Tuesday, May 09, 2023

LDWF reports results of red drum survey

At the January monthly meeting of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC), LDWF marine fisheries biologist Jason Adriance gave the most recent assessment on red drum stocks in the state.  The report summarized that, while spawning stocks of redfish are still above the conservation standard, the number has been declining since 2005 as fewer redfish escape to spawning size.  And unless management changes are initiated soon, we could see a situation where the fishery is unsustainable.

At the May meeting of the Commission, Adriance followed up with more details of the assessment as well as results of a public survey conducted among licensed anglers.

Stepping back for a moment, lets understand what's happening.  The reasons for redfish decline are much like those for the decline of speckled trout:
- loss of habitat (especially diverse habitat)
- decline of forage (yep, menhaden again)
- increased fishing pressure

Regarding the latter, it should be noted that the current regulations ( 5 fish per day, 16 to 27 inches only, with one exception over 27 inches)  were established 34 years ago in 1988.  The numbers of saltwater anglers in the state, the amount of fishing effort, and the expertise and technology to improve fishing success have all increased dramatically since then.

Red drum are unique in that the vast majority of harvest are juvenile fish.  These immature fish are typically under 4 to 5 years of age, under 27 inches in length, and under 10 pounds in weight.  When a redfish reaches 4 to 5 years of age, it usually migrates to nearshore or offshore waters to join the spawning population.  To protect these spawning stocks, recreational harvest of mature redfish in federal waters is not allowed and severely limited in state waters.  Current regulations for Louisiana are 5 fish per day, 16 to 27 inches only, with one exception over 27 inches.

At the January meeting, LDWF biologists offered a wide range of scenarios to bring both juvenile escapement and the spawning potential recruitment (SPR) back above the conservation standard. To accomplish this, the very minimum in harvest reduction would have to be 35 percent. Scenarios for 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 percent reduction were presented.  These findings and scenarios were then presented in a polling of saltwater anglers to learn what management changes would be most acceptable.

The Fly Fishers International (FFI) Gulf Coast Council (GCC) is actively engaged with LDWF biologists in results of the poll, with the idea of coming up with a recommendation to the Commission for new regulations. The GCC has stated they would like a 40 percent (or more) in harvest reduction, but with a plan that most anglers could support.

CCA Louisiana is also involved in this issue, and they've stated that the very first step should be to eliminate the oversize slot allotment. That alone would result in an average 10 percent reduction in harvest.  

What the poll results indicated is that most Louisiana saltwater anglers prefer to keep the smaller sized reds - typically 18" to 24" - compared to the larger slot sizes. That too would elevate the harvest reduction. There was strong support for reducing the daily harvest to 3 fish, but anything less than that was not well received.

We'll continue to track this issue as it unfolds.