The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC) adopted a Notice of Intent (NOI) to increase the minimum size limit of spotted seatrout to 13.5 inches total length from the current 12 inches minimum total length. The NOI also decreases the current 25 fish daily bag limit to 15 fish daily bag limit.
The action was taken at LWFC’s monthly meeting held Thursday morning, Oct. 6.
The previous 12-inch size limit allowed 50 percent of female seatrout to spawn, but the new 13.5-inch size limit allows 100 percent of female seatrout to spawn, according to Jason Adriance, Marine Fisheries Biologist.
“What you get out of that is another spawning season,” Adriance said. “You’ll get them spawning through age two. At our current limit, we harvest about 83 percent females. Moving to 13.5, it pushes that up to about 86 percent. It’s not a very big increase.”
According to Adriance, other Gulf state’s limits range from 15 inches to 17 inches and “have not seen disproportionate impacts to the female portion of the stock.”
Additionally, modifications in the rule create one statewide size and bag limit, removing the separate regulations in coastal western Louisiana.
The biologist said his team took into account LA Creel data to determine the new bag limit.
“When you look at the bag limit, it does show some more trends,” Adriance said. “The average is actually closer to five fish with 85 percent of successful angler trips harvesting nine fish per angler trip. However, when you adjust a bag limit, all of that successful effort from above that new bag limit shifts down. By adjusting to 15 fish, it doesn’t matter because most people only catch two.”
Point of contention
Commercial harvest of spotted seatrout comprises less than one percent of total direct landing, Adriance said to the LWFC in his report. And, elimination of guide limits would result in less than one percent reduction of overall harvest.
LWFC Chairman William “Joe” McPherson said he had approximately 20 cards from concerned citizens. Some were for the NOI while others were against it.
“We have strong consensus of captains in the eastern part of the state who want the strongest regulations possible,” said Richard Fischer, executive director of Louisiana Charter Boat Association. “We have a strong consensus of captains in the central part of the state that say an increase in the size limit would put them out of business.”
There was “very little” opposition from charter boat captains of the reduction of bag limits, but the size limit is a “major point of contention,” Fischer said.
One major argument, according to Fischer, was the discard mortality rate. Discard and release mortality occurs when fish or other animals are caught alive and then die after release.
Captains suspect the discard mortality rate to be higher than 10 percent.
“We’ve had some conversations with some highly esteemed scientists,” Fischer said. “They are not too sure the discard mortality rate is 10 percent and therefore question whether increasing the size limit at all would create more harm than good.”
Fischer recommended to drop the bag limit to 15 fish and “for a short period of time” table the size limit discussion to make additional time to focus specifically on the actual discard mortality rate.
Fischer also recommended the NOI be given a sunset time.
After Fischer spoke to the LWFC, the group said they previously presented options at a higher discard mortality rate but there was “no traction” and was not pursued.
Loss of habitat
Nicholas Francois, a 20-year Louisiana boat captain and guide, has seen the decline of the fish population and coastlines and “strongly” supported lowering limits and size of the fish.
Chris Macaluso, the Center for Marine Fisheries Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, advocated a reduction of the bag limit.
“I do believe the reduction in creel limit is warranted,” Macaluso said. “Not just because we don’t have the productivity we have in our estuaries that we once had. The expectation of production out paces the reality of production at this point. We have simply loss too much habitat to produce the kind of fisheries we had 30, 40 years ago, even 20 years ago.”
Macaluso remarks the loss of habitat is a major deterrent to fish population.
“The term overfished is a management term,” Macaluso said. “It can be a little bit misleading. I think the more accurate term is depleted. These fish have been depleted for a number of reasons. The same issues affecting the speckled trout is affecting the redfish and affecting ducks. It is a profound loss of habitat. The habitat loss is too great to support the fisheries we expect. The primary focus here should be habitat restoration.”
During the last 2.5 years, the LDWF has held eight public meetings across the state, issued multiple surveys to the public, and collected hundreds of public comments on this topic via email.
The Commission’s adoption of a Notice of Intent (NOI) is the first of many steps in promulgating a final Rule, which can take between 90 days and one year. Once adopted, the NOI will be published in the State Register and begin the public comment period. The Commission will consider all public comments received and may make any changes they deem necessary or appropriate. Absent any amendments to the NOI by the Commission, the proposed Rule will be sent to the Legislative Oversight Committee for their review. Upon expiration of the 30-day oversight period, or upon a favorable review by the Oversight Committee, the Rule can be published as final in the State Register.