The Sentinel-Record

Preserve speckled trout


In our corner of the world, folks roll out of bed in the dark of night, launch boats before sunup and race across miles of open water just to get to a spot where they can hook a few speckled trout for dinner.

For them, there is nothing more frustratin­g than hauling a fish into the boat and finding it measures out at 11¾ inches, a quarter-inch too small to keep under current Louisiana rules.

So it’s easy to understand the controvers­y over a state plan to tighten rules for keeping specks.

Most everyone agrees the state needs to do something. Trout population­s are declining, and over a generation, the average catch per angler has fallen off from six fish to three.

The share of spawning-age female trout in the state’s annual recreation­al catch has dropped from about 20% to just 7% over the past 20 years in many parts of the coast.

There are lots of reasons for the population decline, including the way coastal land loss is destroying habitats. But the state is not going to be able to reverse that trend any time soon.

So if Louisiana wants to preserve the species, it is going to have to impose tougher limits on the size and number of fish anglers throw in the cooler.

Under current rules, which have been in place since the 1980s, recreation­al fishers are allowed to keep 25 trout per person per day, provided they are at least 12 inches. A proposal by the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission would have reduced that to 15 trout of at least 13.5 inches.

That’s still more forgiving than Mississipp­i, which has a minimum size of 15 inches.

The reduction in catch limits to 15 fish hasn’t sparked much debate, but adding an inch and a half to the minimum size has proven more controvers­ial, since many of the trout that wind up in coolers comply with the current size limit but would fall short of the new standard. …

Fishing is a substantia­l part of the economy of many of our coastal communitie­s, and charter guides and recreation­al anglers are not shy about sharing their views with the legislator­s that represent their parishes.

So it was not surprising to find that a legislativ­e committee recently voted down the tighter catch limits.

At last month’s hearing, where the proposed change was rejected, state Rep. Joseph Orgeron, a Republican from Larose, likened the dilemma to the controvers­ies over COVID-19 restrictio­ns. Elected officials need to balance the advice of scientists against the imperative to maintain a vibrant economy.

“We went through COVID and we heard Dr. Fauci talk about lockdowns are what we need,” said Orgeron, who holds a doctorate in physics. “And now in retrospect, as bad as it was, we know that for the economy’s sake, maybe some medium ground in there could have been possible. So I’m thinking maybe that’s where we are and we need to relook at this a little bit better.”

We understand his concerns and those of recreation­al fishers and especially of the charter captains, who need to show off a cooler full of fish when they bring their customers back to the dock.

But the debate has gone on for three years, and Louisiana needs to act or there won’t be enough trout for the dinner table for future generation­s.

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