Now You Seatrout, Now You Don't?

Submitted by Brett Fitzgerald on September, Sep 21, 2016

Are spotted seatrout in trouble?

Spotted Seatrout are a prize fish throughout their American range, which runs from the Texas/Mexico border, around the Gulf of Mexico and up the east coast past the Chesapeake Bay. Management varies between states, and some have concerns about the abundance of this great fish. Here’s a bit of background info, some details on Florida’s recent recreational catch numbers, and how you can be involved in better trout management, including an inexpensive trout tournament that you can fish in your home waters.

Hint: If you want to skip the info and get right to info on how to register for the nation-wide seatrout tournament, Visit the tournament page.

A fish of many names, spotted seatrout (AKA Specks, speckled trout, yellowmouth, and more – that's Cynoscion nebulosis to the nerds out there) is the target of many anglers. They are well known to those who fish inshore coastal waters. They grow fast, reproduce in large numbers, and eat a lot. Quite possibly the perfect game fish.

Many of us anglers think so at least, and the data from the Snook and Gamefish Foundation’s (SGF) Angler Action Program (AAP) suggests that seatrout is the most caught inshore saltwater “game fish”. Game fish is quoted because right now, only Alabama, Texas and South Carolina have designated this valuable recreational target as a game fish, thus eliminating commercial harvest in their waters.

Since SGF started collecting AAP data in Florida in 2010, snook has actually been the most targeted fish. But of the nearly 100,000 fish recorded overall, seatrout is the most caught. This is likely because trout are easier to catch, and they have a much bigger geographic range.

There has been an interesting trend in Florida AAP data since 2012 which should cause anglers to pay attention. Since that time, the percentage of ‘over slot’ fish (greater than 20 inches in Florida) has decreased markedly. In 2012/13, 12.6 of the seatrout recorded were over slot. In 2014 and 2015, that number dropped to 7%, and so far in 2016 that number has dipped even lower to 3.1%. In summary, the percentage of overslot fish dropped from 12.6 to 3.1 over the past 4 years.

That, folks, is a dramatic drop of over slot fish. And we know that the big fish are the prolific breeders – their eggs are not only more plentiful, but they are healthier.

What about the catch rates per trip? Those numbers are bleak as well. In 2012/13, each AAP fishing trip that targeted trout averaged 8.9 recorded per trip. In 2014 that dropped to 6.1 per trip, and in 2016 that number is 4.4 fish per trip. Mind you, this is not per angler, but per trip. This means a trip could have multiple anglers in the day.

So Florida AAP trout catch rates are half what they were in 2012/13.

Luckily, Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), the science side of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is conducting a state-wide stock assessment right now, and the AAP data is being used in that assessment.

AAP data is not the sole source of data used in a stock assessment, however when it comes to discard data (released fish), the data is very valuable to researchers in the stock assessment. It will be extremely interesting to see just how the AAP data compares to their other data sources, and then of course we’ll see if the numbers warrant any changes in management.

Presently, Florida allows 5 trout per recreational angler per day, with slot size of 15’ – 20’ although one fish over 20’ can be kept per day. This bag limit represents a slight increase since a change in regulations in 2012. Commercial limits were increased at that time too, with a longer selling season and potential for a boat to bring in up to 300 fish per day, depending on how many licensed commercial anglers are on board. That’s quite a jump from the 75 fish per day before 2012.

While Florida’s recreational bag limit is one of the more stringent throughout the range, we have yet to make seatrout a true gamefish, which would end commercial sales completely. Texas seems to be the state with the most respect for specks, with a daily rec limit of 5 fish (minimum size 15’) to go with the game fish status. Right on, Texas!

Of all the states along the seatrout range, Louisiana has the most liberal recreational bag limit at 25 per day per angler, with a 12’ minimum and no max. Not surprisingly, there is concern for the overall health of the stocks there.

Up the Atlantic Coast, the size limit is pretty consistent at 14’ and daily bag limits vary from a low of 4 in North Carolina to a high of 15 in Georgia.

Since trout grow fast and reproduce a lot, do these bag limits work? Does each state need more protection, or can we possibly relax the laws? These are questions each state must try to answer on their own.

Fishery managers have a variety of goals when conducting stock assessments, but the common thread is a lack of recreational angler data. Thanks to the AAP, each of you can contribute to a database which has proven to be useful in state stock assessments.

If you are new to logging fish, an inexpensive fishing tournament that uses AAP technology can bring you into the fold. Last Cast Tournaments is hosting a month-long seatrout tournament using the iAngler Tournament app.

The tournament costs a mere $15 to enter, and prizes will be awarded weekly as well as at the end of the event. “The idea here was not to build a giant winner’s purse, but we'll have some nice prizes for our anglers,” explained Bill Clutter of Last Cast Tournaments. “We wanted to introduce the idea of online tournaments to as many inshore anglers as possible, and get them used to logging data for research purposes.” All registered anglers will also get a 3-month premium SGF membership, and the tournament proceeds will benefit SGF.

AAP data has been used in several stock assessments, including red drum, snook, and now sea trout.

Once anglers begin logging catches throughout the entire range of seatrout, researchers will have a much better understanding of the health of the stocks throughout their range.


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