Texas Game and Fish Commission

By: Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 1, 1995

The idea of managing the state's wildlife resources developed over several decades in the latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. As the state's human population began to increase, especially after the arrival of the first railroads in the 1850s, the wildlife population began to decline. The state's first effort to regulate hunting occurred 1861, when the legislature established a two-year closed season on quail. Fishing regulations, in the form of restrictions on coastal seining and netting, were instituted in 1874. In 1879 the legislature established the office of Fish Commissioner to enforce such regulations; the office was abolished five years later because of intense controversy surrounding the introduction of German carp to Texas waterways . In 1883 130 counties in Texas claimed exemption from all game laws. By 1895, however, it had become clear that some regulatory office was needed to control the depletion caused by overfishing; in response to this need the legislature established the office of Fish and Oyster Commissioner. In 1907 the legislature also gave the commissioner the responsibility for hunting regulations, and the name of the office was changed to Game, Fish, and Oyster Commissioner. The first hunting licenses were sold in 1909. In 1919 the state had only six game wardens to enforce regulations, and many counties continued to claim exemptions; the number of wardens was increased to forty-five by 1923 and to eighty by 1928. In the 1920s the commissioner's office began developing extensive fish hatcheries in order to supplement the dwindling natural supply of fish; restocking of deer and releases of nilgai antelope began in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1929 the duties of the commissioner were transferred to a board-called the Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission-which was composed of six members, appointed by the governor for overlapping six-year terms. The commission appointed an executive secretary, who acted as chief executive officer. With the commission format, the agency had more stable leadership than the earlier single-commissioner style did, and as a result it became more consistent in its policy-making and enforcement. The major duties of the commission were to enforce the laws of the state pertaining to birds, game, fur-bearing animals, fish, and marine life; to issue hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses; to proclaim open seasons and bag limits on various types of game and fish; to operate fish hatcheries; to administer game preserves; to supervise the oyster beds of the state; to control the sand, shell, and gravel in the state's public waters; and to inform the public about the state's wildlife resources. In 1942 the commission began publishing Texas Game and Fish magazine, and in 1946 it began a statewide conservation education program. In 1951 the legislature expanded the commission to nine members and removed the term "oyster" from the commission's name. In 1958 the commission controlled hunting and fishing regulations in eighty counties; by 1962 hunting and fishing activities in 129 counties were under full or partial control of the commission's regulatory authority. The Texas Game and Fish Commission merged with the State Parks Board in 1963 to form the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Ed H. Ferguson, Jr., Ellen Schmidt, and Shirley Ratisseau Sweeney, "Let's Get Acquainted," Texas Game and Fish, October 1954-June 1955. Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Chronicle (Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife, 1990).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “Texas Game and Fish Commission,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-game-and-fish-commission.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995