Let's not drop the trout limit! Before anyone slides down this slippery slope, let me offer some ideas.
Conservation is at the forefront of my mind whenever I think of Louisiana's waters. It took me years of growing as an angler to get the level of "angling maturity" I am at now.
Years of catching fish, keeping fish, throwing some back and eventually tagging a few for research got me there.
During those experiences I have seen marsh disappear and the landscape change.
If one thing is for sure, the marsh isn't getting bigger.
Of course, conservation is a hot topic in the world of inshore fishing. It can be just as bad, if not worse, than talking about religion or politics!
But anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not afraid to be unpopular if it means sticking to my guns.
We shouldn't lower the speckled trout limit.
Too often people jump to conclusions based on lack of information, not thinking something through or, worse of all, how they feel. I know these sorts of discussions can turn ugly, but that doesn't mean they should be avoided.
So let me go ahead and say it:
Let's not drop the trout limit in Louisiana. I believe we should keep it right where it is: 25 per person and 12" minimum length.
I won't delve into spawning potential ratios or female vs male sizes.
Todd Masson already did an excellent job of that in his article at NOLA.com Outdoors, Is it time for Louisiana to lower its speckled trout limits? I strongly suggest you read it as its very informative and causes one to think critically on the issue.
Some marine biologists would even argue that there is nothing wrong with the speckled trout population.
Even in 2003, when Big Lake lowered their limit for speckled trout, LDWF Fin Fish Program Manager Randy Pausina had this to say:
"This is more of a social issue than a biological issue," Pausina said. "Statewide, trout stocks are healthy. The biomass for the last three years is the highest it has ever been, except for one year in the early 1980s."
Essentially a lower limit was enforced to give everyone warm and fuzzy feelings, rather than protect the trout.
Why do I believe we should not lower the limit?
For starters, there is no pressing need to.
We are still catching speckled trout, limits at that, without issue. Yes, some people are incredibly bad at fishing and only manage to put a few into the cooler, but that's not a measure of the trout population.
Secondly, it would be embarrassing to our state.
Perhaps I am being hubristic, but the appeal of fishing in Louisiana is the opportunity to catch generous limits. It's what makes Louisiana the Inshore Fishing Capital of the World.
I believe wholeheartedly that recreational fishing is key to our state's prosperity.
Our image to outsiders already suffers from Katrina and the BP Oil Spill. We need all the help we can get.
Lowering the limit would be signaling to the world our fishery is dying and cannot be recovered.
But I do believe there are methods to clean up our waterways and I certainly believe trout could benefit from a little less fishing pressure.
What can we do to relieve fishing pressure on speckled trout?
For starters, there are a few things:
Seaworthy Boats Only
Too many boats are running amok without the appropriate gear, lighting and safety equipment. Removing these boats from the water makes for safer waterways and less pressure on fish.
Check those Captains
Louisiana's wetlands are a prime destination for out-of-state fishing guides looking to make a buck. This is great and a huge boost for our economy. I welcome anyone who wants to fish in Louisiana, but there are ways to go about it.
I've heard boasting from out-of-state captains, boasting they're not chumps who'd pay for a license. After all, it is an expensive one, coming in at $1500.
It has happened an out-of-state guide was arrested for being unlicensed.
And just because a guide is native to Louisiana doesn't mean they are exempt from such behavior. Sadly, a few Louisianans have broken the law as well:
I've never needed to take the boater's safety course required to operate a boat in Louisiana because I have my Master's license (it trumps that course).
However, if one were to look at how boats are operated by sports anglers as any indication as to the quality of the course, one would guess that the course is entirely too easy to pass or isn't enforced at all.
A lot of anglers I see on the water operate their vessel responsibly, but for every three that do there is one that does so recklessly.
Rules of the Road aren't observed and the very basics of safety and courtesy are thrown out the window. I know you've seen the dreaded "slow to 2,000 RPMs and drag a huge wake past a boat of kids" maneuver.
If we enforced licensing to legally and responsibly drive a boat we'd ultimately make our waters a safer place with a little less fishing pressure.
Enforce the Law
I hardly see wildlife agents. I can count on one hand how many times in my life I have been stopped and/or boarded. As much as I like to be left alone that is alarming.
If law enforcement has a habit of never coming around, then how can poachers be busted?
I'm not talking about fish shrinking in the cooler. I am talking about deliberate actions.
Without pointing fingers, I can tell you I have had enough people brag to me about the illegal fish they kept, whether they were grossly over their limit or keeping fish too small to be considered legal.
If agents made a presence and checked boats then these law-breakers would be caught and made an example of.
And if you do see someone deliberately breaking the law, you can report them to Operation Game Thief by calling 1-800-442-2511.
I know this post isn't going to be popular with everyone.
Fortunately popularity isn't my goal, introducing a new idea is.
I want to see Louisiana keep her limits and her coast before we make any irreversible decisions. Besides, when it does come to conservation, I believe in being the change I want to see.
The bottom line is this: if you are doing what's right, you won't have anything to worry about.