Why Texas Parks and Wildlife Released 1 Billion Fish

Why Texas Parks and Wildlife Released 1 Billion Fish

Over the past 40 years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has released nearly a billion saltwater fish into Texas bays as part of an effort to revive historic fisheries and restore native fish populations.

The agency originally planned to release the billionth fish Wednesday in Freeport’s Christmas Bay but postponed the event because of bad weather caused by Beryl, which made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Monday morning about an hour east of Matagorda.

According to a news release from the Department of Wildlife, the fry are being caught and raised in local and state hatcheries to help speed the recovery of overfished stocks.

The billionth fish will be the red fingerling, one of the most coveted gamefish in Texas. The species has reached record high populations thanks to effective fisheries management, according to a news release.

Why are saltwater fish populations declining in Texas?

The initial decline in saltwater fish populations off the Texas coast was caused by overfishing, which occurred primarily in the 1970s. However, in recent years, fish populations have declined steadily as coastal water temperatures have risen.

The global average sea surface temperature in February reached a daily maximum of 70.1 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Captain Experiences researchers who used data from the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

Over the past decade, water temperatures have risen the most along the Gulf Coast, rising 8.9 degrees in Galveston Bay.

TPWD has introduced new fishing regulations for the 2023-24 season

The wildlife department has introduced several new fishing regulations for the 2023-24 fishing season to help maintain native saltwater fish populations. They include:

  • The shortfin mako shark is a prohibited species.
  • Limit one bag per cobia.
  • Anglers must use descending devices for reef fish with pressure injuries.

According to the department’s website, research shows that properly releasing reef fish reduces mortality. The regulations are consistent with the federal DESCEND Act of 2022, which has similar regulations in federal waters.

It is unclear whether these rules will continue in force or expire before the 2024-25 season.

Earlier this year, the agency also introduced new regulations for sea trout that included:

  • Daily catch limit of three fish per angler.
  • The minimum size is 15 inches and the maximum size is 20 inches.
  • The daily catch limit includes one large trout over 30 inches in length.