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Oversight of recreational red snapper catch falls to state

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council approved Amendment 50 of the Reef Fishery Management Plan, granting individual Gulf states the authority to manage recreational fishing for red snapper within their own jurisdictional waters.

This action affirms extensive efforts on the part of Texas fisheries organizers and activists hoping that control over recreational fishing would become the responsibility of the state rather than federal government.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Gulf Council and National Marine Fisheries Service to improve recreational accountability and data collection, advance charter/for-hire solutions and protect the commercial fishing industry that provide seafood access to millions of Americans,” said a statement from the Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance.

Just a few months ago, negotiations for this new red snapper regulation plan were in danger of stalling due to the federal government shutdown.

In January, the National Marine Fisheries Association, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with offices in Galveston, was closed during the partial government shutdown ordered by the Trump administration. The association sets policy for red snapper fishing in Gulf waters and was in the final stages of negotiating with industry when the shutdown occurred.

The management plan approves moving oversight of recreational red snapper fishing to state agencies and was years and millions of dollars in the making.

Under the plan, fishing for red snapper by commercial fishermen and charters will remain under control of the federal government.

In Texas, the Department of Parks & Wildlife will be the state entity in charge of monitoring recreational fishing of red snapper, establishing the parameters of the season and setting catch limits.

“This will accommodate everyone’s wants and needs,” said Buddy Guindon, a member of the shareholders’ alliance and owner of Katie’s Seafood in Galveston.

Texas was in a pilot program for the new management plan, a compromise between government agencies and commercial fishermen designed to take stress off fishery waters. Had Amendment 50 not been approved, management of recreational fishing could have reverted back to the federal government, according to Seafood Harvesters of America for the Gulf Coast region.

Guindon and other stakeholders argued that states could better monitor snapper catches by recreational fishermen in their own waters through licensing and reporting requirements.

The red snapper catch among commercial fishermen, regulated by federal agencies, is managed under a plan allowing year-round access with a set quota that each commercial fisherman can harvest annually, Guindon said.

Under the approved state management plan, state regulators will work together with marine fisheries personnel to establish limits that support a sustainable supply of red snapper, according to the council.


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San Leon voters face higher taxes to expand wastewater plant

SAN LEON

Water officials in San Leon say it’s inevitable that the people they serve are going to start paying more money in the near future.

The unincorporated community needs an expanded wastewater plant to handle the needs of the growing population.

The existing plant already is over capacity and, were it not for a reprieve from state regulatory officials, would be facing thousands of dollars of fines each time a heavy rain backs up the wastewater system, district managers said.

“What we’ve seen is that our collection system and infrastructure has deteriorated over time,” said Andrew Miller, the district manager of the San Leon Municipal Utility District.

Next week, people who live in the San Leon Municipal Utility District’s boundaries will begin to vote on a $39 million bond, which the district said would pay for projects over the next 15 years.

The money will be divided between 10 different projects, the largest of which is a $16.6 million expansion of the wastewater plant, which will make it capable of handling 1.9 million gallons of wastewater a day.

The expansion would more than double the capacity of the existing plant, which was completed in 1977.

The utility district serves about 2,800 homes and businesses in a 5-square-mile area, Miller said.

The age of the plant has started to show, district officials said. Some of the pipes that carry waste to the plant have deteriorated and allow ground water to flow to the plant.

Too much flow in can result in backups and cause the plant to treat water that doesn’t need to be treated. It can also result in fines from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Miller said. The commission is aware of the limitations of the plant and has agreed not to fine the district, as long as it comes up with a fix, Miller said.

“They’re aware of the situation,” Miller said. “They know that we’ve been putting money into our infrastructure systems and so they haven’t been fining us yet.”

There’s also simply a capacity issue caused by more people moving to the area, officials said. Because of capacity issues at the plant, district officials have imposed a moratorium on issuing permits to new commercial businesses, they said.

If the bond passes, residents’ taxes would increase to 63 cents per $100 of valuation from 45 cents per $100 of valuation.

If the bond doesn’t pass, the district would likely increase its water and sewer rates to pay for the expansion, he said. Rates might need to be tripled to pay for the project that way, officials said.

Part of the reason San Leon residents are facing a big price tag now is because of choices made in the past, officials said. For instance, the concrete-plastic pipes that were originally used and have now broken are inferior to PVC pipes that could have been used in their place, officials said.

But some of the costs also just come with age.

“Everything comes with a useful lifespan, eventually it reaches its end,” Miller said. “At the time, they looked at the resources they had and did the best they could. You just have to roll with that and that’s part of what goes into maintaining infrastructure.”

The district has held one public meeting about the bond election already and plans to hold another at the San Leon Fire Department on April 22.

The result of the bond likely will be decided by a few hundred voters. The last time San Leon had a bond election, about 700 people voted.

Early voting began on April 22. Election Day is May 4.


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Some worried about growth of limited-service hotels in Galveston

GALVESTON

More tourists in Galveston means more hotels, but some industry stakeholders worry an increase in cheaper rooms could drive down room prices and decrease the hotel tax coming into the city.

Many new hotels coming to the island are limited-service, or hotels with fewer add-on amenities and lower operating costs than upscale or midscale hotels, said Spencer Priest, chairman of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which promotes island tourism.

“The long-term impacts of having too much inventory available to visitors can create a drop in what we call our average daily rate and revenues,” Priest said. “If we bring revenues down, there is potential for a negative impact to profitability and hotel tax collections.”

Priest also is regional director of revenue management for Landry’s Hotel Division, which operates the San Luis Resort, Spa and Conference and a Hilton Hotel on the island.

At the end of 2014, 23.4 percent of the 5,200 hotel rooms in Galveston were chain limited-service or budget, according to Source Strategies Inc., which maintains a comprehensive database of Texas hotels.

In 2018, chain limited-service and budget hotels accounted for 28.9 percent of the 5,700 hotel rooms, according to the data.

In 2014, chain midscale and upscale hotels made up 15.8 percent of the hotel rooms, compared with 14.3 percent in 2018, according to the data.

Chain hotels also are becoming more prevalent, making up 49.6 percent of the 5,200 hotel rooms in 2014, but 60.5 percent of the 5,700 hotel rooms in 2018, according to the data.

More limited-service hotels are coming into Galveston because that’s what the demand is for, said Willis Gandhi president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association.

Gandhi oversees several island hotels including the Best Western Plus Galveston Suites, 8502 Seawall Blvd.

Visitors often prefer chain limited-service hotels because they’re familiar with the product, Gandhi said.

“They’re working toward consistency,” Gandhi said.

His hotels cater to both cruise passengers and families visiting Galveston itself, he said.

If there are more limited-service hotels in Galveston, it’s because that’s what people demand, said Michael Gaertner, owner of Michael Gaertner Architects. He’s designed several hotels in Galveston.

“People build hotels to meet demand of the marketplace,” Gaertner said. “You cannot control who your market is.”

There ought to be a healthy balance, hotel owner Dennis Byrd said.

Byrd’s company, Island Famous, owns a full-service DoubleTree by Hilton at 1702 Seawall Blvd. That attracts a different kind of guest than would stay in his limited-service Holiday Inn Express & Suites under construction in the 3200 block of Seawall Blvd., he said.

While the DoubleTree attracts weddings and corporate events, the Holiday Inn will cater to the leisure traveler, he said.

“I do think it is important to evaluate development as a whole,” Byrd said. “I don’t think you would want 100 percent full-service or 100 percent limited-service hotels.”

Where that balance is could be hard to determine, he said.

At some point, Galveston might have too many hotel rooms, but it’s hard to say when that will be, Gandhi said.

He doesn’t think limited-service hotels drive down hotel tax collections, he said. Sometimes, limited-service hotel room prices are more expensive than full-service prices because full-service hotels collect more money in add-ons like breakfast, he said.

But the average rent per room per day for limited-service chain hotels in Galveston was $66.41 per night last year, compared to $126.13 per night for mid- and up-scale hotels, according to Source Strategies.

Hotel tax collections are continuing to grow, however, despite growth in the number of rooms.

The park board collected $18.6 million last year, compared with $10.7 million in 2008, according to park board data.

The park board has launched a lodging study to answer questions about the industry, Priest said.


Eric Christian Smith  

Jazz Rockets Basketball

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles, right, passes the ball as Houston Rockets guard James Harden defends during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)