NO.grandisleopen.018.jpg

Riley Varnado, 7, counts speckled trout at the Sand Dollar Marina in Grand Isle on May 2, 2020. 

Reworking a line from my friend and colleague Scott Rabalais, here a few notes made on the back pages of this year’s fishing regulations pamphlet.

Speckled trout ... 

Don’t know that our Wildlife and Fisheries Commission did the just-right thing in putting off a decision about new creel and minimum-size limits on speckled trout.

If you don’t know it by now, the most interesting item on Thursday’s monthly commission meeting agenda was a notice of intent to change trout regulations.

The proposed new regs were outlined last month — a decrease from a 25 to 15 daily creel limit and upping the minimum size from 12 inches to 13½ inches.

The point of this now year-long discussion came from data produced from state Wildlife and Fisheries biologists and staff showing troublesome indications in our state’s speckled trout population, notably a decline in the number of larger fish in the samplings.

So, when the LDWF staff presented its findings — boiled down it was if recreational anglers would accept a reduction to 15 fish, and if the 13½ inch length minimum would produce the overall catch reduction needed to restore trout stocks within five years — the commission decided to punt.

This “no action” came with a call for another year of sampling and another data set before voting on this kind of major change in our fishing structure.

From here, the proposal was troubling. What was this half-inch thing? Make it 13 or 14 inches and get off this idea that because Florida has a half-inch increment on one species there that it’s OK to mimic another state’s nonsense.

Increasing the minimum size was troubling, too.

If you want to save fish, especially a “tender” fish like speckled trout, then catching it, hauling it into a boat, removing the hook, measuring it, then releasing it lends to what we know as “discard mortality.”

So, with data showing we have a disproportionate share of 12-14 inch long trout in the population, wouldn’t it mean that setting a minimum size at 13 or 14 inches (or somewhere in between) would lead to increased discard mortality, that we would kill more of the fish that could grow larger to be “legal” with a 15-fish limit of trout longer than 12 inches?

There would be a risk of boring you into numbness with numbers proving that point, but if a more mature female speckled trout produces 2-4 times more eggs than a 12-incher, it seems a new minimum-size regulation would be taking the more productive spawners from the population while risking (discard mortality) fish which could grow to 14 inches.

This is not an attempt to decry the work of LDWF biologists, but there are some times when old formulae just don’t fit a solution to the problem.

What’s more concerning — and what the commission members appears to understand — is this rush to get new regulations on the books in a year when trout catches appear on the rebound.

Perish the thought that any new push came to placate environmental groups that are on the record in protest of our 25-trout-a-day limit. Yes, there are.

If there is any reaction to that sentiment, it comes at a time when some fishermen have voiced concerns about their struggles to catch trout.

Those concerns are well-founded for those individuals.

What’s missing here are several factors this rush to new regulations has ignored.

Our ever-changing environment tops that list, things like subsidence and sea-level rise leading the list, and the protests of a few to the needed changes in the way we restore our disappearing marshes.

Let’s go back more than 30 years ago when LSU professor Richard Condry testified about losing marshes and marshes edges.

He was clear in his belief that once an area loses its marshes, it loses its ability to hold, first, the forage base; second, the nursery grounds; and, third, the predator fish.

There’s proof when you look at what happened during the past eight or so years in Yellow Cotton Bay, and for the past few years in some areas of the Barataria Basin.

Sprinkled into the ever-present habitat decline are the effects of our country’s worst oil spill and continued commercial forage-fish take from our coastal waters. That latter issue will be a hotly contested debate fo the commission in the coming months.

Mixed into the commission’s decision to forestall any decision was a request for a breakdown on trout numbers in the different basins across our coast.

Some point to the failed attempt to restore trout numbers in the Calcasieu Lake basin (the creel limit was lowered to 15 several years ago), but that action wasn’t taken for biological reason, but to limit the daily take by Texas fishermen making the trip to catch more than the five trout allowed in their state.

Does that basin-by-basin request mean we’re headed to different regulations for different areas?

Does it means this year’s heavier trout haul will show up in lower populations when state biologists conduct the next survey?

Does all this mean that anglers who’ve fished productive, now nonproductive places need to do more scouting for new places because trout have moved to new, more suitable, forage-rich habitat?

Will this year’s increased fishing activity slow down next year when, or if, the COVID threat is lessened?

Will the commission take an active role in reducing the effects of commercial forage-fish harvest along our coast?

Truth is, don’t know, but it will be interesting.