The conclusion is simple for the guys and gals working in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Marine Fisheries section — speckled trout are overfished and under going overfishing. They believe data they have collected in their most recent stock assessment proves it.
Some who paid attention to biologists’ presentation during Jan. 9’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting were left with several questions.
First among them was an overriding feeling that this most recent stock assessment could be a knee-jerk reaction to a variety of factors, and could end up being a permanent cure for a temporary problem.
Topping that list are a continued, now years long, heavy flow of the Mississippi River, possible lingering effects from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and coastal habitat loss.
True, the Mississippi River goes through stages, varying periods when our country’s largest river sends more water to Louisiana than what’s considered to be “normal.” Evidence is the almost annual opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in recent years, the effects of which mostly are concentrated in the vast Pontchartrain Basin.
Yet, there’s evidence the Bonnet Carre’s flow helps this system dominating the most eastern waters of our state. Yes, there was an algae bloom in Lake Pontchartrain last year, and it takes time for the fish living in this basin to recover from a slug of freshwater. But there’s enough proof it stimulates the system and provides nutrients and food for the predator fish living in these waters — what once was a temporary problem.
The oil disaster remains a mystery, at least for some if only because places like the tidal waters around the mouth of the Mississippi River and the lower portions of the Barataria Basin were void of cocaho minnows for at least six years after our country’s largest-ever oil spill.
Set-out minnow traps went empty until sometime in 2017 and only in 2018 and 2019 did bait stands collect enough to sell to live-bait-fishing anglers. And cocaho minnow numbers have not recovered to the level found before the 2010 disaster, and possibly other marine species, too. No one can pinpoint when this disaster’s effects will end.
Then, there is the continued erosion/subsidence of our coastline and interior marshes, breeding grounds for critters speckled trout eat and the trout themselves.
If you talk to folks fishing the Terrebonne Parish marshes — a place where fisheries habitat seems to be more stable than the Barataria Basin — they talk about trout catches outpacing most of the state — and this is a permanent problem.
Still, there’s the data, biological models showing overfishing and a species being overfished. And the belief is the main push will be a 20 percent reduction in the daily limit. That means from 25 a day to 20 a day, but that is not the only option. There are a handful of others, including a slot limit. A slot limit on trout appears to be different than a slot limit on largemouth bass – and an increase in “keeper” size limits, and cutting back on charter fishing take. And, do you want to see season closures, or seasons in different coastal basins?
From this side
LDWF fisheries staff will tour the state in the coming weeks to provide the data, list their proposed alternatives to rebuild the trout population, answer questions and take public comment. (The Wildlife Division staff is doing much the same with proposed hunting seasons, but in separate meetings.)
Attendance usually is sparse at any of these meetings, and it’s befuddling why so many hundreds of thousands of fishermen and hunters don’t respond.
Unless there’s a dramatic change of heart, some action will be taken to change the way we take speckled trout from our waters, and the incessant noise from fishermen after the changes come is, well, a bit irritating, especially when the answer is “No” to the question, “Did you take time to speak up at a public meeting or make written comment?”
It’s sort of like the nonvoter complaining about the election of a mayor, governor, senator, congressman or president. You didn’t take the time to vote — stop complaining.
Same is true with hunting seasons. Discontent is growing among our state duck hunters. Coastal Zone hunters complain about their season opening too early, when all the LDWF waterfowl staff is trying to do is maximize the number of weekend days hunters can have.
Yet, if you don’t like the way our three-zone, two-split seasons are set, then “speak up or forever hold your peace.” Public comment on the hunting season continues through early March. (The hunting season’s public meetings schedule ran in last Sunday’s Advocate Outdoors.)
For speckled trout, the LDWF staff and Louisiana Sea Grant are partnering “... to use interactive voting technology at these public hearings in response to a survey that will be given at the meetings. LDWF will also be sending out an email survey identical to the survey that will be administered at public meetings.”
If you want to comment, then email Jason Adriance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One problem: except for the public meeting on trout in Ruston (1 p.m.), all others are at 5 p.m. Most of the folks who will want to attend these weeknight meetings work and a 5 p.m. meeting time will pose problems for getting to meeting locations to hear the initial “data” and “alternatives” presentations. A 6 p.m. start seemingly would be a better start time.