Hot Topic: Spotted Seatrout
Our latest assessment of spotted seatrout in Louisiana revealed that the stock is overfished—i.e. the size of the spawning population is below the minimum level established for the stock. When a stock is overfished, we must take action to rebuild the population back to (or above) the target level. We are currently considering several options for management changes to reduce harvest levels and allow the stock to recover.
We encourage you to review the information below to learn more about the current status of spotted seatrout and these potential management changes. In 2020, we hosted several public meetings throughout the state to discuss spotted seatrout. We also conducted an online survey and a random email survey of Louisiana’s saltwater fishing license holders to collect a larger sample of public opinion concerning the management options. In October 2020, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission voted to postpone their decision on spotted seatrout management changes until October 2021. The Commission also requested LDWF provide updated spotted seatrout biological data, preferably with basin-specific analysis, and an updated angler preference survey that includes a status quo (no regulation change) option to help inform their decision.
You can still provide feedback on our next steps in rebuilding Louisiana’s spotted seatrout stock via our online comment form.
What is the status of spotted seatrout?
The most recent stock assessment of spotted seatrout completed in 2019 shows that Louisiana’s spotted seatrout stock has been overfished since 2014. The definition of overfished is based on the history of the size of the stock as analyzed in the assessment (1982-2018). The overfished limit is set at the lowest level of spawning stock biomass (weight of mature females) in the history of the assessment.
The stock assessment incorporates data from LA Creel, LDWF's recreational landings data collection program implemented in 2014. LA Creel provides improved data that allows fishery biologists to more accurately assess the status of the stock due to the precise, basin-level data. The stock assessment still uses MRIP recreational landing data for years prior to 2014 to provide long-term harvest estimates; these data have been calibrated to LA Creel data to make the harvest estimates compatible. Combining these data with data from field sampling (1986-present) and biological sampling of harvested fish (2002-present) shows that fishing rates were too high (overfishing) in 6 of the past 10 years and that spawning stock biomass has been declining since 2009 and is currently at the lowest level observed since LDWF has been assessing the stock. Data also indicate that the proportion of females age 3 and older has been declining since about 2012 and is at the lowest level observed in the assessment history; losing diversity in age in the population decreases the population’s resilience. Despite the recent decrease in recreational spotted seatrout landings, fishing effort continues to rise.
How do we rebuild the stock?
When overfishing occurs or a stock becomes overfished, LDWF fishery biologists recommend measures to the Commission on how much change in harvest is needed to bring fishing rates and/or the population back to target levels. In September 2019, LDWF presented the latest stock assessment to the Commission. At the January 2020 meeting, LDWF fishery biologists presented several management scenarios along with LDWF’s goal for stock recovery. The scenarios presented to recover the stock included:
- Creel limit only
- Size limit only (including slot limits)
- Combinations of creel and size limits.
Alternatives such as fishery closures and supplemental options like special regulations following significant freeze events were also discussed.
Each scenario shows specific reductions of harvest at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30%. However, stock recovery times based on spawning stock biomass will vary by each scenario, and not all scenarios presented will achieve the stock recovery goal. LDWF’s goal is to recover the stock by 2025 through a reduction in harvest of at least 20%.
In October 2020, the Commission voted to postpone their decision on spotted seatrout management changes for one year, until their October 2021 meeting. The Commission also requested that LDWF provide the following information at that meeting:
- Updated spotted seatrout biological data, either through an updated stock assessment or other biological information, preferably with basin-specific analysis.
- An updated angler preference survey that includes a status quo (no regulation change) option.
Based on this information, the Commission will decide which management actions they would like to take to rebuild the stock.
What happens if a regulation change is proposed?
Based on the Commission’s review of the assessment and updated biological data, management options, and public input, LDWF will provide a draft of the proposed regulation changes to the Commission as a Notice of Intent (NOI). The NOI will be presented to the Commission at their regular monthly meeting. The Commission will take public input on the NOI during this meeting. The Commission then votes whether to approve the NOI as is or with modifications based on discussion and public input, or to take no action.
Once the NOI is approved, public comment will be accepted for approximately 40-45 days. LDWF will publish a press release to inform Louisiana citizens when the public comment period has opened. LDWF will also hold additional public meetings across Louisiana during the public comment period.
After the public comment period has closed, the NOI and public comments are transmitted to and reviewed by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment as part of the Legislative Oversight process. During the Legislative Oversight process, these committees have 30 days to consider a hearing. After this process is complete, the NOI will go back to the Commission for their consideration as a Final Rule. The Final Rule becomes effective when it is published in the Louisiana Register.
The full process can take 90 to 120 days, or more. Any legislative hearings or changes to the rule will extend the timeline for publication of the final rule.
- After the entangling net ban in 1995-1997, commercial landings of spotted seatrout declined significantly and have accounted for less than 0.1% of annual landings in the most recent decade.
- Private recreational landings account for 84% of the statewide overall recreational landings in recent years, while charter landings account for 16% of statewide overall recreational landings.
- In areas of the state that have a bag limit of 25, which excludes the area from the Texas border to the Mermentau River, 85% of angler trips harvest 10 fish or less.
- In the area of the state from the Texas border to the Mermentau River (which includes Sabine and Calcasieu Lakes), which has a bag limit of 15, with no more than two exceeding 25 inches, 94% of angler trips harvest 10 fish or less.
- LDWF will reassess the status of the Louisiana spotted seatrout stock after a few years to evaluate the impact of regulation changes—are more changes needed to rebuild the stock or are implemented changes more restrictive than necessary?
To recover the stock, the spawning stock biomass needs to be at or above the target level (yellow line). Each color shows the recovery rates based on different percentages of harvest reduction.
- Stock assessment: a combination of life history metrics (age, growth, reproduction, habitat, etc.), stock abundance, and fishing pressure data used to evaluate the past, present, and future stock status
- Overfished: too few individuals to sustain a stock above the minimum level established for the species
- Overfishing: fishing mortality rates are too high to maintain a healthy stock size
- Spawning stock biomass: total weight of the individuals (typically adult females) that can reproduce in a stock