One of the most popular saltwater fish in the state of Louisiana, the speckled trout has seen some unfortunate population trends in recent years. The fish aren’t the only ones suffering losses as anglers and local conservation groups grow worried over the species’ stability in the ecosystem. Speckled trout, also known as spotted seatrout, are “targeted by more recreational fisherman than any other saltwater fish,” according to the Louisiana Sea Grant.
Speckled trout are so popular with anglers that the state implemented several restrictions to help protect the species from being overfished. Though historically unregulated, the Louisiana Sea Grant reports that Louisiana now has a daily limit of 25 speckled trout for recreational fishers. The state also enforces a 12-inch minimum for all caught seatrout in hopes of protecting future seasons and securing the species’ stability.
The 12-inch minimum ensures that the fish has had at least one opportunity to spawn before reaching harvestable size. Minimum size regulations also increase the yield and sustainability of the fishery. With historically low years looming over the fall fishing season, protecting fish before they’ve spawned has perhaps never been so crucial to the population.
The Louisiana Sportsman reported in 2019 that a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries study had determined that catch rates not only declined, but overfishing is a likely cause of the decline. The decline was noted as being the lowest level they’ve been in recent years, having been preceded by fluctuating but still declining population sizes.
Overfishing may not be the only culprit, as climate change has impacted the temperature variances each season, increased flooding, and climate disasters. However, in an interview with the Louisiana Sportsman, Frank Dreher, a charter boat skipper, states that disaster years don’t align with speckled trout declines.
“We had plenty of (speckled trout) the two years after Katrina, but since 2013 it seems like we’re catching springtime fish much earlier than we did before,” Dreher said. “Years ago, we fished the springtime run in late April into May, but we’re seeing those same catches coming in late March now,” explained Dreher to the Louisiana Sportsman.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill also doesn’t align with the low years that were noted as beginning in 2013. The hope for individuals like Dreher is that the LDWF findings will be the much-needed push to change current restrictions. If overzealous anglers aren’t to blame, several environmental factors could still impact population size. If ecological stressors are the cause of these issues, then changes may still need to be made in order to compensate for out-of-control losses.
Regardless of when, how, or what changes occur- most Louisiana anglers agree that the past decade has ended with sub-par harvests. Popular fishing spots are no longer reporting the same turnover that they once boasted, and while none of the update restriction proposals are popular according to LDWF surveys, interested parties recognize that things need to change for the future of the species.