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Texas' fisheries: a brief history.

In 1874, the State of Texas recognized problems with some of its fishery resources by passing its first protective law: Restrictions on coastal seining and netting. Some of the concerns voiced during that era included: 1) Recognition of diminishing availability of freshwater and saltwater fishes, 2) recognition of the benefits of a diversified fishery, 3) recognition of the problems associated with the oyster industry, and 4) recognition of the benefits of a fish stocking program.

The "Fisheries Division" of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was first set up in 1879 as the "Texas Fish Commission." The Division's primary responsibility then, as now, was to protect and manage the state's aquatic resources.

Also in 1879, the legislature directed that fish ladders be constructed over mill dams, with the Fish Commission to enforce the law. Two years later, in 1881, the state's first fish hatchery, Barton Springs, was built for propagation of the then popular "German carp." However, 4 years later in 1885 the Fish Commission was abolished owing to public opposition to the introduction of the carp and the tightening of game protective laws. Two years earlier, all Texas counties had claimed exemption from all state game laws.)

By 1887, fishing was restricted in bay areas due to perceived destruction of spawn by seines, and in 1895 the Texas Fish and Oyster Commission was established. In 189r7, the legislature outlawed the use of poison, lime, or explosives to take fish in public waters, and a decade later the "Game Department" was added to the Fish and Oyster Commission "provided it could sell enough licenses to pay its own way."

In 1911, the Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission was given charge of shell, marl, and sand management, and in 1913, a new fish hatchery was built in Dallas from the proceeds from the sale of sand and shell. In 1919, there were only six game wardens to patrol the entire state while appropriations for oyster culture were set at $15,000. Another state fish hatchery was built in the mid 1920's, and a dozen more were constructed in the following 25 years that serve both freshwater and saltwater.

In 1937, the Coastal Division was added to the Commission, and in 1938 the first artificial fish pass program began. Then, in 1948, the state's Marine Laboratory was dedicated in Rockport. The word "Oyster" was dropped from the department's name in 1951, and in 1953 the department made its first transplant of marine fish from salt to fresh water.

Saltwater fishermen were first licensed in 1957 and the angling fee was raised from $1.65 to $2.15. Also, a statewide Water Quality Survey was started to combat pollution, and in 1958 an artificial snapper reef was established at Port Aransas. The Shrimp Conservation Act was passed in 1959, and in 1960 saltwater fish were successfully transplanted from the Gulf of Mexico to Imperial Reservoir in Reeves and Pecos Counties.

A major reorganization was accomplished in 1961 as the Game and Fish Commission was set up with a nine-member commission, executive secretary, a staff in Austin, and with five regional headquarters. Then, in 1963, the State Parks Board was merged with the Game and Fish Commission to form the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with a three-member Commission.

The state joined the Federal Aid to Commercial Fisheries research and development program in 1966 and, 2 years later, the legislature set up the Seafood Marketing Program to inform consumers about Texas' seafood products. By the early 1970's state researchers were making considerable advances in the culture of such marine fishes as red and black drum, Atlantic croaker, flounder, and spotted seatrout, and reported a major breakthrough in hatching 150,000 spotted seatrout at Olmito Hatchery in Brownsville in 1973.

In 1974, research at the Port Aransas laboratory resulted in the first successful redfish natural reproduction in captivity, while the first state saltwater fish harvest survey was initiated in 1974. Shell permits were also revised, with tough dredging rules adopted, and studies were started to protect bay environments.

Limited surveys on sport fishing harvests prior to 1974 provided preliminary data on recreational catches, and in 1974 the TPWD expanded its efforts to survey coastal recreational angling surveys to evaluate catch, fishing effort, types of fish, and fish size as well as gain data on anglers and their fishing gear, baits used, etc.

In 1975 the TPWD established a continuous coastwide assessment of finfish based on a random sampling program, and since, to provide a long-term comparison needed to manage finfish and shellfish populations, they have worked to standardize monitoring programs for the study of fish, shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters. Those studies have provided the basis for action taken by the Commission and the Texas legislature to reverse declines in red drum, spotted seatrout, and oysters. This article is based on materials supplied by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; views or opinions expressed or implied no not necessarily reflect the position of the Department or the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA.
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Sep 22, 1988
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