seatrout, Cynoscion nebulosus, or as we call it in Louisiana,
the speckled trout, is one of the most popular saltwater fish
in the state. Besides being popular in many south Louisiana
restaurants, it is targeted by more recreational fishermen
than any other saltwater fish. In the last 10 years, recreational
fishermen have harvested an average of 6,578,061 speckled
trout from Louisiana waters annually – this is more
than 93% of the combined recreational/commercial harvest.
The best year for recreational landings was 2000 with a take
of 9,615,942 specks and the poorest year was 1990, the year
after the great freeze, with 2,679,167 landings.
the commercial catch had been regulated by minimum sizes and
gear restrictions, the recreational fishery was unregulated
until 1977, when a combined daily limit of 50 was placed on
speckled trout and redfish. In 1984 the possession limit was
reduced to the daily limit, and a new saltwater fishing license
was required. This was followed by a 12-inch minimum size
(14- inch commercial) in 1987 and the recreational limit was
reduced to 25 in 1988. Speckled trout management and biology
remain an area of high public interest. Some of the most commonly
asked questions on the subject are answered below.
do we have a 12-inch minimum size on speckled trout?
A minimum size of 12 inches allows most fish to spawn at least
once before reaching harvestable size. All of the males and
more than 75% of the females are sexually mature at 12 inches
long. The minimum size also increases the overall yield of
the fishery. Each year since the regulation went into effect,
the average size of recreationally caught specks has been
more than 13 inches. Before the minimum size requirement,
the average size of recreationally taken specks was as low
as 10 inches.
don’t we have a larger minimum size, such as 14 inches?
Speckled trout have sex-specific growth and survival rates.
Males grow slower and don’t grow as large as females.
In Louisiana, males do not reach a size of 14 inches until
their third or fourth years. Since few specks live beyond
age 5, and more than 70% of the total speckled trout population
is age 3 or younger, very few males grow to larger sizes.
This would result in a loss of recreational opportunity to
harvest the males and could possibly cause a shift of harvest
pressure to females.
many of the undersized, released speckled trout really survive?
The majority of hook-caught speckled trout survive when released.
Louisiana conducted a 18-month study ending in 1995 on the
survival of released speckled trout. The survival rate depended
on the fishing method. Treble hook artificials had a 97% survival
rate, single hook artificials were 91%, treble hook with bait
had 83%, and single hook with bait was 74%. The overall average
survival rate was 82.5%. Research done in 1984 in Texas showed
a survival rate of 73%, and a Georgia study, done in 1990,
showed a 63.8% rate.
don’t we close the season during spawning time?
Speckled trout exhibit a protracted spawning season, lasting
from April to September. Females ready to spawn have even
been recorded in March and October. Closing the season during
spawning would result in a 5 to 7 month closure. Also, from
a biological perspective, any removal of a female fish from
a population has the same impact. Regardless of whether the
fish is caught 8 months or 8 days before it spawns, the result
is the removal of the fish and all of her future offspring.
Since there is little biological advantage to such a measure
and since the closure would take place during the months of
best fishing weather and most intense recreational activity,
the negatives outweigh the possible benefits.
can’t I catch more big trout?
Aside from the fact that there are many more small
trout than large ones, large speckled trout are very specialized
creatures. Large trout are not as widely distributed as small
trout. The largest trout are taken in the spring, next largest
in winter, then fall and summer, out in the Gulf. Large but
lesser sized trout are taken near beaches, lesser still in
lakes and bays, and the smallest usually in the marsh. Anglers
prefer to fish for specks in summer and the second preference
is fall. Fishing is most intense in sheltered inside waters.
More big trout are caught in spring because they move into
shallow beach and bay habitats at that time for their first
spawn of the season. The rest of the summer and early fall,
the larger trout tend to stay in cooler Gulf waters and only
periodically enter beach and bay habitats for subsequent spawns.
Many of the large fish winter offshore, with a few wintering
in the interior marshes, where they are very sluggish.
trout also have very different food habits than school trout.
Small trout eat large amounts of shrimp and other crustaceans.
As trout become larger, their diet shifts toward fish, the
larger, the better. Studies in Texas and Mississippi show
that really big trout strongly prefer to feed on mullets;
a large trout will find the largest mullet it can handle and
try to swallow it. Often the mullet is half or two-thirds
as large as the trout. The key to catching large trout is
to fish where they are and use big baits.
is the future of recreational speckled trout fishing?
The future of the fishery depends on two factors: good habitat
and good management. If our coastal areas remain unpolluted
and coastal erosion is controlled, management will be the
key. Very few more speckled trout can be produced from other
sources. If the entire commercial speckled trout harvest were
divided up equally among Louisiana’s over 400 thousand
recreational anglers, each sport fisherman would get less
than one fish per person per year. Research has also shown
that very few speckled trout appear in shrimp trawl bycatch.
This means that gains and losses will be the result of management
within the recreational fishery. Management priorities, as
set by recreational leadership, will determine whether the
fishery is managed for liberal limits and smaller fish or
restrictive creel limits and larger fish.