March 06, 2013 at 10:39am
Some info from the LDWF
But the suggestion is also coming from sports fishers, who wonder if the quality of their trout fishing experience would improve if we had more conservative regulations.
To find an answer to that question, and to reconfirm we are not 'fish hogs,' I turned to the fisheries biologist at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
I got a quick, one-word answer: No.
'We've run (computer) scenarios on lowering the creel limits and increasing the size limits, and from our assessments those actions did not noticeably increase the number of fish in the system or the number of big fish,' said Joey Shepard, acting deputy assistant secretary of the LDFW, and a biologist who has spent much of his long career studying specks.
But there is also some real-world experience to back up those computers. In 2006, yielding to requests from some guides and sports fishers hoping for more large specks, the state reduced regulations on Calcasieu Lake. The daily limit was dropped to 15, and although the minimum size remained at 12 inches, anglers were restricted to only two fish of more than 25 inches.
The result six years later?
'From our assessment, it did not increase the number of big fish in the system,' Shepard reported. 'Of course, we didn't anticipate it would.'
This certainly seems counterintuitive. After all, logic dictates the fewer of objects you remove from a container, the more you'll have left. And everyone knows if the limit on, say, deer were raised to 10 per day, we wouldn't have many left. For that matter, why is the daily limit on redfish only five?
Well, the answer is that nature works with a different logic, one much more complicated than simple math.
In the case of speckled trout, we're dealing with a species that has adapted to survival on the very mean streets of the Mississippi estuary by reproducing in stupendous numbers for a fairly short lifespan.
Some points to remember:
Natural mortality in this critter-eat-critter world means every speck spawning class loses 25 percent of its surviving members every year. So if you start with 100, you're left with just 75 by Year 1, then just more than 30 by year 3.
'Basically, most of the fish you put back, or leave, will be taken by natural mortality -- predators (including larger specks), disease, weather and environmental conditions,' Shepard said.
Specks start reproducing at about 18 months. The spawning season runs from about mid-April to late September, and females typically reproduce ready-to-spawn roe sacks every four to five days. That's 'days' with a 'd.' So the marsh is flooded with trout larvae for five months.
'Because the spawning season lasts so long, and the fish produce so many (larvae), it compensates for any factors that might interrupt reproduction,' Shepard said. That dynamic reproduction cycle results in a survival rate that so out-paced the high predation factor, it would be almost impossible for hook-and-line anglers to make a telling difference in their overall numbers, Shepard said.
The state has been on the 25/12 system for almost 20 years, and even with anglers taking home 8 million to 10 million annually, the resource continues to show very little change in abundance.
The agency studies various reduction in creel limits to determine their impact on fishing, and came up with this. Reducing the limit from 25 to 20 would reduce harvest by only 4 percent; from 25 to 15 by 8 percent; from 25 to 10 by 15 percent, and from 25 to 5 by 30 percent.
'Based on those numbers, our assessment is we would have to reduce the daily limit to five before anyone would notice a difference in the fish available,' he said.
The daily limit of 25 is seldom reached by most anglers. Studies show that the average catch per trip is fewer than five fish. Obviously, if all of the almost 1 million anglers fishing caught 25 each trip, the limit would have to be lowered.
OK, so what about reducing the minimum size to increase the number of big fish? Shepard said the LDWF ran the numbers and got these results: Increasing the minimum from 12 inches to 15 inches would put 13 percent more fish back in the water; from 12 inches to 16 inches would reduce harvest by nine percent.
But because anglers would be hooking and releasing more fish, the improvement is dampened by an estimated 10 percent release mortality.
'Essentially, we would increase spawning potential by about four percent if we raised the minimum to 15 inches, and six percent if we raised it to 15 inches,' he said. 'Either way, the improvement would not be noticeable to fishermen.'
So for all those anglers worried about the fish-hog label, the advice is: Forgettaboutit! Certainly, if you're not going to eat them (fresh), put 'em back. Otherwise, ignore the critics and enjoy one of the great natural, renewable resources in North America.
Young spotted seatrout grow rapidly, reaching 8 inches by their first birthday and over 12 inches by age 2. Spotted seatrout can live to over 12 years of age. Male trout grow slower and don't live as long as females. Males don't reach 14 inches long until 3 or 4 years old. Few males live over 5, so virtually all spotted seatrout 5 pounds and larger are females.
Spotted seatrout are voracious predators, especially in the summer when high spawning activity creates tremendous metabolic demands. Fish under 12-14 inches eat a variety of foods, but more shrimp and other crustaceans than anything else. As they grow, they shift their food preference to fish, first to smaller fish such as silversides and anchovies, then later to larger prey fishes such as mullets, croakers and menhaden.
Size : Typically 1-3 pounds, fish to 5 pounds are not rare, and occasional fish exceed 10 pounds.