Through a jumble of technical terms and fish-biology jargon, state marine fisheries scientists told the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission that the state’s speckled trout population is maintaining “healthy” numbers along the Louisiana coast.
Using data compiled since 1985, Wildlife and Fisheries’ Marine Section biologist Harry Blanchet said numbers taken from coastal fishermen and LDWF sampling show the number of small speckled trout that mature into the spawning stock of speckled trout in state waters “has not declined and has been consistent over time.”
Another chart produced by the Marine Section showed Louisiana far outpaces the other four Gulf states when it comes to recreational speckled trout landings. In terms of production, Louisiana fishermen have more than doubled the entire catch of the other four states every year from 2003 through 2013.
“What it shows is that Louisiana is the center of the spotted sea trout universe,” Blanchet told the commission.
The chart also showed the three highest recreational-landings years in 2006, 2008 and 2011 — recreational fishermen landed right at or slightly more than 12 million pounds — with corresponding lower-catch seasons following those peaks.
The lowest landing year was 2010, when fishing activity was curtailed by the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. After the highest catch, nearly 13 million pounds in the sampling survey in 2011, respective catches in 2012 and 2013 fell to nearly 11 million pounds then to slightly more than 9 million pounds. There is no catch data yet for 2014, a year when coastal anglers have complained about lower-than-average speckled trout catches across the coast.
Blanchet said samples show speckled trout in state waters have a spawning potential ratio (SPR) between 8 and 14 percent annually, with an average since 1985 at about 11 percent. SPR is a technical term that measures the percentage of fish that become mature spawning stock.
Blanchet said the 11 percent “mean” is enough to maintain speckled trout numbers in state waters. He said a female speckled trout produces millions of eggs every summer.
“We are currently very near target numbers, and at the median and well above the spawning stock biomass limit,” Blanchet said, further explaining that these factors indicate a healthy population for this species.
But, he continued, previous numbers only allow for across-the-coast data, and doesn’t produce numbers that could indicate problems in specific locations.
Along with Blanchet, Randy Pausina, LDWF Assistant Secretary for Fisheries, said the challenge for the state is to allow the LA Creel Program to begin producing numbers for basin-by-basin harvest information.
“Our main push for years has been to ask (federal fishermen managers) to give us numbers from specific areas, and we kept getting kicked back down the road,” Pausina said.
Pausina further pointed to the need for the new creel program, launched this year for speckled trout and other coastal species, to produce what he called “real-time data” so state managers can, if necessary, propose regulations for specific areas along the coast.
“Right now,” Pausina said referring to speckled trout, “we’re right where we need to be.”
Other commission action included:
- Approving a notice of intent for the state’s new Catch-and-Cook Program. LDWF and Department of Health and Hospitals combined on a set of regulations for the new state law enacted by the State Legislature to allow restaurants to cook recreational catches for anglers. There’s a 120-day comment period before ratification;
- Approving three amendments to a plan that will allow anglers at Port Eads near the mouth of the Mississippi River to have a three-day catch of fish cleaned and in possession;
- Learning that Enforcement Division agents issued 839 citations that included 55 for allegedly hunting over bait during the dove season, and 541 written warnings during September;
- Learning there 12 boating accidents, but no fatalities during September;
- And, set its February 2015 meeting for Feb. 5 in Baton Rouge.