Fishing & Boating News

Sea Center Hatchery Production Tops 25 Million

excerpts from TPW News

by: Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept St,

(July 20, 1998 - LAKE JACKSON, Texas) The concept of supply and demand applies as much to fishing on the Texas coast as to any commodity. Fortunately for anglers, the fish market is excellent these days.

Barely into its second year of production, Sea Center Texas has bridged the gap between supply and demand of red drum and speckled trout for recreational angling, and this week celebrates another milestone with the release of the 25 millionth fingerling cultivated here at this world class marine fish hatchery.

The latest release took place at Sy's Ramp, north of Brazosport, where coincidentally many of the initial red drum restoration stockings occurred using fingerlings produced nearby in the Dow Chemical Company's experimental hatchery ponds during the 1980s.

Since the first marine fish hatchery opened on the Texas coast in 1982, Texas Parks and Wildlife's (TPW) primary management goal has been to enhance fisheries populations at a level that would offset calamities like red tides and freezes, and supplement years of poor natural reproduction. As the resource strengthened, though, so did angling pressure. Fish production at the Marine Development Center in Flour Bluff and the Perry R. Bass hatchery in Palacios, along with conservative harvest regulations enabled the resource to hold its ground, although red drum and seatrout populations rarely met what biologists believed to be the ecosystem's potential.

With the outstanding production thus far at Sea Center, officials now feel confident that potential can be reached. "We were estimating Sea Center could produce between 10 and 15 million fingerlings in a typical year," said Robert Vega, TPW's director of coastal hatcheries. "For them to have produced 25 million so far is quite an accomplishment. This puts us in great shape."

During previous years, the demand for fish stockings usually exceeded the production. Bay systems whose fish populations were impacted by freezes or red tides were restocking priorities and often took several years to recover.

"Now, we can go back in right after red tide and freeze episodes and replenish populations," explained Mike Ray, director of field operations for TPW's coastal fisheries division. "With our increased fingerling production capacity, we can also concentrate more effort on producing other species that may need help in the future, such as flounder, tarpon or sheepshead."

The red drum being stocked this week were among the second cycle of fish produced this year at Sea Center. Back in the spring, the hatchery produced about 3 million Galveston Bay seatrout. A third batch of about 2 million trout is scheduled for production this fall.

During peak spawning periods, hatchery staff collects more than a million microscopic eggs per night from selected broodfish tanks. The collected eggs are quickly measured by volume for an approximate count and then transferred to incubation tanks. Eggs generally hatch within 36 hours of collection. About two days after hatching, larval redfish, or fry (about one millimeter long) are ready for stocking in growing ponds.

The fry are moved to 36 acres of grow-out ponds at Sea Center until they grow into juvenile fish, or fingerlings. At about 1.25 inches long, fingerlings have a stronger survival rate once released into coastal waters. Survival equals angling opportunity.

Although the total number of anglers in Texas has not risen dramatically during the '90s — their ranks hover around 2.6 million — the number of days each has spent fishing has almost doubled. Officials credit the increase in activity to higher fish populations.

"Our spring gill net surveys show red drum to be at an historic high, with a dramatic 130 percent increase over last year" noted Larry McEachron, TPW coastal fisheries science director. "In the upper Laguna Madre, the catch rate jumped from 0.4 per hour to 0.9 fish per hour and a lot of that can be attributed to stocking."

McEachron also noted that seatrout numbers were at their highest level coast-wide since TPW began sampling in 1977 and have remained so over the last three years.

Those high numbers also relate to some other impressive numbers: economic dollars. Recent economic estimates indicate that recreational fishing in Texas is a $6 billion industry. A survey by the American Sportfishing Association noted that Texas' 2.6 million anglers made direct expenditures of $2.9 billion on fishing trips and equipment. Of that total, Texas coastal sport fishing generates $320 million per year in direct spending.

"Stocking is one of the management tools we can use to ensure a healthy future for this resource," said Andrew Sansom, TPW executive director. "Another measure is to ensure freshwater inflows into our coastal estuaries are protected and that's one of the objectives of Senate Bill 1. Implementation of this legislation is crucial if we are to maintain these highly productive fish and shellfish breeding grounds sustained by a balance between fresh and salt water where rivers meet the sea."

About 95 percent of all recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish on the Texas coast depend on estuarine conditions created by freshwater inflows. The fingerlings produced at Sea Center are being released in one such excellent habitat at Christmas Bay.

Sea Center Texas is a marine hatchery, aquarium and educational center where visitors can learn more about efforts to conserve indigenous Gulf Coast marine life. The facility was constructed with Sport Fish Restoration funds through a unique partnership among Dow Chemical, the Coastal Conservation Association, the City of Lake Jackson and TPW. Admission is free to tour the Center, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1-4 p.m. Call (409) 292-0100 for guided tour reservations and directions to Sea Center Texas.