Callie speckled trout

File photo

Callie Frey shows off this heavy speckled trout she caught from Skippy Lake in Delacroix. State marine biologists are finding fewer and fewer of these large trout among the state's total trout population and, late week, issued a report outlining a range of options ahead for the state's recreational coastal fishermen.

The message came in “Lima Charlie” — loud and clear — during Thursday’s Wildlife and Commission meeting.

After studying speckled trout for several months, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ marine biologists came up with several startling statistics. To wit:

  • The stock has been overfished since 2014;
  • Overfishing has occurred in six of the past 10 years;
  • The spawning stock biomass and proportion of age 3-and-older female speckled trout in the population are at the lowest levels in the biologists’ data base;
  • Recreational landings are at the lowest levels since 1990;
  • and, fishing effort continues to increase.

Those findings came amidst a presentation of a dozen charts and graphs comparing years of recreational landings, the age composition of those landings, a “winter-kill” index, LDWF net samplings, and the ever-present and scientific “Female Spawning Stock Biomass” and “Spawning Potential Ratio” and “Fishing Mortality Rates.”

It’s those last three that trigger fish biologists' reaction to an individual species.

The simple explanation is when spawning stock biomass and spawning potential ratio decline, there’s a risk of a further decrease in the overall stock of fish.

Both factors reached high levels in 2007-2008, but have declined sharkly since. The LDWF report showed a decline in spawning stock biomass (SSB) from a high near 9 million pounds to this year’s near 4 million pounds, and a spawning potential ratio (SPR) decline from 20 percent in 2008 to near 9 percent in the current study.

With some certainty, the harsh winters of 2014 and 2018 are factors in the population downturn, and there’s a lingering belief in the scientific community — although not by all — and among recreational fishermen that the 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster continues to affect marine organisms along and off Louisiana’s coast.

Still, the declines in the SSB and SPR are triggers indicating need for a change. Over several years, those decreasing factors simply mean there aren’t enough adult females in the stock to replenish trout taken from the water, or killed in any other way, to keep the number either at current levels or increase their numbers.

The LDWF report outlined several management options either taken individually or in a combination, to include:

  • reduced creel limits;
  • Increase from the current 12-inch minimum size limit and/or a slot-size limit;
  • closed areas and/or closed seasons;
  • and, special regulations after severe winters.

When LDWF Marine Fisheries Section biologist Jason Adriance finished the presentation, the staff’s consensus was an outline of the next steps: an analysis of the management option “to improve the status of the stock,” input from the commission on preferred management options, and “changes will need to be significant and likely controversial.”

Just know this is the first step in what’s likely to be a months-long debate over the future of speckled trout in our state’s waters.

Red snapper

Yes, the recreational season is closed, and all that’s left is for LA Creel to produce the final numbers from the four-day Labor Day Weekend. Through Aug. 25, the total catch estimate stood at 734,103 pounds, or 92 percent of the state’s 816,439-pound allowed recreational catch.

Basin deer

During Thursday’s meeting, state wildlife biologist Jonathan Bordelon presented a dire picture on deer in the lower Atchafalaya Basin — State Deer Area 5.

Bordelon told the commission the Basin’s record 222-day flood impacted deer herds in the area, and explained the concern isn’t with the adult female whitetails, but with the food resources available to females with fawns.

The state’s Deer Study group has known for years about the late rut in the area and came to the conclusion it’s because deer in that area have adapted to the spring and early summer floods. The late rut means birthing fawns in late July and early August.

He said this year’s receding flood waters likely had minimal impact on fawn drop, but the flooding reduced the available food for females to produce milk for their fawns.

Bordelon said while the flood is over, and the understory, the food, will grow rapidly, there is a concern about an adequate food supply.

“This recommendation is based on trends in harvest for the southern (basin) zone and reduced lactation during previous August flooding recorded on DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) clubs within the northern (basin) zone,” Bordelon said.

Wildlife biologists have been concerned for several years about declining deer numbers in the area, and Bordelon said the staff’s proposal was to cut 13 either-sex hunting from the 2019-2020 season in State Area 5.

The either-sex hunting dates, passed by the commission through a Declaration of Emergency, will be Nov. 9-15 (primitive weapons), Nov. 16-17, Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 21-22. Also included are the Oct. 26-Nov. 1 youth-only hunt, and throughout the archery season but not when there’s a bucks-only archery season.