Coastal facilities mark 30 years of raising fish.
By Steve Lightfoot
Putting blackened redfish on the menu back in the 1970s would have helped land the popular game fish on another list, for protected species, had it not been for an ambitious fisheries management initiative that included development of the Texas marine fisheries hatchery system.
Providing a jump-start to a red drum fishery depleted by commercial fishing pressure was the impetus for constructing the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s first marine fisheries hatchery, the CCA Marine Development Center, now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
In 1980, the Gulf Coast Conservation Association (now CCA Texas) announced plans to partner with Central Power and Light Company and TPWD to build the world’s largest red drum hatchery at the Barney Davis Power Plant in Corpus Christi.
The CCA provided funding for the construction of the original hatchery as well for an expansion in the late 1980s, helped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Act. The hatchery began operating in 1982.
In 1985, Dow Chemical Co., CCA and TPWD, with help from the Sport Fish Restoration Act, hatched a plan to construct a red drum hatchery and education center, called Sea Center Texas, in Lake Jackson.
The Perry R. Bass Marine Fisheries Research Station in Palacios was the third hatchery on the coast.
Since 1983, 624 million hatchery-raised red drum fingerlings have been released in Texas waters. The CCA Marine Development Center produces between 30 and 50 percent of the 24 million fingerlings released annually along the coast. It is also one of the premier marine aquaculture research facilities in the United States and is well known to scientists around the world.
“The recovery of red drum is the result of a combination of management strategies, including fisheries monitoring, protection by banning commercial sale and prohibiting netting, and through the hatchery stocking program,” said Mike Ray, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division deputy director.
In recent years, coastal fish hatcheries have increased the emphasis on spotted seatrout and southern flounder population recovery, stocking 65 million spotted seatrout fingerlings and more than 20,000 southern flounder fingerlings.
Hatcheries have achieved significant advancements in southern flounder spawning, larvae incubation and fingerling raising techniques. More refinement is needed to reach the ultimate goal of developing a large-scale production program.
In addition, hatcheries remain well positioned to respond to disasters such as freezes, harmful algal blooms, hypoxia and pollution events that can result in major losses to recreationally important fish populations.
The hatchery system relies on significant contributions from dedicated sportsmen’s organizations such as CCA Texas and the Saltwater-fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA).