Two snapper

St. Aloysius Catholic student Kemper Tullier strains to hold the two nearly 11-pound red snapper he caught during 2021's Catholic High Alumni Fishing Rodeo at Port Fourchon. Louisiana's red snapper season will close Dec. 31.

With 2022 near, it’s time to take stock of 2021, some good and some, well, not so good.

The good fishing is at, or near, all-time highs in most states, Louisiana included, and with the new variant spreading its holiday misery far and wide, it looks like we’ll have at least another year dealing with COVID, which means we’ll see more and more of our friends on the water.

The bad, obviously, is the lingering destruction from two devastating hurricane seasons. We can only hope and pray it doesn’t take south Louisiana as long to see some recovery results as the Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermilion parish residents (and sportsmen) have had to endure.

There’s little doubt Hurricane Ida became more than her name. Try “We-da” because darned near everyone we know felt the sting of this category 4 storm.

The surprise is that more of our coastal marshes didn’t sustain damage. That’s little comfort to Grand Isle and relatives and friends in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. We can be thankful the Verret and Atchafalaya basins were spared to leave us with some freshwater fishing opportunities taken away in past hurricanes.

More good news comes from the lower Pontchartrain Basin. Speckled trout, redfish and bass are providing enough opportunity to absorb some of the fall/winter effort we’d find in Lafourche and Terrebonne waters.

Ida also brought a temporary halt to offshore trips and brought a brief stoppage to the red snapper season.

And, that’s another story.

The latest (through Dec. 12) Wildlife and Fisheries’ private recreational red snapper landing estimates update is we’ve hauled in 778,395 pounds, about 95%, of our state’s 816,439-pound allotment for 2021.

And that estimate comes after the season was expanded from weekends only to every day fishing and from a two-fish daily limit to four red snapper per day.

The release comes with the reminder of a Dec. 31 closure to the red snapper season with a scheduled 2022 opener for the Memorial Day weekend in May.

Maybe, just maybe, our Wildlife and Fisheries Commission could take a look at that May opener and give fishermen a chance to catch red snapper for a one-week opener around a late Easter (April 22) next year.

Unless there’s an uptick in effort in these last days of 2021, we’re not going to catch our allotment, and any pounds remaining will go into a pool to be shared by the five Gulf States.

Another rub here is, without explanation, Wildlife and Fisheries managers used that 816,439-pound number during the past two months after spending most of red snapper fishing season telling us Louisiana’s allotment was 832,493 pounds.

No matter with of those two numbers are in 2022’s allotment, there’s little need to extend red snapper season to the end of any year.

True, Ida cut into the catch, but history tells us weekly catches drop dramatically after school starts, and Ida blew in here after school began.

So, instead of weekends-only seasons, the commission could build in a weeklong season around the Fourth of July holiday, too.

So much work went into liberating private recreational fishermen from the much-too-inflexible regulations meted out by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to see Louisiana’s opportunity go to waste.

If 2021’s lessons are to be learned, then increasing opportunity should enter the debate about keeping the status quo on red snapper.

If you want to know week-by-week catch estimates, to the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov/page/red-snapper

Speckled trout

The commission keeps tap dancing around the issue of new daily limits and a possible increase in size limits for this most sought-after fish.

Now two years after decreased limits were raised, the LDWF has put off any decision until October.

Two summers ago, fishermen raised the question asking why catches were down.

Know, too, there were other forces at work. It appears a years-long push for change came from environmental groups and a very small handful of anglers who seem to have the ear of Wildlife and Fisheries staffers. Apparently, there are national and regional groups that, somehow, don’t understand why Louisiana can have a yeur-round, 25-trout daily limit while other states have seasons and a limit a five-fish daily take.

There is evidence to support concern about our trout population, but this is not a time for radical, knee-jerk reaction of dramatically lower daily limits and increases in minimum lengths.

Word has circulated in conservation groups that daily limits could be reduced to 8-10. And LDWF staff offered a 13.5-inch minimum size limit, and cite other states having such half-inch increments.

There are better ways. If reduction in catch is a goal, then it might be best to go slowly, and base any further decisions on a five-year program designed to determine if trout-sustainability goals are met, and discarding 12-inch fish — and the mortality associated with releasing smaller fish — in an attempt to get a limit of larger fish doesn’t appear to be a healthy solution.

Even if the commission acts on any new trout regulations, there won’t be any changes in 2022.

CWD

To end 2021 on a good note, LDWF Wildlife and the agency’s veterinarian Dr. Jim Lacour reported recent results from 104 samples from Union Parish and 54 more from Morehouse Parish showing those deer were free from chronic wasting disease.

It means no CWD has been found in our state.

The samples were needed after the always-fatal-to deer disease was found in Union County, Arkansas, less than eight miles from those two parishes.

The report stated hunters in those two parishes submitted 112 more samples for LSU Diagnostic Laboratory testing, and 30 more deer samples were needed to complete the study.

The testing is not limited to those two parishes, and hunters can have deer they’ve taken tested after contacting the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov/page/cwd-testing.