Imagine if you can Texas Parks and Wildlife Department closing deer hunting until after the rut.
You are right, it would never happen.
But that is what the department may be asking fishermen to do when it comes to alligator gar. To make matters worse, the fishermen will not know until the last minute the fishery is closinge, it might only be on a certain piece of water and it could happen more than once throughout May and June, the two prime spawning months for the fish.
Talk about a nightmare.
The idea is not among the proposals being sent out to the public for comment, but it will be discussed at public hearings in March and could go before the Parks and Wildlife Commission and enacted in September.
To be fair the idea is coming from the commission and not from the staff. Also to be fair alligator gar are not white-tailed deer. Under the best conditions they don’t spawn but about twice in a decade, and the fish have to reach at least 8 years old to become mature.
That said this appears more to be about sociology than biology.
Once lightly regarded as a sport fish, alligator gar gained a following in the last 15 years from both rod and reel anglers and bow fishermen.
Already a fragile species because of its spawning tendencies, the increased pressure caused concerned. However, department fisheries biologists have conducted numerous studies on the fish and determined that with current fishing pressure the species is not in danger.
“We thought most of the studies we have done so far looking at any form of angler exploitation including bow fish tournaments or angler surveys and mark and capture studies on the Trinity seem to show it to be within sustainable levels,” said Craig Bonds, TPWD Fisheries regional supervisor for East Texas.
During a November update on the fish before commissioners, the staff was asked to look at a way to protect alligator gar during the spawn. It wasn’t an easy request.
“We have had weeks and weeks of internal deliberation on how we could do it and disrupt angling to the least extent possible,” Bonds said.
To spawn alligator gar need water temperatures between 68 and 82 degrees. They also need flood-like conditions in a river and rising conditions in or above a reservoir.
Without shutting down the state for two months, biologists began looking at USGS flood data. Bonds said they have information that tells, for example, if Dallas-Fort Worth gets a certain amount of rain how much it will cause the Trinity River to rise, how long it will take the rise to reach a certain part of the river downstream and how long it will take for it to recede.
The devil is in the details and at this time all of the details are yet to be worked out. Bonds theorized that if a flood event was predicted at the right time, the department’s executive director could issue an emergency order calling for the impacted portion of the river to be closed, but probably only to gar fishing.
The plan does fall short of Oklahoma’s closure of the fishery above the Lake Texoma in May.
There are no firm numbers on how many Texans target the fish. Department surveys shows about 4 or 5 percent of the state’s licensed fishermen consider themselves to be bow fishermen. There is also a small number who use rods and reels.
Because fishermen have been limited to one alligator gar per day since 2009, Bonds said they are probably targeting the bigger fish, and success doesn’t come easy.
“Our surveys have shown the number harvested per fisherman over a year is about three. They average taking from zero to 40. It takes a fisherman roughly 50 hours to shoot an alligator gar,” Bonds explained.
At the current exploitation rate biologists believe the mature alligator gar population is sustainable for at least another 30-35 years.
If biologists weren’t confident in the species future maybe following Oklahoma’s lead and closing the fishery during spawning season might be called for. Attempting to develop a regulation that may or may not occur and might last only so long is asking for nothing but trouble.
The public will have a chance to comment on the idea at public hearings in East Texas including March 10 in Suphur Springs at the Hopkins County Courthouse, March 12 in Marshall at the Marshall Lions Center, 1201 Louisiana St., March 17 in Nacogdoches at the Nacogdoches County Courthouse Annex, 203 W. Main, and in Palestine at the Ben E. Keith Building, 2019 W. Oak, and March 19 in Huntsville at the Walker County Storm Shelter, 455 Highway 75 North. All meetings will begin at 7 p.m.
The public may also comment online at http://tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment/proposals/201403_fishing.phtml .