It appears Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners came to their senses recently and approved a regulation that addresses concerns over alligator gar instead of penalizing one segment of those who fish for them.
After considering a regulation proposal change that would have impacted bow fishermen statewide by banning night fishing for alligator gar, the commission ultimately settled on a regulation change that creates a 48-inch maximum length limit on alligator gar on the Trinity River from the I-30 bridge in Dallas south to the I-10 bridge in Chambers County. The Trinity is considered one of the state’s premier alligator gar fisheries and is probably the most popular river for both commercial guides and sport fishermen.
The regulation also calls for a ban on night bowfishing for alligator gar on that segment of the river and calls on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries staff to create a draw system to allow some the opportunity to take an oversized fish on the river.
Also fishermen, except those on Falcon Lake, will be required to report any alligator gar harvest to TPWD. This will be done using a mobile app or website similar to one being used by hunters harvesting Eastern turkeys in the state.
In all, Texas bow fishermen have to be satisfied after dodging a proposal that looked more like an attack on their style of fishing than it did an effort to protect a species.
There is nationwide concern over the future of alligator gar. So far that concern has been based on the lack of spawning habitat primarily caused by the lack of flooding in the rivers used by the fish during the spring.
Texas has been monitoring alligator gar for a decade and for the most part considers the fishery in good condition. There is harvest, but the department believes it is well below a sustainable rate.
Currently there is a one-fish daily bag limit on alligator gar with the exception of Falcon. There it is believed the gar prey on largemouth bass in low water conditions so the department has a five-fish per day limit there. The only other regulation concerning alligator gar gives the department the authority to close fishing on the Trinity River if spawning conditions are optimum. That has been done just once.
It was clear when the regulation proposal was announced in February that it was commission driven instead of coming from the Inland Fisheries staff. In fact on a number of occasions the staff clearly tried to distance itself from the proposal, saying it was more conservative than they would have proposed. When it came to the impact of night fishing on alligator gar harvest, the department’s limited research did not support a closure.
So why did the Commission go from the bully on the block to an accommodating neighbor when it came time for a vote in late March?
“The Commission took public comment into consideration and decided to restrict the night-time bowfishing ban on alligator gar to the Trinity River,” said Craig Bonds, Inland Fisheries director.
Bonds added even that restriction would be waived for those who draw a permit for a trophy gar.
While able to claim a victory overall, bow fishermen on the Trinity are still impacted by the regulation unlike any other type of fishermen. Bonds said the department does not have any information on how much night-time fishing for alligator gar occurs on the Trinity, but admits the size regulation will impact bowfishing more than anything else.
The key point for bow fishermen is that they will still be able to night fish on the river targeting other species of gar, carp and other legal species.
During the regulation process, a number of bow fishermen commented on the original proposal. More than 20 showed up in Austin to voice their complaints about the proposal, however, most supported a harvest reporting system.
“Obtaining information on alligator gar harvest across the state will enable us to better monitor these fisheries, not only for known popular areas like the Trinity River, but also for gar populations in waters where knowledge gaps are more pronounced. We can also collect valuable information about general harvest location, date, time of day, method of take and sizes of fish. These are important metrics for managing a fishery. Alligator gar populations are relatively more challenging to monitor through traditional means when compared to other species, such as black basses, catfishes and crappies,” Bonds explained.
He added at the request of commissioners that biologists will be investigating rod-and-reel hooking mortality to determine if additional regulation protections are needed.
The new regulations will go into effect Sept. 1. By that time, the department should have the reporting process completed and develop a method for the Trinity trophy fish harvest drawing and a number of permits that will be offered.