Louisiana’s speckled trout stock ‘biologically OK,’ LDWF says

No plans to increase minimum keeper length or reduce daily limit, biologist says

Although some fisherman have voiced concerns about the quantity and quality of speckled trout caught across Louisiana’s coast this year — as well as increased fishing pressure on the species — a biologist with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said LA Creel data indicate more specks were actually caught in the first half of this year than in 2015.

Jason Adriance, LDWF’s finfish program manager based out of New Orleans, was discussing the 2014 speckled trout assessment, which was released just last week after being withheld for years because of ongoing litigation from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Typically, the department issues a formal assessment on specks every four to five years, he said.

The 54-page report, which is available to view online here, is written in scientific terms that are somewhat complicated to read through for the layman, but Adriance provided a relatively simple executive summary.

“The take-home from it is the overall status of the stock is not overfished and it’s not undergoing overfishing,” Adriance said. “That’s the key takeaway, and biologically at this time, there is nothing to show a need to change limits ….

“In this assessment, we haven’t seen anything either to indicate that there is any recruitment overfishing, or anything impairing the recruitment we’re getting.”

The 2014 report was compiled using data from 2013 and earlier, so data from the last few years are not included. But Adriance said the department conducts trout sampling year round, and would intervene before the next assessment comes out if they suspected the population was in any sort of trouble.

“We have many gill net spots in each basin across the coast statewide,” he said. “Those are done from April through September, and we’ll sample a number of sites for each basin twice a month. Then in October through March, we’ll do them once a month ….

“We’re continually watching things, and if we need to crank out an update, we would certainly do that.”

With the LA Creel program, where angler harvests are recorded in “real time” by biologists at docks across the coast, Adriance said the hope is that future stock assessments for specks will be reported by specific basin, for example, Big Lake or Lake Pontchartrain.

“But we’re not there yet,” he said. “We certainly want more years sampling more intensely at the individual basin level before we want to try to make those sorts of decisions.

“Right now everything is still statewide.”

While other Gulf states, like Texas, have tightened restrictions on daily limits and keeper length, Louisiana’s regulations remain at 25 fish per day with a 12-inch minimum length, except in an area of Southwest Louisiana including Big Lake where the daily limit is 15 fish.

When asked specifically about the possibility of lowering daily limits or increasing the minimum keeper size in the future, Adriance said those changes aren’t in the plans right now for Louisiana waters.

“Biologically, the stock is OK. Those other things you mentioned are social in nature at this point,” he said. “Biologically, based on that report, there is no need at this time to adjust limits.”

One of the biological benchmarks featured in the assessment is the SPR, or spawning potential ratio, of the state’s female trout population. Adriance said the report estimates the biomass of female trout at just below 8 million pounds as of 2014.

“SPR is essentially the percentage of spawning females out there versus the potential in an un-fished stock,” Adriance said. “If the SPR is 20, then 20 percent of the stock is available for spawning as compared to if you were in a completely unfished condition in a stock without any removals.”

Mississippi recently raised its SPR standard to 20 percent after noticing a steady decline in numbers.

Louisiana’s SPR noted in the 2014 assessment is 11 percent, Adriance said.

“It’s varied from 8 to 20, and it’s currently around 11 …” he said. “As you get new data and you re-run it, those numbers are going to fluctuate. Some stocks can withstand lower SPRs than others because of (the species’) life history.”

The state’s well-publicized coastal land loss is another issue facing the speckled trout population, although sampling data hasn’t yet revealed it to be problematic.

“Theoretically, you would think you’d see it in the recruitment of those new young fish — those fish that were spawned in the previous year,” Adriance said. “Certainly, as we continue to lose habitat that is going to be a concern, because as you continue to lose that habitat you are going to lose nursery area.”

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Patrick Bonin is the former editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.