Coastal Conservation Association Mississippi
Position on Spotted Seatrout
Coastal Conservation Association Mississippi (CCA) expresses appreciation for the work of the Spotted Seatrout Stock Assessment (SSSA) panel in addition to the staff of the Fisheries Division of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR). We are aware that the MCMR has made an initial assessment of the results and adopted the SSSA in session on August 16, 2016. MCMR also adopted a target Spawning Potential Ratio Percent (%SPR) of 20 that is consistent with prior data on the Spotted Seatrout resource in Mississippi waters. We are in agreement with this level of SPR as a reasonable target that can be reached on a timeline that will benefit the resource.
The second issue, of course, is what minimum size limit and bag limit will be required to reach the target SPR that demands a change in management from the current minimum size and bag limit. We do, however, have some concerns that may not have an available means to address but might be the focus of interest to the MCMR as well as in research projects MDMR/MCMR and other funding sources might consider favorably.
- The source of recreational catch data may be questioned. Based on our experience with Red Snapper after the MDMR program TailsnScales was put in place, a fairly major finding of overestimation of Mississippi catch for that species was detected. We believe the same may hold for the recreational catch data on Spotted Seatrout. We do not have an answer to this possible dilemma but want to put on record our reservations as the decision-making of the staff and commissioners moves forward. We are aware that the focus of attention will be on recreational catch since the disparity between recreational catch and commercial catch is documented in the SSSA but also have concerns about the reliability of commercial catch data as well.
- Bycatch data of Spotted Seatrout is notably missing from the SSSA. CCA recommends that measures be taken to assess and address any issues that may be related to bycatch in the shrimp fishery, the menhaden reduction fishery, and/or other fisheries that might include Spotted Seatrout bycatch. Bycatch is a factor that exists but the impact on the status of a number of stocks (including Spotted Seatrout in the present case) either directly or by removal of undersized or forage fish should be accounted for in management regimes.
- CCA is very aware of the potential impact of release of undersized fish in a management plan that sets a minimum size. We pledge to address this through public social media and contact with our membership to assure that catch-and-release actions enhance survival of released fish. We anticipate a cooperative effort with staff from MDMR as we have done in other areas (e.g. discarded fishing line) previously. Analysis from multiple studies clearly has established that release mortality of this species is low (average 82.5% survival rate) and in no way justifies action such as retention of undersized fish as a part of the management plan with Spotted Seatrout.
With the above considerations on record, CCA recommends the following provisions in any management plan for Spotted Seatrout caught in Mississippi waters:
- Return the minimum size limit to 14 inches (or higher if the model chosen dictates) consistent with the research that was available when the size was decreased in 2008, with the understanding (documented in the SSSA and excerpted in the addendum) that it took eight (8) years following the reduction in minimum size to reduce the stock biomass to its current condition. The current depleted state reflected in the most recent SPRs may well require an increase to 15 inches to reach the target 20%SPR in an acceptable time period;
- Consider reduction in bag limit consistent with the projection model adopted and staff analysis;
- Consider disallowing the captain/mate’s bag limit on charter trips;
- Make no provision for undersized fish in the plan until the target SPR is firmly reached;
- Set no season closures for Spotted Seatrout until it is established that the minimum size increase and reduced bag limit is not moving the Mississippi stock to the target SPR;
- Make no decisions on restriction of fishing gear (e.g. treble hooks, circle hooks) until it is established that the minimum size increase and reduced bag limit is not moving the Mississippi stock to the target SPR;
- Maintain the current level of commercial hook-and-line quota at 50,000 pounds and continue the current provisions defining the Spotted Seatrout endorsement.
CCA recommends that the Spotted Seatrout Stock Enhancement Consortium (SPEC) be expanded with more active measures to assess the impact of release of Spotted Seatrout fingerlings. We pledge our continued support and cooperation to facilitate the expansion of SPEC releases and data-acquisition on the impact of SPEC on our Spotted Seatrout stock.
Finally, CCA is first and foremost focused on conservation of our marine resources and fully expects the MCMR to reverse a detrimental decision (see the statement from the Discussion section of the SSSA in the Addendum) that most anglers opposed in 2008 and set our Spotted Seatrout stock back on a sound trajectory to a sustainable recovery.
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Owen Johnson F. J. Eicke
Chairman, President Chairman, Government Relations Cmte
CCA Mississippi Website: www.cca.ms
PO. Box 3916
Bay St. Louis, MS 39520
Excerpted from the Discussion section, Spotted Seatrout Stock Assessment, Section 9, page 21, 2016.
Based on the results of this assessment we report trends of increasing fishing mortality and decreasing SSB for the Mississippi Spotted Seatrout stock. Fulford and Hendon (2010) evaluated alternative management actions and recognized the need for a formal stock assessment to evaluate the 2007 change in the minimum length limit from 14 inches (356 mm) TL to 13 inches (330 mm) TL (Fulford and Hendon 2010). The results of their analysis suggested that the Mississippi Spotted Seatrout stock was experiencing high fishing mortality and that management actions were needed to maintain the sustainability of the stock and to increase fishery yield.
Although there is recreational and commercial harvest of Spotted Seatrout in Mississippi, the magnitude of the recreational catch and the contribution of the recreational fleet to the total fishing mortality is greater than the commercial fishing mortality (Figure 1.1). Throughout the time series used in the assessment, the commercial harvest has been relatively low and constant. Additionally, the commercial quota has not been met in recent years. However, increased recreational harvest and increased recreational fishing mortality have corresponded with declines in the total abundance and SSB of the Mississippi Spotted Seatrout stock. These declines have been observed in all age classes, and especially in age-one and age-two. The increase in fishing mortality and recreational harvest as well as the decrease in SSB occurred after the 2007 change in the minimum length limit.
State-specific Spotted Seatrout management benchmarks vary across the Gulf of Mexico. An 18%SPR is used in some states as a conservation standard. However, Florida has a management target of 35%SPR and a bag limit of 4 to 6 fish per day and a 15 to 20 inch (381 to 508 mm) slot limit. Until 2009, the %SPR of the Mississippi Spotted Seatrout stock remained close to 18%; however, the recent decline in the SSB, has caused the %SPR value to drop to 9.3%. Because Spotted Seatrout are primarily targeted by the recreational fishery in Mississippi, more information is needed on the preferences of Spotted Seatrout anglers to help improve the management of Spotted Seatrout in Mississippi. However, due to the decreasing trends in biomass and stock abundance, and the increasing trend in fishing mortality, model outputs indicate that management policy that reduced fishing intensity may be warranted. This may be accomplished through a variety of management measures which include but are not limited to: increasing minimum size limit, decreasing the bag limit, creating a slot size range, seasonal closures during peak spawning, and area closures. Any of these changes or a combination may decrease fishing mortality and increase the ability to manage the fishery at a desirable SPR level.