Proposals being considered include: an expansion of special whitetail buck harvest regulations into 40 more counties, broadening of the popular Managed Lands Permit Program to include provisions for upland game birds and elimination of the trophy tarpon tagging requirements.
The department will be seeking comment on these and other proposed changes to the state’s hunting and fishing regulations during an upcoming series of public hearings.
Each year, TPWD considers changes in hunting and fishing regulations to achieve resource management objectives and maximize outdoor recreation opportunities consistent with good stewardship. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission will make a final decision on the proposals during its April 5 public hearing.
Expand special buck harvest regulations in 40 counties: Among the most ambitious proposals considered is an expansion of special antler restrictions on whitetail deer. Antler restriction regulations currently in effect in 21 counties in the Oak Prairie ecoregion have been effective in improving the age structure of the buck herd, increasing hunter opportunity, and encouraging landowners and hunters to become more actively involved in better habitat management.
Under the regulation, a lawful buck is defined as any buck having at least one unbranched antler OR an inside antler spread of at least 13 inches. The bag limit in the affected counties would be two lawful bucks, no more than one of which may have an inside spread of greater than 13 inches.
Additional counties being considered under this regulation include: Bell, Bosque, Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cherokee, Comal (east of IH 35), Comanche, Coryell, Delta, Eastland, Erath, Fannin, Franklin, Gregg, Hamilton, Harrison, Hays (east of IH 35), Hopkins, Houston, Lamar, Lampasas, Leon, Marion, Morris, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rains, Red River, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Somervell, Titus, Travis (east of IH 35), Upshur, Williamson, Wilson, and Wood counties.
Hunting pressure on buck deer in these counties has been excessive for many years. In 1971, the bag limit in most counties in the eastern third of the state was reduced from two bucks to one in an effort to mitigate excessive hunting pressure.
Despite the reduction, the data continues to indicate excessive harvest of bucks, which results in very poor age structure. Research results indicate that poor age structure within a buck herd creates a longer breeding season, which in turn leads to a longer fawning season and a reduction in fawn production. Poor age structure also contributes to adverse hunter satisfaction.
The criteria used for candidate counties were: the county currently must be a one-buck county, 60 percent of the buck harvest in the county must consist of bucks less than 3.5 years of age, and the county must have a contiguous border with another county in which antler restriction regulations have been implemented. On this basis, the department identified the 40 counties affected by the proposed amendment.
Expand managed lands permits to upland game birds: Another proposal would allow for the establishment of special seasons and bag limits for upland game birds (Rio Grande turkey, quail, pheasant, lesser prairie-chicken, and chachalaca), by species, on properties managed by the landowner under a department-approved wildlife management plan.
The plan would be required to incorporate habitat-based management regimes beneficial to these upland game bird species. In return, landowners would be given additional flexibility in managing harvest based on annual quotas determined by a combination of data including existing habitat conditions and quality of improvements, populations surveys to determine bird production and considerations to assure carrying through a surplus sufficient to maintain or increase future population levels, and keeping decisions based on management goals.
The department believes that the use of incentives such as enhanced bag limits and extended season lengths are useful tools to encourage landowners to engage in practices that are scientifically proven to maintain healthy ecosystems.
Create harvest rules for alligator hunting: TPWD is also proposing to establish the open seasons, rules for tag issuance and use, reporting requirements, and provisions for the sale of alligators taken under a Texas hunting license in counties outside the historic range of the American alligator in Texas; basically counties outside East Texas and along the coast.
Increase deer bag limit in Upton County: TPWD is also proposing to implement a four-deer bag limit for the entirety of Upton County. Under current rules, the bag limit in the portions of Upton County that are either north of U.S. Highway 67 or both south of U.S. Highway 67 and west of State Highway 349 is three deer.
If implemented, the entire county would have a January muzzleloader season for antlerless and spike-buck deer. Department data indicate that deer populations in the northern and western parts of the county are increasing and able to withstand additional hunting pressure.
Additionally, the counties adjoining Upton County on the east and northeast (Glasscock and Reagan counties) contain deer densities similar to those found in Upton County but are under a more liberal regulation (5 deer; no more than 2 bucks) than that being proposed for Upton County. The regulations have been in effect in Glasscock and Reagan counties for five years, and the deer herds in these counties have experienced no adverse impacts. The department therefore does not anticipate that the proposed amendment will result in either waste or depletion of the resource. The proposal also would expand the late muzzleloader season countywide.
Prohibit harvest of largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti). The proposal is necessary because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) as endangered. Due to the extreme difficulty in distinguishing the smalltooth sawfish from the largetooth sawfish, the department believes that protection of both species is the only way to protect the listed species.
Eliminate trophy tarpon tag: TPWD is also proposing to eliminate the requirement that tarpon be tagged and instead would implement a minimum length limit. Under current rules, no person may catch and retain a tarpon of less than 80 inches in length, but may retain one tarpon of more than 80 inches in length by tagging the fish with the trophy tarpon tag from the person’s fishing license.
The proposed amendment would eliminate the tagging requirement and replace it with a bag limit of one tarpon of 80 inches in length or longer per person.
Alter black drum harvest rules: A similar proposal also would modify the rules governing possession of black drum. Currently, black drum are managed by means of a bag limit combined with minimum and maximum size limits. The proposed amendment would allow a person to keep one black drum of greater than 52 inches in length per day.
Reduce possession limits on flounder: The department is proposing a reduction to the possession limit for flounder taken under a recreational license. Under current rule, the possession limit for any fish is twice the daily bag limit, unless specified otherwise. Thus, with a daily bag limit of 10, the possession limit for flounder is 20, and for those flounder fishing trips which last past midnight the 20 fish per angler possession limit applies. The proposed change would make the possession limit identical to the daily bag limit.
Naming tripletail (Lobotes surinamensis) a game fish: TPWD proposes to list tripletail as a game fish and create a minimum size of 17 inches and daily bag limit of 3 fish [6 in possession]. This rule is similar to what other states have adopted and since tripletail females reach reproductive maturity at about 17 inches, this would provide protection through at least an initial spawning cycle.”
Increasing minimum length limits on largemouth bass: The current harvest regulations for largemouth bass on 250-acre Marine Creek Reservoir (Tarrant
County) consist of statewide 14-inch minimum length limit and a five-fish daily bag limit. The proposal would implement an 18-inch minimum length limit. The change is necessary because Marine Creek Reservoir has been selected to be involved in the Operation World Record research project.
The project will involve stocking coded-wire tagged largemouth bass and monitoring their growth for a minimum of five years following stocking. The stocked bass are ShareLunker offspring and are valuable, considering the limited number that will be produced and their importance to the project.
The ShareLunker program allows anglers to loan largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more to the department for spawning and research purposes, which include the study of genetics, life history, growth, performance, behavior, and competition. The increased length limit will protect the stocked bass through at least 18 inches and will increase the department’s ability to evaluate their performance in natural systems.
Add baitfish restrictions in Kinney County: The proposal would add Kinney County to current list of counties where bait fish are restricted to common carp, fathead minnows, gizzard and threadfin shad, golden shiners, goldfish, Mexican tetra, Rio Grande cichlid, silversides (Atherinidae family), and sunfish (Lepomis). The restrictions were promulgated to protect endangered pupfish (Cyprinodon) in the western Texas.
The proposed change would also protect the Devils River minnow, which only occurs in Val Verde and Kinney counties. Currently, 17 counties in that area, including Val Verde County, have a similar restriction on certain baitfishes.
Allow bowfishermen to take catfish: Another proposal would make bowfishing a legal means for the take of flathead, channel and blue catfish. Bag, possession and size restrictions would mirror current regulations for legal means and methods for harvest.
Public comment about these issues and others of interest may be made to TPWD, Regulatory Proposals Public Comment, 4200 Smith School Road, 78744, by phoning (800) 792-1112 or by visiting www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment.