AUSTIN -As Texas approaches the winter season and temperatures drop, many anglers continue to enjoy great fishing on coastal bays. However, when temperatures on the coast are predicted to fall below 32°F for three or more days, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) executive director has the authority to close some areas to saltwater fishing until the threat from the freeze event is over.
When a closure occurs, this doesn’t mean all fishing is closed. It simply means that a few deepwater harbors and canals may be closed to angling if freezing conditions warrant it. For a complete list of these thermal refuge areas subject to closure go to the TPWD Saltwater Freeze Events web page.
In addition to killing game fish in shallow bay waters, these hard freeze events can cause surviving fish to congregate in a few deeper areas where they become sluggish and prone to capture. These are the areas the department may temporarily close.
“The high mortality that a freeze can cause may deplete fish stocks for years,” said Robin Riechers, TPWD coastal fisheries division director. “Protection of the surviving fish during the few days when they are especially vulnerable to capture would likely shorten the time period for overall recovery of coastal species, especially spotted seatrout.”
In February 2011, for the first time since TPWD adopted the thermal refuge regulation in 2005, the Texas coast had freezing temperatures long enough to enact temporary fishing restrictions. This winter, biologists hope not to have a freeze event that would cause TPWD to close thermal refuges.
However, since air temperatures have already dipped into the 30’s in November, anglers should be aware of the possibility of another cold winter with the potential for temporary restrictions to fishing. Due to weather forecasting, there may be a short window of time to get the message out before the closure is in effect.
With the boom in social media like Facebook and Twitter, TPWD can now disseminate information quickly and efficiently to users of that technology. However for the rest of the public, news media is the next best option. Additionally, TPWD will posts signs near the closed areas. TPWD will use all these methods to try and get the word out about any closures.
What can anglers do to help protect the resource during freeze events? By adhering to the regulations and practicing conservation during the freeze, anglers can help ensure a continued healthy future for Texas coastal fisheries.
Game fish, including spotted seatrout, red drum, sharks, snook and tripletail may only be taken by pole and line, and it is unlawful to take or attempt to take a fish with one or more hooks attached to a line or artificial lure used in a manner to foul-hook a fish (snagging or jerking). It is also unlawful to collect stunned fish including the use of a cast net or dip net.
Anglers and coastal residents can report fish kills or large numbers of sluggish or cold-stunned fish 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by contacting TPWD’s Law Enforcement Communications office at (281) 842-8100 or (512) 389-4848.