As expected, Mississippi’s Commission on Marine Resources (CMR) on Tuesday gave its final approval on a new 15-inch minimum length limit on speckled trout caught in coastal waters.

In a related move, the CMR also made it illegal for a charter or for-hire captain and his mate to contribute to a party’s catch of speckled trout, also known as spotted sea trout. 

The changes, made at the panel’s monthly meeting, will go into effect as soon as it works through the state’s regulatory process that includes the final step of being accepted and posted by the Secretary of State. 

The process should be completed no later than mid January, Department of Marine Resources (DMR) officials said. An announcement will be made when the change occurs.

Current regulations allow fishermen to keep trout measuring 13 inches, and charter captains and/or their deck hands can catch and contribute specks to a party’s total take. There is a daily limit of 15 per angler, and that limit was not changed.

Recent trout population surveys and analysis along the Mississippi Gulf Coast indicate the popular sport fish species to be declining. The recruitment of spawning-aged trout had declined to about 50 percent of the targeted number. By protecting fish to 15 inches, it is thought that more trout will reach maturity.

“Makes sense; I hope they’re right,” said Tim Mason, an avid speck and redfish fisherman from Gulfport. “I don’t mind the minimum length change because I rarely keep a small fish anyway, unless I feel it has been mortally wounded. I wade a lot in the summer and fall, and I do it for fun and relaxation. I’m single and I like to eat fish, so one good trout a day will suffice for me.

“A lot of people down here think it will impact the guides a lot, but most of them don’t fish in Mississippi waters, not for trout. They usually run west to the Biloxi marshes and Chandeleur Island areas, and that’s all in Louisiana where the minimum is 12 and the limit is 25 per day, and everybody in the boat can contribute. I don’t see that changing.”

Boats can port in Mississippi with legal Louisiana catches and limits if everybody aboard possesses a valid Louisiana saltwater license, or is exempt by age or other exemption.

Riley Barnes of Biloxi said the people who will be affected most will be the bank or small-boat fishermen who catch specks in bays and coastal estuaries in the late fall, winter and early spring months when specks migrate into the shallows.

“Finding 15-inch trout off a pier under lights in the back of Biloxi Bay or in Bay St. Louis or the Pascagoula River isn’t easy, so it’s going to cut down on their take,” Barnes said. “I fish from a 15-foot john boat and stay in the (Biloxi) bay, and I have a few spots that I fish where I can find some bigger specks. But, even at those spots I catch a lot of 12- and 13-inch fish and I always worry about their survival when I have to toss them back.

“One thing I hope everybody does is take care of how they handle undersized fish and do what they can to insure their survival after release. We’re sure going to be releasing a lot more next year.”

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The CMR also approved a new state saltwater fishing record at Tuesday’s meeting. Aaron Gautier of Pascagoula posted the first Inshore Lizardfish with a 4.416-ounce fish caught on conventional tackle.