SEJ Day 2: Galveston Fishing Field Trip

Looking out on Galveston Bay

Hello SHE-J Squad, 

Hope you are enjoying following my time at the conference! Today, I went on an all-day field excursion to Galveston Bay. 

The tour’s emphasis was on aquaculture in Houston, the Galveston coastline, and threatened species on Texas beaches.

Emily Foxhall of the Houston Chronicle and Katie Watkins of Houston Public Media led the tour, with help from Bob Stokes of the Galveston Bay Foundation. On the road, Stokes gave the attendees a little context on Galveston Bay itself. 

Sunrise over Galveston Bay

Stokes mentioned that while there is a bayou that runs through Houston to Galveston Bay, esidents don’t connect much with the natural feature so much as Galveston Island. 

He explained that the bay is overall fairly clean in terms of water quality, despite heavy ship traffic and an ongoing Superfund site cleanup. 

Stokes also highlighted subsidence (or coastal land sinking into the bay) as a long-term problem in the Houston Ship Channel. Some areas have sunk as much as 11 feet in the last 60 years. This subsidence has led to a loss of 40,000 acres of wetlands around the Galveston coast over 70 years. 

After arriving at the docks, my cohort and I loaded onto a fishing boat and set off for the middle of the Galveston Bay. 

The gang gathers on our boat!

While we were told redfish and speckled trout were the two biggest recreational species in the bay, our cohort found a school of catfish. We caught roughly 15 catfish (and one bonnethead shark) in just over an hour! 

Here’s the bonnethead shark!

Afterwards, we went on the upper deck to hear from a panel featuring Johnny Williams, a Galveston for-hire boat owner, and Buddy Guindon, owner of Katie’s Seafood Market. 

Both fishery veterans highlighted that contemporary federal regulations, as set forth by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act, are working well.

Yet, there are areas that could use reform. Williams mentioned that commercial fishing operations need stricter monitoring as to frequency and quantity of their hauls.

Both Guindon and Williams also spoke to the lack of regulation around recreational fishing as an ongoing concern. Mandy Karnauskas of the NOAA added that annual discard from recreational fishing in Galveston Bay often outweighs commercial landing weights. This pattern holds for the ever-controversial red snapper. 

From left to right: Buddy Guindon, Johnny Williams, Emily Foxhall, Mandy Karnauskas, Sepp Haukebo

In the afternoon, my cohort and I took a walk along the Texas coastline.

We walked across the border of Jamaica Beach to Galveston Island State Park. The park is a protected wildlife sanctuary for endangered birds and sea turtles. 

Attendees cross over from Jamaica Beach to Galveston Island State Park

While much of our tour was spent birdwatching for piping plovers and strolling on the beach, Stokes and Joanie Steinhaus of Turtle Island Restoration Network spoke on concerns with the potential Coastal Texas Study. 

The speakers noted that storm protections in the study would require walling off Galveston beaches with 14-foot high dunes. The dunes would be built with sand from the gulf floor, which would increase subsidence and disrupt fragile ecosystems.

From left to right: Joanie Steinhaus, Kristen Vale, Richard Gibbons

But Stokes and Steinhaus also believe the federal study may crumble under its own weight in D.C. Authorizing the research comes with a $30 million price tag. A congressional vote is expected later this year.

Back in my hotel room, I am fried. But I am also invigorated from my time out on the water. This conference continues to get better and better! Catch y’all tomorrow.

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