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Aug. 30, 2004
Proposal Would Protect Seagrass, Fisheries in Redfish Bay
ROCKPORT, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is seeking public input on a proposal to create mandatory "propeller up" zones for motorboats in parts of Redfish Bay where biologists have been testing voluntary zones since 2000. The proposal is part of a continuing effort to find the most effective means of protecting sensitive seagrass in areas of high boat traffic.
Shallow-water seagrasses in Texas bays provide vital nursery areas for diverse marine life, food and cover for game fish, bottom stabilization, and better water quality. Seagrass has declined in many areas on the Texas coast. In Galveston Bay, 95 percent of all seagrass has disappeared. In the Redfish Bay area, the total acreage of seagrass has declined by 13 percent since 1958. The area marks the northernmost extent of one important species commonly known as turtlegrass. This species is particularly susceptible to propeller damage because of the long recovery time when damaged. The proposed mandatory prop up zones encompass large meadows of turtlegrass.
In 2000, a Seagrass Conservation Task Force made up of commercial and recreational anglers, local governments, homeowners, fishing guides, boat dealers and other business owners unanimously supported a plan to create voluntary restrictions on boating at Redfish Bay and mandatory rules for Nine Mile Hole in the Lower Laguna Madre.
A study done in the 1990s by the Corpus Christi National Estuary Program found seagrasses declining, changing or fragmenting in areas with high boat traffic. TPWD and the seagrass task force concluded that scars from boat propellers contribute substantially to seagrass fragmentation and loss and may worsen bottom erosion. Prop scars are more common near popular fishing areas.
"At Redfish Bay, we’ve tried hard for years to make a voluntary approach work to protect seagrasses," said Larry McKinney, Ph.D. and TPWD coastal fisheries director. "We’ve done extensive public outreach and education, including new maps and signs and special events. We distributed a video on how to operate boats responsibly in saltwater flats."
"I won’t say the voluntary approach has been a total failure-far from it. But we have documented new propeller scarring in voluntary zones. At some point, our responsibility is to step in and act to protect the long-term health of our bays and our fisheries. This proposal will evaluate the effectiveness of mandatory zones over the same time period as the voluntary rules."
Department employees on Aug. 25 briefed the conservation committee of the TPW Commission, the nine-member board appointed by the governor to oversee the state agency, about proposed new rules for Redfish Bay.
Several areas in Redfish Bay have been designated voluntary "prop up" zones, where boaters are supposed to lift motorboat propellers up out of the water and paddle or pole through shallow water seagrass beds.
Aerial photographs and on-site inspections show new propeller scarring in the voluntary zones between December 2001 and December 2002 — an indication that voluntary measures have not been effective. Furthermore, some propeller scars made years ago are still evident, indicating that such scars persist over time and that seagrass beds are not able to recover quickly on their own.
For these reasons, biologists are proposing that the current voluntary restrictions become mandatory for five years, beginning Sept. 1, 2005. This would include parts of Redfish Bay known as Estes Flats, Terminal Flat and Brown and Root Flat. There would still be run lanes to provide motorboat access in and out of these areas.
No changes are proposed for the Lighthouse Lakes trail system in the North Harbor Island area of Redish Bay or for the Nine Mile Hole area in the Lower Laguna Madre.
Anyone may receive a copy of the proposed new rules for Redfish Bay by sending a written request by e-mail to email@example.com or by regular mail to Bill Harvey, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road, Austin, TX 78744. Anyone may comment on the proposed new rules by writing to the same addresses.
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