Ah yes, southern Louisiana! There’s nothing quite like it.
With 40% of the nation’s coastal wetlands it is the best place to catch fish and hunt critters of every description. It is indeed a true Sportsman’s Paradise.
But for how long?
For far too many decades the creel limits of Louisiana have been much more liberal than other coastal states. For far too long the annual killing rate of inshore fish has risen steadily. For far too long the pervasive sentiment has been “there’s just so many we can’t ever catch them all”. Perhaps several decades ago, before the splendor and natural beauty and bounty of Louisiana was discovered, these creel limits and thoughts made sense.
They no longer do.
Prior to the boom in recreational fishing, tournament fishing, and guided trips over the past 10-15 years there was little serious damage to the vast fishery of coastal Louisiana. The harvest was but a fraction of the total. It was an easy thing for it to remain self-sustaining.
Perhaps it no longer can.
I would submit to you that within the next ten years we will see a continued and significant decline in the numbers and quality of inshore species in Louisiana unless a reduction in creel limits and sensible management plans are enacted. More guides need to promote catch and release formats. The state needs to remove the ability of customers to keep the captains limit too.
Louisiana is second only to Florida in recreational harvest and is second only to Alaska in commercial landings. Creel limits and fisheries management are not easy considerations for a state that realizes over $800 Million in total economic impact from recreational fishing alone. When the recreational number is added to the $2.4 Billion in total economic impact from commercial fishing it becomes a staggering $3.2 Billion-dollar discussion.
Think on this a minute – four people who do not regularly fish book a guided trip for redfish and trout. They leave the dock at 0700 and are usually back before 1000 with 25 reds, 100 trout, and a smattering of black drum and sheepshead. These fish are cleaned, bagged and put on ice. The erstwhile anglers, after many smiling bragging-board pictures, haul their catch back home where a few of the fillets are actually consumed. But, the majority are consigned to the garbage dumps or used for pet food after they are freezer burned. It is unreasonable to expect that this quantity of fish will be properly maintained and eaten in an expeditious manner. It is, quite simply, a killing waste and it is hurting the entire ecosystem.
Not convinced yet? Read on dear friend.
In the coastal parishes of Louisiana there are 730 licensed guides. If these guides are making a living at their craft (and I assume they are) they will likely average 150 trips per year across the board. These trips will be to catch reds and trout. SO, let’s average four clients per boat X 150 trips X 730 guides X 5 redfish per angler and captain = 150 X 730 X 25 = 2,737,500 dead redfish. And the trout harvest is worse, much worse 150 X 730 X 125 = 13,687,500 dead trout (This is the maximum potential. I am aware that limits of trout are not always fulfilled every day.)
But wait, there’s more.
There were 260,000 Resident and Non-resident saltwater licenses sold in LA in 2017. Some more simple math reveals additional terrifying numbers. Let’s say that the average number of fishing trips for recreational anglers is 20 and that on 15 of those trips they fulfilled their creel limits of trout and reds. 260,000 X 15 X 5 = 19,500,000 redfish in danger of demise. And the number of trout is exponentially worse with a potential downside of over 390,000,000 trout removed from the fishery. And that is if the average number of annual trips by these anglers is 15! It is likely much higher than that.
When combined, the potential annual recreational and guided impact is a stunning 22.2 Million redfish and 403.5 Million trout in Louisiana alone. These numbers do not include the allowed commercial quota for resale.
Now, before you all get the tar and feathers and gallows rope ready for Ol’ Gritter I would ask you to reflect a little on your fishing experience over the past 10 years and give serious thought to the numbers and quality of fish you saw and caught then and now. I can honestly tell you that I have not spoken to a single individual, guide or otherwise, that has said the fishing was better now than it was 10 years ago. In fact, there is an almost universal sentiment that it is significantly worse. Perhaps you will consider why it is so very unusual to catch a speckled trout over 2-3 pounds in LA. Seems pretty simple to me that if we are killing several hundred million 12-inch trout every year that it becomes a foregone conclusion that larger fish would be a much rarer commodity.
The issue is that Louisiana has been discovered. And the influx of anglers to this amazing paradise is not going to slow anytime soon. In fact, all trending analyses predict a continued upward swing in numbers as more and more people discover the simple joys of a few days on the water.
Thus, my thought that a reduction in the creel limits and a more sensible size restriction would benefit the entire fishery making it much more sustainable while not affecting the bottom line economic impact at all.
I have fastened my armor and prepared for the onslaught……..begin!