Saturday, July 08, 2023

Conservationists win key battle for redfish!

Something strange and wonderful happened this Thursday at the July meeting of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.  Over two dozen fly anglers - many of them guides - along with a good number of kayak anglers, and other allies, showed up to fight to save our beloved "poisson rouge".

The meeting room was packed as Commissioners considered not only a Notice of Intent (NOI) for reducing redfish harvest, but also a Notice of Intent (NOI) for speckled trout.  The trout enthusiasts also included a number of prominent guides, most who felt it was time to make changes to insure recovery of their species.

Both seatrout and redfish are experiencing overfishing (depletion) due to a number of factors:

  • loss of habitat due to coastal erosion
  • decline in habitat diversity and water quality
  • decline in forage (mostly menhaden)
  • vast increase in angler numbers since current regs set in 1988
  • increase in angler efficiency

While the first three factors are certainly a huge part of the problem, the last two factors  are significant and would’ve alone required reductions in harvest.  Since the speckled trout NOI was tabled (we'll delve into that later), let's focus on the redfish NOI.

First, some background on redfish.  Many of us who fished the 90s and 2000s remember many great days on the water where spotting upwards of 20 fish and sometimes as many as 50 fish or more were not uncommon.  Many of us also know such days are now extremely rare, and spotting more than a dozen fish is considered an excellent trip.

So what's happened?  The problems above is what's happened.   As a result, the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) and Escapement Rate (ECR) for red drum have been trending downward since 2005. Recent recreational landings for redfish are the lowest since the 1980s. 

For this reason, LDWF stated the need for a MINIMUM of 35% reduction in harvest.  Unfortunately, some took this 35% as a recommendation and went forward with it.

The FFI Gulf Coast Council has been involved since the latest redfish assessment was first announced. They felt a 35 percent reduction was insufficient due to the incredibly long time for recovery. Therefore they proposed to commissioners three options that would lead to a 40% or higher reduction in harvest – and recovery in much less time than LDWF’s proposal.

Prior to the meeting, LDWF released their proposal.  Here are details of that proposal and the estimated time it would take to reach the ECR Conservation Standard (30%) and the SPR Conservation Standard (30%) if that NOI had been adopted.

NOI as put forward by LDWF:

  • 18″-27″ slot, 4 daily creel, no overslot
  • 36.9% harvest reduction
  • ECR target: 3 years
  • SPR target: 26 years

Prior to any motions for adopting this NOI, speakers were allowed to comment on the subject. With the exception of two bowfishing guides, every speaker pointed out the folly of a proposal that would require 26 years to recovery. They also gave anecdotal evidence that the fishery is in serious decline and that jobs are in jeopardy unless drastic measures are taken.

After the comment period was over, Commissioner Joe McPherson shocked the audience by motioning for an NOI even more conservative than the FFI-GCC or other groups had suggested.

NOI as put forward by Commissioner McPherson:

  • 18″-24″ slot, 3 daily creel, no overslot
  • 55.1% harvest reduction
  • ECR target: 1 years
  • SPR target: 9 years

As you can see, there is significantly less time to recovery for both ECR and SPR under this proposal. A vote was then taken, and much to everyone’s surprise, the motion carried 4-2. The moment the vote was announced, the audience (the vast majority at least) erupted with applause!  And while this a great victory for conservation of red drum in Louisiana, it’s only the first step before it becomes rule.

Steps in the process:

  • The Commission adopts an NOI (done).
  • The NOI is published in the State Register and public comment begins (this has begun).
  • The Commission then considers all public comments received and may make amendments to the original NOI.
  • Absent any amendments, the proposed Rule is sent to the Legislative Oversight Committee for review.
  • If reviewed favorably by the LOC, the Rule is published as final in the State Register.

The biggest opposition will come from the bowfishing guides and their allies.  They’ve already made it clear they plan to fight this all the way. 

So now the process continues… to get this NOI into rule, its incumbent upon all fly anglers and other conservationists to send their comments to Jason Adriance at 

Once the Commission receives comments and establishes a final NOI,  the Legislative Oversight Committee will determine whether to approve or decline the NOI.  Those in opposition will lobby the legislators hard to get this blocked... we have to make sure our voice is louder!   We'll post when its time to notify them.

One last note… nearly EVERY speaker during the comment period mentioned the unregulated menhaden harvest that plagues Louisiana.  The Bayou State is the only one that doesn’t have a commercial quota, and until earlier this year, the only Gulf state without a shoreline buffer zone. Even then, the buffer zone is a mere 1/4 mile… far less than any other state.  Some suggested adding language to the NOI to restrict menhaden. But as the commissioners rightly pointed out, this by law requires a notice in advance of the meeting.