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Landscapes, Special Wildlife Edition 2007

Stewards of the Sea

The 90,000-member Coastal Conservation Association celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, along with numerous marine conservation accomplishments.

angler fishing

Photos by Larry Ditto

This angler is able to catch red drum in the lower Gulf Coast waters, thanks to the CCA’s efforts to have speckled trout and redfish designated as game fish.

Alabama wildlife biologist/forester J.J. McCool’s favorite childhood memories include fishing the Gulf of Mexico waters in his hometown of Pascogula, Miss. But catching a redfish is not one of those memories.

"You could not catch a redfish, and if you caught one, it was such a big deal, you’d call your buddies to let them know," says McCool, a Land Bank South customer.

That’s because, until the late 1970s, commercial over-fishing had virtually wiped out the populations of redfish and speckled trout. Some 30 years later, however, thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), sport fishermen like McCool can and do regularly catch these once nearly-extinct species.

"Save the Redfish" Campaign Leads to Others

According to Alan Johnson, executive vice president of Texas State Bank in Harlingen and longtime board member of CCA’s Rio Grande Valley Chapter, CCA was the brainchild of 14 Houston-area recreational fishermen. Their first initiative, the "Save the Redfish" campaign, led to the prohibition of trawling for trout and the designation of redfish and speckled trout as game fish that could no longer be commercially fished.

"I got involved in CCA because I’m an avid fisherman and I strongly believe in what they are doing," says Johnson, an AgCredit of South Texas customer. "The waters had been so overfished that 30 years ago, if you caught a redfish of any size, it was a trophy."

The Rio Grande Valley chapter formed in the early 1980s, and today is one of 56 Texas chapters. By 1985, chapters began forming outside Texas to eventually encompass 175 chapters in 15 coastal states from Texas to Maine. There are nine Alabama chapters, 21 in Louisiana and seven in Mississippi. More than 90,000 recreational anglers support CCA through a wide array of membership volunteer opportunities and financial contributions.

Volunteers Make It Possible

Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson

Ron Kocian, an independent financial planner in Victoria, Texas, served four years as president of the Texas Mid-Coast Chapter, which spans seven counties. "When I first became involved with CCA, we had a fairly mediocre chapter. We now have 1,500 members, and in 2005 had the second largest net income of any chapter in the state," says the Capital Farm Credit customer. Primarily through its annual banquet and live auction, the chapter raised $160,000 last year alone.

"Our cause is to keep the bays and estuaries healthy for the fish," Kocian says. "I look around that banquet and see large and small farmers and ranchers, ag-related businesses like Farm Credit that are sponsors, really dedicated men and women who are all volunteers."

More Than 20,000 Crab Traps Netted

In addition to obtaining game-fish status for redfish and speckled trout, CCA’s efforts have resulted in protection of billfish from commercial harvest, and net bans in four states. In 2002, the Texas chapter undertook the first-ever abandoned crab-trap pickup in Texas bays, removing more than 8,000 derelict traps in the first year. Since then, CCA volunteers have partnered with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for a 10-day cleanup each February that has netted more than 20,000 traps thus far.

"In the lower Laguna Madre, we had a huge problem with crab traps and debris left by fishermen, oil companies and storms. It was a very dangerous situation," says Johnson. "We brought in a barge and members retrieved the debris and loaded it on the barge for disposal. Today you can go across the bay and not hit anything submerged."

“The waters had been so overfished that 30 years ago, if you caught a redfish of any size, it was a trophy.”
— Alan Johnson

Retiring Inshore Shrimping Licenses

CCA and TPWD also teamed up this year to retire a record number of inshore shrimping licenses, in an effort to reduce shrimpers’ bycatch. "For every bucket of shrimp caught, you have small croakers and other juvenile fish that are also caught and die," says McCool. "Reducing that bycatch is critical to repopulating those species."

CCA contributed $200,000, which allowed for the purchase of 40 licenses, in addition to 159 licenses purchased through TPWD funds. Texas saltwater anglers must purchase a saltwater fishing stamp each year, and $3 of that stamp goes to the buy-back effort, generating around $1.4 million annually.

Putting "Money Where Their Mouth Is"

speckled trout

Speckled trout

"The ongoing partnership between TPWD and the CCA is unparalleled anywhere in the United States," notes Dr. Larry McKinney, director of TPWD’s Coastal Fisheries Division. "The CCA’s strong conservation ethic and willingness to put their money where their mouth is translates into direct and positive benefits to our coastal fisheries."

"We feel this is a positive step toward conserving blue crabs, croaker, flounder and other species that are caught as bycatch in bay shrimp trawls," says Robby Byers, executive director of CCA Texas.

Monies raised through chapter fundraising efforts also are used to fund scholarships, support hatcheries, contribute to research efforts and purchase equipment such as night-vision goggles for game wardens. Membership is a nominal $25 annual fee, and sponsors may join for as little as $200 per year.

"Whether we are in agriculture or fishing, we are all in this together. We need to be good stewards of the land and of the seas," notes Kocian. "If an ag person isn’t involved in CCA — they should be."

– Article by Sue Durio
– Photos by Larry Ditto