Outdoors chart 2/1620

After sitting in on the first week of the speckled trout public meetings, there’s one very prominent fact to chew on and try to digest.

We’re very close to the edge of the cliff, and it’ll be us fishermen to pull us back from that brink.

The graphic with this story tells only one part of what Department of Wildlife and Fisheries marine biologists Jason Adriance and Harry Blanchet have laid out in the presentation of the facts about the state of speckled trout in our coastal waters.

Just so not to confuse the issue, it’s never been a plan to swallow hook, line and sinker all of what marine biologists have professed to be true during the past three decades.

Yet, their numbers are their numbers and come from diligent work for many years in an effort to keep a finger on the pulse of this vitally important recreational fishery.

Yes, there is evidence to show declining fish habitat is a major problem across our coast. And, yes, the high major rivers spanning the past five years decreases the area where speckled trout can eat and make baby trout. And, from here, there appears to be a correlation in the decline of brown shrimp catch in our state since 2010 and the decline in speckled trout numbers.

But, to paraphrase what Adriance said Wednesday night that fishing and catch rates “are the only knob we have to turn.”

Back to the graphic: What it shows is the projected recovery rates from the LDWF’s latest samplings. The “target” median is 6.4 million pounds in the spawning stock biomass. That’s what’s needed to sustain the stock and it’s all in female trout.

The LDWF’s staff explanation: “To recover the stock, the spawning stock biomass needs to be at or above the target level (yellow line). Each color shows the recovery rates based on different percentages of harvest reduction.”

The LDWF staff’s statement earlier this month indicated a recommendation of a 20% reduction in the catch.

OK, many of you figured a 20% reduction from a 25-fish daily limit means we’re going to have a 20-fish daily creel.

That’s not the way it works: the survey data of fishermen shows 85% of the trips produce 10 or fewer fish or less in waters east of the Mermentau Basin, and about half in that 85% come back to the dock with one or two trout.

The 20% reduction is in number of pounds, not numbers of fish.

So with so many more anglers on the water today compared to 20 years ago, it’s not the 25-a-day trout trips that are blasting a big hole in the population — data shows those make up about 3 percent of all the annual trips — but it’s the sheer volume of fishermen taking more 1-year-old (remember a 12-inch minimum size) speckled trout from our waters.

So to achieve a 20% reduction in the annual harvest, the state staff’s chart shows we’d have to go to a 12-fish daily limit, keeping the 12-inch size limit, to come close to reaching that “target” in three years.

From here, that’s going to be a hard sell, and one of the things the LDWF staff has to do now is “sell” fishermen that cutting the limit by more than 50% is a good thing.

Probably so, but what about a 40% reduction in the daily limit — to 15 trout — and keeping the 12-inch size. Lots of folks can swallow that easier and feel pretty good that what they’re doing is going to get the stock back in good shape during the next four, five or six years.

It’s going to keep fishermen paying those basic and saltwater license fees. It’s going to keep marina and tackle-shop owners in business.

Yeah, it’s only a three-fish difference between 12 and 15, but this plan sounds like it will be easier to sell, and bring the entire state into a 15-per-day limit (Calcasieu Lake has a 15 daily limit now).

It’s like an old friend said Thursday, “We’re not catching fish like we used to, sto what’s the difference in lowering the limit. A lot of good fishermen aren’t catching what they used to, and maybe we all need to take our medicine, relieve the pain and get on with making it better for our grandchildren. We had it good, but my mama always said, ‘All good things must come to an end.’ And we all best know we’re at the end of what was a very, very good thing.”

Please attend this week’s meetings. Pay attention to what’s said. Speak up if you need to, and know the biologists will make recommendations, some based on public comment, some of the biology, and the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will decide any new regulations. There’ no timetable in this process, and it’s just a guess, but it wouldn't be a surprise if we have a new daily creel limit in place by Oct. 1.