A recent bill was introduced in Austin for the 2019 legislative session that all Texas anglers need to be aware of.
It’s not a “catfish” problem.
It’s a problem that could potentially impact anglers regardless of which species of fish they target, H.B. 346 proposes legalizing bow fishing for catfish, again.
Please read everything below and then follow the steps at the end of this article.
I was recently appointed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Freshwater Fisheries advisory committee. I often have discussions with various personnel at Texas Parks and Wildlife and have long before this committee appointment.
The information in this article is a direct result of my own investigation. All quotes, data and other information regarding Texas Parks and Wildlife staff is information pulled from public record.
I’ve not consulted or interviewed any Texas Parks and Wildlife staff while writing this article or in regards to HB 346 intentionally because of my position on this committee.
The opinions listed in this article are my own.
I’ve been involved in catfishing in Texas for a long time now as an avid angler, guide and in the media and this is truly one issue I thought had been put to bed and we’d never see it again. Boy was I wrong.
There’s a lot of information here. the TLDR version is Justin Holland is attempting to circumvent the Texas Fish and Game commission to legalize bow fishing for catfish (again). Skip down to the “take action” section and help us out.
Catfish Bow Fishing and Texas Game Fish
Catfish are game fish in Texas and the second most sought after fish in the state (second only to bass). Legalizing the harvest of catfish through bow fishing isn’t consistent with the current catfish management plan that Texas Parks and Wildlife has in place and in based on previous testimony from TPWD staff could easily “devalue the fish as a species working against past efforts”. The other obvious concern is the door opening to harvest other game fish through bow fishing. This would set the precedent to add bass, crappie, striped bass, hybrids and other Texas game fish in the future.
The even bigger issue, beyond legalizing the harvest of game fish via bow fishing is Representative Justin Holland and other Texas politicians attempting to circumvent the already established system for managing Texas fisheries. They’re not letting the system work as designed with changes being managed by the Commision, appointed by the Governor.
There are many steps to a bill becoming law in Texas. H.B. 346 is in it’s infancy. The 2019 legislative session begins next week. The bill could die and never see the light of day but given past experiences however, it’s important to make Texas anglers aware of this now, before it’s too late.
When you really dig deep, there’s concerns about the driving forces behind HB 346, but there’s some history required first.
The History Of Bowfishing For Catfish in Texas
In 2006 members of the Texas Bowfishing Association petitioned Texas Parks and Wildlife for a rule change to allow bow fishing for catfish in Texas. TPWD opened the rule change for public comment following some discussions about the ramifications of legalzing bow fishing for a game fish.
It was noted at that time that feedback from anglers were 3 to 1 against changing the law to allow bow fishing for catfish. Feedback from the public hearings was against allowing a rule change on bow fishing for catfish.
Former Commisioner Phillip Montgomery was a supporter of this change from the beginning and worked hard for the Texas Bowfishing Association. Some of his comments in January 2006 regarding the Texas Bowfishing Association petition indicate he wasn’t aware the rule change would be open for public comment and it appears he was concerned public comment would make the process of changing the law more difficult , it’s an interesting read.
Commissioner Montgomery and I spoke several times during that time. He made it clear he had no interest in listening to opposing opinions on the rule change, he was “all in” on bow fishing for catfish. Montgomery worked very hard to gain support despite there being no support from TPWD Inland Fisheries Staff, the masses of Texas anglers or other conservation groups in the state. Nearly every conservation group in the state spoke out at that time against the rule change, including CCA. The bowfishing support came solely from a small, well organized group of bow anglers.
Former Commissioner Montgomery’s public testimony sums up his idealogy well….
Many anglers had concerns regarding legal harvest of catfish by bow, especially larger catfish.
During discussions on whether the resources could support the harvest Montgomery replied
“The strategic challenge for this Department is, do we have a constituency in 20 years, or do we have a world full of TV environmentalists. That is what we are growing in the urban areas. We need to get people outdoors more and more and not less and less. And we should not be regulating when we don’t have a resource issue, we don’t have an ethical issue.” … Phillip Montgomery
Montgomery assumed that simply because Texas resident lives in an “urban area” they’re a “TV Environmentalist” (I assume that’s the 2008 version of snowflake). This was immediately after multiple commissioners spoke regarding how they were “struggling with the ethics” surrounding the change. There’s interesting debate in the transcripts which could be summed up as “here’s all the reasons this is a bad idea and is inconsistent with the direction TPWD has been headed”.
As with most other Texas Parks and Wildlife law changes, the public comment period passed and the rule change then went to the TPW Commission for discussion and a vote. I say “most” other rule changes because there’s a recent exception. Keep reading for more information on the “noodling boondoggle”.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries Division Program Director Ken Kurzawski and his staff opposed the rule change, best summarized by his statement
To summarize, there was also previously a petition submitted on this in 2004. At that time, staff did recommend that the petition be denied, and it was denied. We really don’t feel there’s been a lot of additional, although we’ve taken some additional public comment on this. Little additional information has surfaced during the current process. Therefore, we don’t feel there’s any compelling reason to break with previous management approaches and support this proposal at this time. …. Ken Kurzawski
The bowfishing for catfish rule change was passed with a split vote by the TPWD Commission with a one year sunset. The “sunset” means it was legalized for a one year period and then would have to be voted on again to remain in place.
In 2008 a proposal was sent for public comment to extend the law to allow bow fishing for catfish another three years until 2011. In January 2008 TPWD staff recommended that the Commission take no action and allow the rule to expire and it was opened for public comment.Commissioner Montgomery was also no longer a member at that time.
Public comment was split with most feedback being submitted online with only a few people showing up for comment at the public hearings. In March 2008 the Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Committee (FFAC) weighed in prior to the information going to the TPWD Commission. The advisory board did not support the continuation of allowing bow fishing for catfish. According to transcripts opposition centered on their disagreement that “lethal means such as bowfishing is an acceptable method for harvest of catfish”.
TPWD’s Ken Kurzawski closed his March 2008 testimonial to the commission with the following….
In summary, while the taking of catfish by bowfishing is not a resource issue at this time, staff agrees with the Freshwater Advisory Board that the use of this method for taking catfish is not compatible with the status of catfish as our second most valuable game fish, and the management of game fish populations by selective harvest, which includes the use of catch-and-release for undersized fish.
Anglers wishing to catch catfish have the opportunity to catch these fish by more legal means than any other game fish. An additional concern expressed by some sportfishing group is the precedent set by allowing the use of a lethal method for taking of a game fish.
Based on these concerns, staff would recommend against any extension of the use of bowfishing for catfish.
The rule change was reversed and bow fishing for catfish was no longer legal in the state of Texas.
Now Representative Justin Holland has introduced H.B. 346 and Texas game fish are at risk again. Someone clearly saw a window of opportunity when the “noodling boondoggle” took place and is attempting the seize the opportunity.
Texas H.B. 346 : Bow Fishing For Catfish, Justin Holland
Here’s The Full Text of HB 346
Representative Justin Holland of Rockwall Texas, Texas House District 33 has introduced HB 346 to the Texas Legislature for 2019.
Relating to the regulation of bow fishing.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS: SECTIONA1. Subchapter B, Chapter 66, Parks and Wildlife Code, is amended by adding Section66.116 to read as follows:
Sec. A66.116. BOW FISHING.
(a) In this section, “bow fishing” means fishing by use of archery equipment, including a longbow,recurved bow, compound bow, or crossbow.
(b)A person holding the required fishing license and freshwater fishing stamp issued to the person by the department may engage in bow fishing for catfish in the public freshwater of this state.
(c)The commission may adopt rules related to bow fishing.
SECTION 2. This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.
You can view the bill here.
The Facts About Bow Fishing For Catfish In Texas
Here’s the facts about bow fishing for catfish and why it’s bad for Texas:
- Catfish are the second most sought after species of fish in the state.
- Catfish are classified as a game fish.
- Catfish are the only game fish that are legal to harvest with methods other than rod and reel.
- There are currently multiple legal methods to harvest catfish that are not legal for any other game fish including hand fishing (noodling), trotlines, juglines, limb lines and throw lines.
- TPWD staff has repeatedly stated in past testimonial they did not support the harvest of catfish through bow fishing and the change would “devalue the species and game fish in general”.
- Allowing the harvest of game fish through bow fishing would set the precedent to allow the harvest of all other game fish in the future. Texas is currently looking at ways to protect fish from overharvest through bow fishing, look at the current activities surrounding alligator gar.
- TPWD staff has stated in public records that “this harvest method is not consistent with their catfish management plan” and “it’s a break with the ongoing management approach of selective harvest”.
- Past attempts to legalize bow fishing for catfish have been controversial with minimal support beyond the Texas Bowfishing Association. Previous feedback indicated anglers were at minimum 3:1 opposed to the rule change.
- TPWD Commissioners have previously stated in testimony that bow fishing for catfish was a “morale and ethical concern” for them for several reasons. Many ethical concerns surrounded a change in the “cultural shift of game fish” that would take place, (again, “devalueing” the species and setting precedent for future game fish harvest via bow).
- The popularity of fishing for catfish continues to grow and will only continue in the future. TPWD Biologist Kris Bodine was quoted after the noodling law passed stating “We’ve talked inside the agency and catfish are becoming the new largemouth bass, folks are really utilizing those resources”. Allowing bow fishing harvest is not consistent with these sentiments.
- Texas has a catfish management plan in place that they’ve invested considerable time, money and resources into. Catfish are a significant area of focus for them because that’s what Texas anglers want. They want to improve catfish opportunities and access in the state and bow fishing is counterproductive to these efforts.
- Unlike many other states Texas does not have a statewide plan in place to protect the populations of larger catfish. The populations of larger mature catfish are currently subject to overharvest which continues to be an area of concern for Texas anglers.
- The Texas Bowfishing Association has repeatedly argued in the past that “limited opportunities exist” to harvest catfish with a bow. Results seen during the legal one year period show otherwise. Experienced catfish anglers know that during certain periods the impact could be devastating. Why has this association fought so hard, for so long to make catfish bow fishing legal? It does present significant opportunities and claims that it won’t are nothing more than politics in attempts to get the law changed.
- TPWD Inland Fisheries focus is on more catfish opportunities for anglers both in terms of more access and better quality fishing. This is an ongoing effort that targets the masses not only through urban fish stocking but also improving fisheries creates opportunities for anglers of all experience and skill levels. Changing the law for a niche sport with limited participation is counterproductive to the efforts they’ve made.
- Bow fishing for catfish was previously allowed for one year and then repealed. It passed with a split vote and despite strong public opposition against it. TPWD staff didn’t support the change at that time and clearly stated it was “moving catfish management in an opposite direction”.
- TPWD Commisioners in previous hearings had clear concerns about the ethics, the impact on other game fish and the devaluation of catfish as a species with bow fishing for catfish.
TPWD Inland Fisheries has not supported catfish bowfishing in the past nor has the FFAC. The commission struggled with the morale and ethical implications of legalization of bow fishing for game fish and there were “significant concerns about precedent and devaluing game fish overall”. This alone should make it clear that legalizing bow fishing for catfish is a bad idea for Texas.
There’s a much bigger issue at hand than legalization of bow fishing for catfish though.
Justin Holland is attempting to circumvent the process the state has in place and bypassing the TPWD Commission appointed by Governor Greg Abbott and that’s an even bigger issue.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Change Process
Texas Parks and wildlife has a process for rule changes and proposed rule changes, there’s comittees, focus groups and other involvement at various levels that is all ultimately reviewed and voted on by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.
The process for changes to fishing laws is simple. The same process also applies to hunting.
Here’s an overview of how that’s supposed to work.
1. Biologists review data and or angler desires for improved fishing.
Many regulation proposals are the result of reviews by staff based on ongoing evaluations or are in response to angler concerns. Some proposals don’t make it through the review process. We continue to review and gather input, if necessary
2. July/August – Goes out for divisional review.
3. October – Goes to Freshwater Fisheries Advisory Committee (FFAC) for review.
4. November – TPW briefs commission on potential changes.
5. January – Proposals are presented to commission and permission is granted to publish in the Texas register and take public comment.
6. The official public comment period starts after the January TPW Commission Meeting. That can include public hearings, if needed. Most comments TPW gets are from posting of the proposals on their website.
7. March – Final commission approval. The Public can comment one last time at March Commission meeting.
8. September – Final implementation
Everything is presented to and voted on by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Comission and commission members are appointed by the governor.
It’s a clear and calculated process that balances all aspects of managing fish and game in the state, assures everyone has a voice and that any changes made to fish and game laws are consistent with overall mission of TPWD and that the resources are available to support and sustain any changes to law.
There is also a process called petition for rulemaking. The formal procedure is outlined in the Texas Administrative Code. To summarize that, a person needs to send their request for a change that involves a regulation passed by the TPW Commission by e-mail or letter to the TPW Executive Director, stating the change and the reasoning behind it. TPWD staff review the request and prepare a response for our Commission. The commission then decides if it is something they would like to discuss at a Commission meeting.
As a general rule we have some amazing hunting and fishing in the state and while I can’t say I have agreed with every decision that’s been made by the commission in the past, they do a great job and I wholeheartedly support the process that’s in place.
Of recent there’s been a new precedent and it’s very dangerous for outdoor conservation in Texas.
History on the “noodling boondoggle is in order to truly understand the issue.
The Texas Catfish Noodling Boondoggle
Also known as “how one family changed hunting and fishing in Texas forever”.
I wrote this story on the noodling boondoggle in 2011 and never published it. I went back to it in November of 2018 when I first got wind of H.B. 346 and revisited it and started working on it again.
I make it a point not to make enemies or piss off people that are rich or powerful, it usually doesn’t end well for the little guy. After a lot of person reflection and consulting legal counsel I removed some details from my original article on advice of others. I may come back and add some more details later but for the current issue at hand with H.B. 346 I’ve hit the important parts and if you’re willing to do some research you can fill in the blanks yourself. I’m quote certain a major media publication will pick this up and fill in the blanks though.
In March 2011 Houston Based Representative Gary Elkins introduced H.B. 2189 “related to the regulation of handfishing in Texas” otherwise known as “noodling”. It happened fast and the vast majority of Texas anglers were not aware of the proposed change until it was too late.
The passing of H.B. 2189 or what I like to call “The Texas Noodling Boondoggle” is the epitome what happens to the citizens of Texas when big money and lobbying gets involved. It was a “feel good” bill that passed in Austin with tons of media hype and helped take attention off of real issues that didn’t garner support.
I’m going to summarize. If you’re really interested in all juicy details, do some research and follow the money. Most of this is a matter of public record , though it’s a tangled web.
How TPWD and Texas Anglers Were Stepped On
There’s a big Texas Oil and Gas Tycoon that a major player in the oil and gas industry and as you probably guessed, extremely wealthy (and connected) who’s no stranger to lavish hunting and fishing experiences. His sons are also big game hunters as well. I’m calling them the “Big Oil Family”.
Look up a “who’s-who” of hunting or fishing in the United States and you’ll likely find a connection to the “Big Oil Family” Family from co-hosting shows with Jim Shockey to hunting with Michael Waddell, or spending $350,000 on a single exotic game hunt they do it all BIG.
The “Big Oil Family” is connected and money is no object. I’m not being critical, they’re extremely wealthy, It’s a lifestle I can’t fathom. It’s just important to understand these aren’t people that are working 6 days a week trying to scrape together money to hunt or fish a couple of times a month. They’re in a league that most people will never comprehend.
Their presence was well known and they flaunted this lavish outdoors lifestyle online until 2015 when an internet rage mob came unhinged and went after the “Big Oil Family”. They had to hire armed security after receiving “credible death threats”. It was such a hot mess airlines even changed their policies and “big Oil Family” pulled the family website, deleted online videos and photos and their public persona is much less accessible. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in these days.
One of the “Big Oil Family” sons fancied himself as a noodler and wanted noodling to be legal in Texas but Texas Parks and Wildlife wasn’t playing. When you’re wealthy and influential you have resources to make things happen so “Big Oil Family” found another way through political donations, lobbyists and circumventing Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“Big Oil Family” convinced (presumably through donations) Houston area Rep. Gary Elkins to sponsor the noodling bill. The rest is sorrounded by controversy but Elkins is no stranger to controversy himself.
Political donations are a matter of public record, the information is out there if you choose to do the research.
Next, in comes the “hired gun” Chris Hosek, a heavy hitter in the Texas oil and gas lobby. Chris is described by some as one of the most valuable energy lobbyists in Texas. Chris Hosek goes to work, massages the system, does what lobbyist do, and the rest is history. Noodling made Chris Hosek famous. Suddenly Austin is all about “catfish noodling” it’s a good bill to push and take the focus off the real issues and doing any serious work.
The media frenzy that follows is ridiculous (which I’m sure is more of Hosek’s work as wel). The media coverage was far and wide with one of the sons at the center of it all, the “poster boy for Texas noodling. I even apppeared in the New York Times in an opposition interview at that time. The whole thing was a genius plan really and was very well thought out.
The end result was “Big Oil Family” getting what they wanted, noodling was legalized in Texas.
As soon as I got wind of the attempts to legalize noodling through H.B. 2189 I made my opinions known both on legalizing noodling in Texas but also circumventing the process for TPWD rule changes. I put a lot of effort into the noodling opposition as did many other Texas anglers but the efforts fell flat. It wasn’t until after the bill was passed that we learned there was big money and lobbyists involved and Texas anglers never stood a chance.
The debate on noodling and the potential to impact catfish populations, that’s another topic for another day. The bigger issue is that in the process of legalizing noodling in Texas “Big Oil Family” and Elkins managed to set a dangerous precedent that could impact Texas hunters and fishermen for years to come.
The “Big Oil Family” is the one and only reason we’re here discussing bow fishing for catfish again.
They managed to circumvent the TPWD system and process. They made it acceptable for the lege to meddle in fish and game laws. I’m on record with multiple media outlets at that time explaining that we’d be having this discussion again in the future with the dangerous precedent being set …. and here we are.
Now it gets even more interesting. Miraculously, the noodloing poster boy son that just wanted to get noodling legalized in Texas “because it’s the right thing to do” resurfaced when the law went into effect as the host of his own reality TV show. It was an epic failure and didn’t last long.
The very process of taking the changes to hunting and fishing laws changes from Texas Parks and Wildlife, away from the proven process that works, out of the hands of the experts and away from the commission, appointed by Governor Abbott put the state on a slippery slope.
The Noodling-Bow Fishing Connection?
When the 2019 bills were made public I was notified of H.B. 346 and immediately started research on Representative Justin Holland, his political ties and campaign donations and worked to determine who was truly behind the bill. Obviosuly Justin Holland didn’t wake up one morning and decide that his great contribution to Texas in 2019 would be legalization of bow fishing for catfish in Texas.
Justin Holland’s history is interesting and there’s some interesting ties.
He previously served five years on the City Council and then Mayor Pro-Tem for two years in the city of Heath while running his real estate firm and then ventured into his run for the house.
Holland’s campaign finance reports indicate, “Big Oil Family” has donated between $10,000 and $13,300 to Holland’s campaign.
Could “Big Oil Family” be back at work trying to backdoor Texas Parks and Wildlife again? There’s no way to know for sure but the ties are interesting and strikingly similar to what we’ve seen in the past. If lobbyist Chris Hosek surfaces in Austin and starts talking bow fishing we’ll know quickly who’s behind it.
I’ve made multiple requests to interview Mr. Holland regarding this bill. He’s not responded to emails, facebook messages or phone calls despite repeated requests. I’d really hoped to ask questions directly prior to publishing but I guess he didn’t feel I was important emough to return my phone call.
I hope the great outdoors enthusiasts of Texas stand up and let him know otherwise.
Again, H.B. 346 has only been submitted and there’s a long process for a bill to become law but it’s important that Texas anglers remain aware of this issue and take action.
Here’s what you can do right now:
1. Click here to sign up for email updates specific to Texas Catfish Conservation so we can stay in contact with you. You will only receive emails regarding Texas conservation issues.
2. Join the Texas Catfish Conservation Facebook Group.
4. Call Justin Holland’s office at (512) 463-0484 and let him know that you don’t support H.B. 346 and they need to let the TPWD Commission do their job.
5. Share this article on social media.
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Copy and paste this email and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently learned of H.B. 346 you’ve introduced to legalize harvest of catfish through bow fishing.
As a Texas resident and angler I do not support this legislation.
Catfish are a game fish in Texas and the second most popular species in the state. Texas Parks and Wildlife staff stated in public records that “catfish are the new bass”. They are a significant area of focus in Texas. Significant respurces have been invested in the development of the Texas Catfish Management Plan and bow fishing is not consistent with that plan.
Bowfishing for catfish was previously legalized in Texas and then repealed after one year. TPWD inland fisheries staff did not support the legalization of catfish being harvested by bow at that time. Public records from previous TPWD hearings show there were significant morale and ethical concerns regarding legalizing bow fishing for catfish and that it would ultimately devalue the species.
The legalization of bow fishing for catfish would also set precedents for other game fish to be harvested by bow. Beyond the Texas Bowfishing Association there is no association or conservation group that supports for legalizing the harvest of game fish by bow in Texas. It’s also noted that public feedback on this in the past was three to one against the legalization of bow fishing for catfish.
Texas has a parks and wildlife commission that handles changes to fish and game laws. There’s a process that allows input and feedback from the general public, biologists and others with considerable experience in this area. It’s a process designed to meet the needs of Texans and also assure that the resources are protected. Governor Abbott has appointed these commisioners and they should be allowed to do their jobs as the system has been designed. The citizens of this great state deserve that respect.
Fish and game laws should be managed by the process that’s established and by people that have the experience to make these decisions and not used as fodder for media attention in the legislature.
Do the right thing, pull H.B. 346 at let Texas Parks and Wildlife manage Texas Fish and Game.
Stay Up To Date
We’ll update when we have more information on this bill and have some very more important conservation news coming up you need to stay aware of. Be sure to click here to sign up for email updates specific to Texas Catfish Conservation so we can stay in contact with you and join the Texas Catfish Conservation Facebook Group.