Conservation of renewable natural resources is a tricky thing.
When the state shut down fishing across a considerable swath of the coast last spring and summer, all of us anglers were especially annoyed. The closures came at the worst possible time, that magical season when fat female speckled trout seem to appear out of nowhere and clobber obnoxiously loud topwater plugs.
Perhaps to make ourselves feel at least a little better, we all pointed to the silver lining in that dark, gloomy, opaque cloud — at least the fish were protected from harvest, and the action would be really good on the other side of the closures.
To a degree, that proved true, but not nearly to the level that might be expected. As I mentioned, conservation is a tricky thing.
Every outdoorsman automatically becomes a pseudo-scientist. We observe the behavior of the species we love, and we try to draw logical conclusions. It’s part of the fun of the sport.
I remember years ago interviewing a guide who recommended that anglers fish the shallow, sandy areas along coastal marsh islands three days before the full moons of April, May and June. I asked him why those particular areas would be so productive at those times.
He responded that the big female trout move onto the beds to lay their eggs three days before the full moon, and after that, they move off, leaving the males to guard the nests.
Great theory, but it had absolutely no basis in fact. Trout are batch spawners.
But getting back to last year’s closures, the trout stocks that were protected from harvest for up to three months were a godsend for the species that like to eat trout. Sharks, bull reds, jacks and a host of other species likely flourished, which in turn helped to keep the trout numbers in check.
Humans also enter into that mix. The slightly more abundant trout stocks made fishing easier in the months after the closures, which further reduced the long-term impact of the closures. During November and December of 2009, before the closures, anglers caught an estimated 1.9 million trout. During the same time period of 2010, after the closures, that number jumped to 2.5 million trout.
Biologists say that trout may be slightly larger this year as a result of the closures because they had that extra time to grow unmolested by one of their usual predators — humans. However, there won’t likely be many more of them than would have been the case without the closures.
Our marshes can only support a certain level of biomass, and it’s impossible for them to support anything above that.
All this is yet more evidence that you can’t stockpile fish species, and should eliminate any arguments that Louisiana needs a saltwater fish hatchery.
Such an effort would be a profound waste of money.
Restocking programs provide a social benefit in helping anglers feel like they’re doing something for the future and leaving a legacy, but they provide negligible biological benefit in all fisheries except those on the brink of collapse.
Any hatchery money would be much better spent improving habitat, thereby making more room for more biomass.
Nature is remarkably adept at filling any voids on her own.
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