January 15, 2008

Trout Size Still at Issue in Mississippi Fishing Regulations

By Al Jones, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jan. 13--BILOXI -- The fight over lowering speckled trout limits in Mississippi from 14 inches to 13 inches isn't over yet.

The battle between recreational fishermen and the Commission on Marine Resources continues Tuesday. A petition, signed by the Coastal Conservation Association, protested the move and forced a new hearing set for Tuesday at the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center on Popp's Ferry Road.

Mississippi anglers, more than 45,000 license holders, are allowed to keep 15 fish with a minimum size limit of 14 inches.

The CMR -- a five-member board including Vernon Asper, Richard Gollott, Shelby Drummond, Oliver Sahuque and Jimmy Taylor -- passed a resolution to lower the minimum size from 14 inches to 13 inches on Dec. 18.

Passing by a 3-1 vote (Chairman Asper didn't vote), the lower limit caught many South Mississippi fishermen off guard based on data presented by the Department of Marine Resources.

The ruling lowered the limits to 13 inches in Hancock and Harrison counties while keeping a 14-inch limit in Jackson County. The new limits were set to go into effect 60 days from the meeting.

In a statement, the CCA said, "We have requested CMR to abandon the confusing and refuted motion passed on December 18, 2007, reducing the size minimum from 14 to 13 inches in Harrison and Hancock Counties while retaining the 14-inch size minimum in Jackson County.

"Our position rests on the best available scientific information provided by the DMR and GCRL [Gulf Coast Research Lab] fisheries biologists and recognizes the obvious gains we have made in this fishery under the current regulations."

Buck Buchanan, a DMR Biologist, presented the CMR with data received from public hearings held in Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties. The data showed that 18 of the 37 fishermen in attendance in Harrison County favored a 14-inch limit while 12 of 15 in Jackson County opposed a reduction in size.

In Hancock County, 12 of 34 fishermen favored a lower size.

To help his case, Buchanan said male trout grow slower than females and a 13-inch male is slightly more than two years of age and 2 1/2 years old at 14 inches.

Females, on the other hand, can reach 14 inches at the age of 1 1/2 . Based on growth rates, the sex ratio for Mississippi trout, is 80 percent in favor of females at 14 inches.

That data, according to the DMR, shows the importance of keeping the minimum limit at 14 inches based on spawning capabilities.

"At 13 inches, a little over 10 percent [female trout] are showing evidence of spawning," he said. "At 14 inches, about 100 percent have shown evidence of spawning that were examined. At this time with reducing the spotted seatrout size limit, immediately you will see an increase in the catch. You will probably see there would be a decrease in young spawning fish in the population because you're taking them out.

"There will be a decrease in the overall spawning potential and the longterm results we believe will be an overall decrease in catch and population size."

The CMR, using data by Dr. David Veal, a former director of the Alabama-Mississippi Sea Grant Service, countered back.

"It seems to me in looking at what's happened in Mississippi and happened in other states that there are two types of management: those that, in fact, do protect the resource and those that allocate the resource," Veal said. "And those that allocate the resource, depending on who present it, almost always couch it in terms of protecting the resource.

"Certainly, the [DMR] staff made the point that management is best at the state level. But there is a lot more to fishery stocks than both commercial and recreational catch. Environmental conditions, biology, population dynamics are all sort of things that influence the stock."

To make his point, Veal looked at the minimum limit in Gulf of Mexico states as well as Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Louisiana has a 12-inch limit, Alabama is 14, while Texas and Florida have slot limits.

Georgia's limit is 13 inches, followed by South Carolina at 14 and North Carolina comes in at 12 inches.

"If you look at that, three of the eight states have 12- or 13-inch limits," Veal stated. "Three have 14. Two have 15 [slot]. Now, looking at the data that was easily available, none of the states have wildly successful speckled trout populations. None have collapsing populations.

"You might draw the conclusion that something doesn't seem to matter here. I would suggest that the length that we catch fish above 12 inches really does nothing more than to allocate the resource. It's the daily catch limit that has the greatest impact on the standing stocks.

"So I think you may well see an increase in fish, but I don't know that that's a bad thing. I don't think there's any evidence to support that it's a bad thing."

In terms of spawning potential, Veal said 14-, 15- or 16-inch fish would have greater potential than smaller ones.

"There's not any evidence that we're at some critical threshold," Veal said.

That sets up Round Two, a battle that Gollott expects to be heated.

"The petition for reconsideration had to be done within 14 days," Gollott said. "Only a person who has input in the process can file for reconsideration. It will be interesting."

The inch count A CMR resolution would lower the minimum speckled trout size from 14 inches to 13 in Harrison and Hancock counties. Jackson County would stay at 14 inches.


The limits were to take effect next month, but the CCA petitioned. A new hearing will be Tuesday in Biloxi.

In other states Alabama is 14 South Carolina is 14 Georgia is 13 Louisiana is 12 North Carolina is 12 Texas and Florida have slot limits B 10 Sunday, January 13, 2008


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