Biologists with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources are generally pleased with the first year of the regulations that raised the minimum length for speckled trout from 13 to 15 inches in 2017.
“There is not anything that we can hang our hats on yet,” said Matt Hill, DMR’s finfish bureau director. “We were very clear from the start that this would take three to five years before we can see any impact, three years for us to see any kind of trend and five years to get impact. Our first year’s data is all boots-on-the-ground stuff, talking to fishermen. It appears we had an excellent harvest. The poundage was down, but that was expected with a 2-inch change in the regulation.
“We saw an increase in mean weights of fish harvested, but when you raise it 2 inches, you’re going to see that. In talking with fishermen and local charter captains, they were all pleased with the season. We definitely had a positive response to the change. We did it the right way. We went through the process, explained it and did a lot of outreach. We had a good buy-in on the front end and that helped.”
The timing of the regulation change was important, since Mississippi’s coastal waters saw good spawning classes in 2014 and 2015 that were moving up through the population.
“Those strong year-classes held up the fishery,” Hill said. “Those were years when there was an opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway (from Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans). It helps push the spotted sea trout out of their preferred range in Louisiana to Mississippi water. When you get an influx like that, it brings us fish. It helps.”
The good news for Mississippi is that the Bonnet Carré Spillway was opened again in early March this year to alleviate flood waters coming down the Mississippi River. The diversion into Pontchartrain pushes freshwater through the lake and out the mouth of the Pearl River into the western edges of the Mississippi Sound and Biloxi Marsh, which is in Louisiana.
“We will get that influx again this year,” Hill said. “The regulation change was needed, but it helps us to get lucky. The timing of the spillway openings has helped us.”
Mississippi’s creel limit remains 15 speckled trout per day per angler. The minimum length is 15 inches.