“Lack of sufficient data” sinks LWFC plan for managing speckled trout

An advisory committee will be formed to gather ideas for speckled trout management measures. The committee, formed by Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioners (LWFC), would be made up of user groups, commissioners, legislators and biologists.

LWFC decided on forming the committee at their regular monthly meeting on March 2 after a Joint National Resources committee oversight hearing ruled their previous proposed plan was unacceptable.

The hearing ruled “a lack of sufficient data to support the path chosen by LWFC.”

The Joint National Resources committee were concerned about possible public opinion survey duplication, economic impacts, added discards and mortality on female trout, excessive recreational angler restrictions, excessive commercial bycatch in the menhaden fishery, assessment and data quality and habitat loss.

Chris Macaluso, director of the Center for Marine Fisheries at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, gave his input on who should be on the committee in a Louisiana Sportsman interview Thursday.

“You definitely need your charter boat captains, major conservation organizations in the state and scientists from the department,” Macaluso said. “I think there are some scientists who used to work for the department who for a while didn’t necessarily agree to move the minimum size to 13.5 inches, and legislators weighed in on that. The legislators seized on some of those opinions and took it to mean there was dissension. Bringing in their opinion matters too.”

Keeping the size limit at 12

Jason Adriance, LDWF biologist said his group would recommend “to drop the bag limit to 15 and for a short period of time keep the size limit at 12 inches and then do a more robust study in the discard mortality.”

“As far as public comment, 12 inches seemed to be very important for the minimum size limit and 15 fish bag seemed to be very important,” said Adriance. “The only way we get to that is looking at the slot options.”

Also during the commissioners meeting, vast populations of sharks and dolphins were blamed on the lacking numbers of speckled trout.

“Sharks are just ridiculous,” said a Terrebonne Parish fisherman.

Other speakers said since Katrina, fishermen have seen a steady decline in speckled trout due to a “tremendous” loss of habitat. Those in attendance offered suggestions of gradually reducing bag limits to “build up the resource over a period of time.”

All agreed who spoke at the meeting, to develop measures to protect speckled trout numbers and called for a happy medium.

If commissioners would approve a 15-fish bag limit, 16 percent of the overall harvest of females would be obtained, which gives the fish a five to eight year recovery, according to Wildlife and Fisheries data.

“I think some of the issues people had was the 12-inch part,” Macaluso said. “There is a lot of places in the state where you can’t catch a lot of fish over 13 inches. You are going to struggle to make your 15 fish limit, and it is going to be a lot of discard. A lot of people have an issue with that 10 percent mortality rate.”

Habitat loss

Macaluso went on to say he felt strongly that habitat loss was the primary reason for the decline of speckled trout numbers.

“The ability for this coast to produce enough fish for us to expect to have a 25 fish limit has gone away,” he said. Macaluso went on to say the Mississippi River has a tremendous relation to building habitat.

“We talked a lot about habitat loss and what that means and the relationship between habitat loss and salinity,” Macaluso said. “We continue to differentiate Louisiana’s coast from other places in the gulf. What differentiates our state from other states is the Mississippi River and the ability for that river to create habitat and produce the environmental conditions that are necessary to have extremely productive fisheries.

“Losses to that habitat that the river built is the primarily reason we are losing speckled trout and redfish production. It is a myth that you think you can get that production back without using the river. It cannot be done. That’s not the reality of how Louisiana works.”

Reaching a decision

Macaluso said he would like to see commissioners do a better job of considering the people of Louisiana when making decisions on how to conserve the speckled trout population.

“I don’t think we are very far off from reaching a decision,” he said. “One that is going to be in the best interest of the people and the fishery. I believe there were steps being taken that people felt they were not being considered enough. The reality in what was happening in Louisiana was not being considered enough. The public sees what’s happening on the water, and it doesn’t match up with what the department is telling them.”

But, there is one item that Macaluso, commissioners, legislators, boat captains and biologists agree on.

“The one part that does match up is everybody recognizes we don’t have the speckled trout population that we did 25 years ago, or even 15 years ago,” he said.