Uri in Feb. 2021 played a role in the lower catch rates seen, increased rainfall in May and June likely contributed to lower catch rates due to low salinity levels as well.