Community fishing project for kids back on after Hurricane Harvey

October 20, 2017

By Alex Hood

It has been almost two months since Hurricane Harvey came ashore, and most of the Texas coast is still dealing with the aftermath. The storm left almost no part of the coast unaffected, and that includes the small, spiny pigfish in a 1-acre slough at the San Luis Pass County Park in Freeport.

The fish were part of a community project called Kids Fishing for Fun that was designed to teach local children fishing techniques and the importance of catch and release. It was born out of a collaboration between Dr. Lee Fuiman of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Marine Development Center, the Brazoria County Parks Department and Dr. Russ Miget of the Texas Sea Grant College Program.

Fuiman and his team, with support from Texas Sea Grant, have been studying the mariculture of the pigfish (Orthopristis chrysoptera), a difficult-to-farm baitfish that is very popular with Texas anglers. The team’s intention was to develop a way for the fish to be farmed commercially for the live bait market with the hope that it would reduce the amount being collected from local bays and bolster marine jobs on the coast.

Miget said he saw this research as an opportunity to do something for the community.

“My thought was that it would be a really novel idea to have an area where kids could come and catch fish that had been stocked in saltwater at high density so that you’d almost be guaranteed to catch something,” he said. “You can teach kids early on that they don’t have to keep everything they catch.”

The team at UTMSI supplied fertilized pigfish eggs, TPWD gave them a place to grow at their Marine Development Center in Corpus Christi, and the Brazoria County Parks Department prepared a designated pond for them in San Luis Park and agreed to conduct regular fishing tournaments. By the first week of August the fish had grown to 4 inches, and roughly 10,000 of them were transported to their new pond, which requires the use of barbless hooks and that all caught fish are released. The fish were allowed to settle in, and the first Kids Fishing for Fun tournament was scheduled for early September.

Then Hurricane Harvey hit Texas during the last week of August. Brazoria County issued a mandatory evacuation for its coastal areas, and storm surge flooded the park. By the time the first tournament was supposed to take place, no one knew if the fish were still there.

“They still had super high water and weren’t sure exactly how high it had gotten, if it had gotten up over the fencing and whether or not any of the fish had swum out or any of them stayed,” Miget said, adding that even after floodwaters had receded, there was no way to accurately assess the number of fish still in the pond.

It was the effectiveness of Fuiman’s mariculture techniques that ended up saving Kids Fishing for Fun. The TPWD facility was so successful in raising the pigfish, they had more fish than they could transport to San Luis Park when they first stocked the pond back in August.  

“Fortunately for us, Parks and Wildlife had kept about 4,000 fish behind in their pond,” Miget said. “They actually ran out of space in the hauling tank.”

Not wanting to miss a beat, Miget contacted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department about the remaining pigfish.

“We got together with them again and said, ‘Let’s restock this and we can reset the fishing tournament,’” he said. “So that’s basically what we’ve done.”

On Wednesday morning, Miget and TPWD transported the remaining 4,000 pigfish to the San Luis Pass Park and restocked their slough. The fish are settling in, and the first Kids Fishing for Fun tournament has been rescheduled for Saturday, November 4, at 9 a.m. For more information about the fishing tournament, contact Mike Mullenweg at 979-864-1541 ext. 7 or mikem@brazoria-county.com

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.