Shane Johnson of New Iberia and other avid speckled trout fishermen who were against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' management plan that was approved last fall by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission won't have to worry about the proposed regulations. The NOI was scrapped by a Joint Natural Resources Committee the first week of February.
Louisiana’s speckled trout fishermen who strongly opposed a 13 ½-inch minimum size limit for speckled trout more than likely rejoiced when the Senate and House Natural Resources committees recently quashed a management plan proposed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The LDWF’s biologists will go back to the drawing board with the help of an advisory committee of user groups, commissioners, legislators and biologists. Jason Adriance, LDWF biologist responsible for managing the Finfish Program, reported the update and new plans Thursday to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.
Many Teche Area speckled trout fishermen were against the regulations proposed and adopted with a 5-0 vote by the LWFC on Oct. 6. A Notice of Intent was enacted to reduce the creel limit to 15, down from 25, and increase the minimum size limit from 12 inches to 13 ½ inches.
That minimum size limit didn’t sit well at all with local outdoorsmen such as Shane Johnson, a charter boat captain who owns Acadiana Outdoor Charters, who expressed his displeasure soon after the decision. Gerrit “T-Blu” Landry, another fishing guide who runs Gotta Have Faith Charters, also publicly disapproved of the minimum length limit.
Others, such as Drew Romero, who has Smokin’ Reel Charters, said he believed the proposed regulations wouldn’t have the desired result of increasing speckled trout numbers. LDWF biologists believed reductions in take and size could increase speckled trout numbers.
The NOI was the first step taken before the regulations could become law. There was a public comment period that ended Dec. 29. The proposed rule then had to be heard by the Legislative Oversight Committee.
After a 30-day oversight period, or a favorable review by the Legislative Oversight Committee, the rule would have been published as final in the State Register.
That didn’t happen because the Joint Natural Resources committee shot down the proposal the first week of February. The panel sent the proposal back to the state agency’s biologists and called for a new plan.
The hearing ruled “a lack of sufficient data to support the path chosen by LWFC.”
Basically, that’s what Johnson, the saltwater and freshwater fishing guide, pointed out in a long text to me Oct. 12. He disagreed with the biologists’ method of collecting landing reports and was concerned about the undersized fish’s mortality after it was caught and released.
Apparently, the legislators also were concerned about possible public opinion survey duplication, economic impacts, added discards and mortality on female speckled trout, excessive recreational angler restrictions, excessive commercial bycatch by the menhaden fishery, assessment and data quality and habitat loss.
The legislative committee also listened to former state biologists, Chris Macaluso said in a recent article in the Louisiana Sportsman. Macaluso is director for Marine Fisheries at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“I think there are some scientists who used to work for the department who for a while didn’t necessarily agree to move the minimum size to 13.5 inches, and legislators weighed in on that. The legislators seized on some of those opinions and took it to mean dissension. Bringing in their opinion matters, too,” Macaluso told the magazine.
Those biologists disagreed with the proposal mostly because the increase in the minimum size limit would increase the pressure on keeping larger female fish capable of producing more eggs than small speckled trout, according to a Feb. 4 story in The Advocate. The opponents said added pressure would negate the stat biologists’ claim that bigger female speckled trout, which make up the majority of the stock, have a chance to go through two spawning cycles while smaller speckled trout probably will spawn once before being allowed in a fisherman’s daily creel, the story reported.
So what happens now?
Adriance, the veteran marine fisheries biologist, recently said his group would recommend “to drop the bag limit to 15 and for a short period of time keep the size limit at 12 inches and then do a more robust study in the discard mortality.”
“As far as public comment, 12 inches seemed to be very important for the minimum size limit and 15 fish bag seemed to be very important. The only way to get that is looking at slot options,” he said.
Landry, the Gotta Have Faith Charters owner, mentioned a favorable slot limit he had in mind in mid-October soon after the NOI. He liked a 12- to 23-inch slot limit, with one fish over 23, or one over 27, and said would be an improvement.
The new advisory committee’s members will be appointed by the LWFC. Macaluso is hopeful of seeing a mix of charter boat captains, major conservation organizations in the state and scientists from the department.
DON SHOOPMAN is outdoors editor of The Daily Iberian.