Fish and Commercial Netters Ignore U.S.-Mexico Border – Lake Mohave

AUSTIN, Texas — Managing a fishery and enforcing game laws along an
international border are both complicated tasks. Combine the two and
you have a nightmare for fisheries biologists and game wardens alike.

– Lake Mohave

That’s exactly the situation Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
deals with every day on Falcon International Reservoir, an 83,000-acre
impoundment on the Rio Grande River below Laredo.

Commercial fishers from Mexico may legally use highly efficient gill
nets on the Mexican side of the lake, but their use is illegal in U.S.
waters. The fish, of course, swim back and forth across the border at
will.

TPWD game wardens recently conducted Operation Pescador in an effort
to stop illegal commercial fishing on the Texas side of Falcon
Reservoir. Game wardens seized 20 boats and 98,000 feet of gill nets in
U.S. waters and arrested 28 Mexican commercial fishermen.

“We had some great results from Operation Pescador, but it’s evident
that we can only take care of our half of the lake,” said TPWD game
warden Captain Chris Huff, who headed the program. “We will probably
continue to do this on occasion to keep the illegal commercial
fishermen guessing.”

The combination of legal and illegal gill netting and a decade-long
drought appear to have harmed the white bass and crappie fisheries in
Falcon Reservoir, prompting local citizens to request that TPWD
aggressively stock these species into the lake to rebuild the
populations.

Unfortunately, stocking fish into a lake where gill netting will
continue will likely not be effective, says Bobby Farquhar, TPWD’s
regional director of Inland Fisheries.

“Stocking open-water fish into a lake with a high amount of both
legal and illegal gillnetting would not be a wise use of our resources
and would do nothing to improve the angling,” Farquhar said. “All we
would be doing is subsidizing the commercial netters. The only way for
the open-water species to fully recover is for netting to be
significantly reduced or eliminated on the whole lake.”

Therein lies the dilemma for Texas game wardens.

“We have and will continue to work to deter illegal netters in Texas
waters, but we have no control of Mexican waters,” pointed out TPWD
Executive Director Bob Cook.

“We will continue to work with the local community, our elected
representatives and Mexican government officials to address this
problem,” said Col. Pete Flores, head of TPWD’s Law Enforcement
Division. “And we will continue to enforce the laws in Texas.”

Fishing for largemouth bass and catfish in Falcon Reservoir remains
outstanding. Beginning in fall 2003, heavy rains in the Rio Grande
watershed brought drought conditions to an end. Falcon’s water level
dramatically increased, from 45 feet low in June 2003 to nearly full in
summer 2004. The reservoir size swelled to about 60,000 acres.

When the lake level rose, water inundated thousands of acres of
brush, providing ideal habitat for young fish, especially largemouth
bass. Fisheries biologists took advantage of this new habitat and
stocked more than 1.2 million largemouth bass in Falcon. Largemouth
bass are not as susceptible as white bass and crappie to gillnets.

According to creel surveys by TPWD Inland Fisheries biologists,
Falcon anglers caught 33,164 largemouth bass and 7,173 catfish from
January to March 2006. About half of the largemouth bass exceeded the
14-inch minimum size limit, and 90 percent of the catfish were legal
harvest size.

Largemouth bass anglers are averaging an outstanding catch rate of
nine fish per 8-hour fishing day with some fishing parties catching
more than 50 fish per day. These catch rates are higher than any
previously recorded at Falcon, and are higher than catch rates in the
vast majority of other Texas lakes.

Given its location in a politically and environmentally sensitive
area, Falcon International Reservoir will likely continue to pose
management problems for both biologists and game wardens.

“Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is committed to making fishing
in Texas waters the best it can be,” said Inland Fisheries Division
Director Phil Durocher. “International reservoirs like Falcon present
us with a puzzle we don’t have all the pieces for. Until both legal and
illegal netting are reduced significantly or prohibited, it would be
futile to spend time and our anglers’ fishing license fees trying to
maintain the white bass and crappie fisheries in Falcon.”

– Lake Mohave

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