An untold number of Louisianans live to fish – and David Cresson represents many of them. As executive director of the conservation association CCA Louisiana, he contributes to discussions on how to best manage coastal resources.
Lately, Cresson has been heavily involved in talks on how to address declines in two of the state’s most popular fish: speckled trout (officially spotted sea trout) and redfish (officially red drum). The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has been trying to come up with a plan to reduce limits on both – a controversial topic, especially regarding speckled trout.
Cresson recently participated in a task force working on a compromise plan for speckled trout limits after an earlier one proposed by the state was shot down by a legislative committee. The group has come up with a multi-prong plan that includes keeping the minimum length at 12 inches, but reducing the number of fish per angler that could be kept per day from 25 to 15.
Another significant change would allow anglers to keep only two trout larger than 19 inches. On top of that, a more extensive buffer zone would be put in place to protect spawning grounds from the industrial-scale menhaden fishing that occurs off Louisiana’s coast. Those new rules would sunset after four years to allow for a reassessment.
Cresson spoke about that and other issues in a conversation with The Times-Picayune | The Advocate. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
From CCA’s point of view, are you in general agreement that the stocks for redfish and trout are in decline?
The numbers indicate that the stocks are in decline, and we certainly trust the numbers and agree that it’s time to take some measures to combat that. We recognize that there’s lots of factors that contribute to those declines, but we think it’s prudent to move forward with some adjustments to some of those management practices.
What are some of those factors?
Certainly you have environmental factors — like land loss and salinity issues and things of that nature that we really don’t have a lot of control over — that absolutely impact the health of those stocks and their ability to spawn and to find habitat. And then there’s factors that we contribute to, like recreational angling, like commercial fishing, like the impact of the industrial menhaden harvest. All of those play a role.
The 12-inch size for trout has been the sticking point in a lot of ways (the state initially proposed a 13.5-inch minimum, which was eventually rejected). Why is it important for you and your members that 12 inches be maintained?
The issue with speckled trout, in layman’s terms, is that there’s not enough female fish showing up in the sampling. And so by removing 12- and 13-inch fish from the harvest, our scientists indicated that what you’re really doing is throwing back fish with a tendency to be more male, and you’re shifting that harvest to more female fish. We certainly had a concern about that, and we certainly had a concern that when you do throw those 12-, 13-inch fish back, there is a high likelihood that they will not survive. They’ll die because they were mishandled or they’ll be eaten by dolphins, which is pretty common.
That’s not to mention you’re removing access to the fishery by the average fisherman. An average fisherman is happy to go catch six or eight trout in a day. If you have to throw back every trout you catch because they’re all between 12 and 13 inches, you’re effectively eliminating people’s ability to enjoy the fishery.
Do you know when those proposals will be brought to the (Wildlife and Fisheries) commission?
We were shooting for this summer, and my understanding is that it might likely be in July. But the bottom line is it is time to take some action on speckled trout and on redfish.