November 18, 2010
Everything is bigger in Texas, including their hatcheries. A recent trip to the lone star state reinforced my belief that Texans are serious about their football, barbeque and their coastal fishery. In the late 70's, redfish and speckled trout populations plummeted primarily due to commercial over fishing. A group of grassroots anglers were concerned and alarmed by the decline, so they united and formed the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) in 1977. Shortly thereafter, the organization started their first campaign called "Save the Redfish". As this campaign gathered steam in the early eighties, CCA joined forces with Texas Parks and Wildlife and established a hatchery program. Since then, almost a half a billion redfish and millions of speckled trout and more recently, flounder have been stocked in their coastal waters. Anglers now have a 3-bag limit for 20"-28" slot redfish. In fact, the program has had great success. DNA studies confirm that up to 1 out of every ten redfish is a hatchery fish.
The success in Texas has spurred other states, like Florida and Georgia, to implement hatchery programs to improve their fish populations. Even Louisiana is contemplating using BP money to fund a 48 million dollar hatchery program. The argument is that over fishing and catastrophic natural events (e.g., a severe cold snap) could decimate a population. If successful, the hatcheries would replenish the affected species and accelerate recovery.
While I understand the benefit of these hatchery programs, I am very aware of the adverse effects of stocking fish. Science has revealed that hatchery raised fish are genetically inferior to wild fish. It is possible to increase genetic diversity by rotating the brood stock, but we cannot replicate what nature can do. Often, hatchery programs are put in place to compensate for a deteriorating habitat. I believe that habitat preservation is of primary importance. Nature is extremely resilient and will maintain a delicate balance of species biomass, whether redfish, speckled trout or flounder, when left untouched. Unfortunately, when over fishing, pollution and habitat degradation affect this balance; hatcheries become necessary to preserve a population. Despite my hatchery apprehensions, I applaud Texas for their efforts and success and hope that this wonderful fishery remains prolific and healthy. Texas, I look forward to returning to your coast.