December 14th, 2008 17:53 EST
Flounder Conservation: Now is the Time to Act
A HUGE FLOUNDER SLID INTO AN ICE CHEST amidst high fives and atta-boys " one quiet morning on Aransas Bay. Although speckled trout were the goal of the fishing trip, catching the 4-pound beauty was a welcomed bonus for a veteran angler who said he rarely catches flatfish but loves to stuff the big ones with crab meat, douse with butter, and bake to perfection.
This event happened a few years back, but I have seen similar scenes play out since then, and in my opinion, they show a serious double standard.
At this point, you are probably wondering why keeping a big, fat, juicy flounder to eat is such a big deal.
Well, it`s not.
However, the angler who caught and ate the flounder described above has been known to verbally berate others who do the same with trophy-sized speckled trout. And over the years, I have seen similar scenes play out with personal friends and acquaintances that have fervor for saving the big specks, but blinders on when it comes to other species.
Stuff a flounder for dinner, and you are a hero back at fishing camp. Stuff a speck to hang on the wall, and you risk getting thrown out of your social circle and becoming a target of certain bitter, repressed Internet stalkers.
Catch and release is cool with me, but if you are serious about it, apply it equally across the board.
Even in the worst-case scenarios in Texas, trout are seeing only minimal recruitment declines. However, the southern flounder fishery is poised to slide into obscurity. As noted in my column last April, flounder numbers coastwide are down 56 percent since 1986.
Worse yet, there are few signs a full recovery is happening despite decreased by-catch in the shrimping fleet due to the buyback program initiated by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and backed by the Coastal Conservation Association and Saltwater Conservation Association. Croaker are bouncing back, as are other species, but flounder numbers have not tracked with by-catch reduction in the way we had hoped.
There are still huge problems for flounder populations, and now is the time to act on curtailing future declines. How will the new age of self-proclaimed conservationists react? Will they support saving the flounder with the same gusto they have for speckled trout?
The push to cut the speckled trout bag limit from 10 to 5 in Lower Laguna Madre is a fine example of angling community activists doing something pro-active for a fishery with some problems. While I am still dead set against the ban croaker " mantra of some of the people involved in that issue, they all deserve a tip of the hat for getting involved with a species they cared about and doing something about it.
The fact is, those of who have worked for flounder conservation could use the help of the thousands who responded to TPWD on trout regs to take action on flounder. After all, this is not a regional issue "it is coastwide. And it could literally involve saving a fishery, not just strengthening one.
After all, if someone is bold enough to proclaim protection of super-sized specks, they should give flounder the same support. Conservation is not just a bumper sticker, internet screen name, or mantra shouted at public hearings. It requires action and should not be limited to one Texas species.
TPWD coastal fisheries officials are looking at changing flounder regulations, and I am in full support of getting the ball rolling on this.
Fervent passions have ignited to protect speckled trout, and over time, it has brought out the best and worst in people along the coast. The same kind of energy needs to go into restoring the flounder fishery, and those of us in support of this could use all the help we can get.
I, too, have worked for trout conservation with TPWD over the years, helping catch broodstock for Sea Center and taking part in other programs. However, my concern for trout was always about seeing the quality of the fishery decrease, not decline beyond restoration. I wish I could say the same about flounder.
We have an opportunity to make a huge difference with these species, but we must act now and form a united front to do what was done with redfish 30 years ago.
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