Redfish, Menhaden, and Backroom Antics

After 35 years of stagnant regulations culminating in one compelling 7+ hour Commission meeting, we finally see a significant, proactive regulatory change for redfish in Louisiana.

Header Photo Credit: Mad River Outfitters | Devin Fogle

For anyone who hasn’t heard the incredible news yet, we won on historic turf. New redfish regulations are headed to the state legislature in Louisiana next week. The success of this campaign is monumental for a fishery without any regulatory changes since 1988. Now, the Oversight Committee will have 30 days to either call a hearing about the new regulations or opt for no action. If nothing is done, the regulations will pass. While this journey has already been a long and trying one, the truth is we have a long way to go. Few hopeful spirits thought we could even get this far. We hope you continue on this marathon with us, as we have some momentum, but the clock is ticking.

This blog aims to shed light on a compelling series of events, as there were a lot of twists and turns in this campaign. If you want a complete download of the situation and the science driving our campaign, visit the ASGA Louisiana Redfish Page by clicking here.

A few factors influence the fishing effort for redfish in Louisiana, including the abundance of other popular inshore species. Speckled trout collapsed in Louisiana years ago. The trout situation is almost inconceivable. Speckled trout grow like weeds, and their reproduction capabilities make rabbits and wild pigs blush. Trout should be relatively easy to manage: keep a pulse of the population and don’t kill more than the prolific inshore species can create. The current trout regulations in Louisiana are the polar opposite of that approach: a 25-fish limit at a 12″ minimum length, which is too much for the fishery to sustain.

An iconic inshore target. Photo Credit: Carter Abramson

The most recent stock assessment of spotted seatrout completed in 2021 shows that Louisiana’s spotted seatrout stock has been overfished since 2016. The definition of overfished is based on the history of the stock size as analyzed in the assessment (1982-2020). The overfished limit is set at the lowest level of spawning stock biomass (weight of mature females) in the history of the assessment. You can read more here.

The harvest effort for inshore fish in Louisiana shifted to redfish because legal trout have been scarce. This shifting dynamic played a significant role in the decline in the LA redfish population. LDWF and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission did their best to get trout back on track. Like redfish, an NOI was recently issued with new regulations to reduce harvest. Those proposed regulations were sent to the legislature and were abruptly shut down. Throughout this process, the pressure on redfish has not relented.

In response to anglers’ concerns, LDWF did a comprehensive and robust stock assessment for redfish. The Department made a recommendation to reduce annual redfish harvest by 35%. This reduction would improve the escapement rate to acceptable levels but leave the spawning potential ratio in the gutter for decades. LWDF made this decision based on their prior experience with the trout debacle. The 35% reduction became the only option they believed they could get approved, and to their credit, they desperately wanted to get a reduction passed. We understand and appreciate that position.

ASGA connected with an incredible group of Louisiana guides and passionate local stakeholders during this timeline of fisheries events. Our message was simple as our organization grew with this core community: get back on track fast. By taking just a few more inches off the slot, we could get SPR back to a solid level in just 11 years (versus 29 years under a 35% reduction.) We can accomplish the more proactive reduction through a 3-fish limit with an 18″ -24″ slot and a much brighter future for everyone.

In July, our guides went to the Commission meeting and asked for a more significant reduction. They used their brief time at the microphone wisely, explaining the negative impacts of the fishery’s current trend on their businesses and the state’s economy. They got what they asked for, a result that stands as a prime example of the power of a unified voice. This decision triggered a Notice of Intent (NOI) for redfish in Louisiana. ASGA sprang into action after the NOI’s proposal and galvanized a conservation community across state boundaries and party lines to fight for Louisiana redfish. The final result was a letter to the state supporting the NOI signed by over 2000 conservation-minded anglers, business owners and brand representatives. The letter also featured 100+ brand logos as a stamp of approval from brands that recognize the value of abundant fisheries driving demand for their manufactured goods. The table was set for a compelling October Meeting. It did not disappoint.

Optimal angling environments. Photo Credit: Carter Abramson

At the meeting, the Commissioners wanted to review the public comments from the NOI comment period. It was very interesting that the redfish agenda item appeared as an “action item” rather than just an item for review. Why is this interesting? Because an action item opens the door for the NOI to be amended, which was never intended to be on the table at this meeting. Huh? You don’t say.

An effort of opposition was afoot, just like the speckled trout disaster. If trout conservation hadn’t been torpedoed at the Oversight Committee, the population would be close to recovering by now. All eyes were on this meeting, and no one wanted the same fate for redfish. This Commission meeting agenda was brutal. A Menhaden NOI was added to the docket and took nearly 3 hours of the afternoon. Our guides and other concerned stakeholders sat patiently in that room all day, waiting for their brief 3-minute opportunity to represent their community and businesses.

Finally, around 4PM the meeting kicked into high gear. Without so much as a “How do you do?”, an attempt was made to amend the NOI for redfish and roll back to the previously proposed 35% reduction before the public comment period could begin. How could this be happening? The motion quickly received a second, and we immediately learned why the agenda was altered to “action item” before the meeting. Commissioner McPherson, the original maker of our supported motion, was clearly not happy with redfish being listed as an action item. He identified the individual who was responsible for the back room change to the agenda and called them out. At that point, the commissioner who tried to amend the NOI withdrew his motion.

Just like in July, our advocates presented science-based testimony in a professional manner. It was impossible to ignore and turned the tide of the discussion, reinforcing the commission’s previous decision to go with the more significant reduction. Our passionate community was stunned, confused, and exhausted. As soon as the motion was rescinded, our NOI was accepted and sent to the Secretary of LDWF for formal transmittal to the legislature. We couldn’t believe it. Somehow, we took the day.

There are two takeaways from all of this. First and foremost, showing up counts. If our people had not been in the room, there was no chance we would have won.

Secondly, backroom deals are total bulls__t. Fisheries are public resources that require a public process. The ultimate disinfectant for dirty business like this is sunlight. ASGA will shine a light on fisheries issues until these backroom side deals either stop happening or the persons making them understand that there is an excellent chance that they will be identified and made accountable. When passionate and committed stakeholders discover what’s going on, they will rightfully fear their hobbies, pastimes and livelihoods are at stake. Good luck with that wave.

Tails up. The calling card of red drum. Photo Credit: Graham Tayloe

As previously mentioned, the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission discussed the menhaden reduction fishery in the Gulf of Mexico at length. A Notice of Intent (NOI) was issued on October 6th, accompanied by this press release. The proposed modifications create a larger coastal buffer zone and new regulations pertaining to abandoned nets and net spills. We now enter a 30-day comment window. As you can imagine, we have already begun working on our comments.

ASGA took a hard stand on the recreational harvest of redfish. Our intention all along was to set the bar for redfish recovery. Recreational fishing is a large component of redfish mortality. However, bycatch from commercial and industrial fisheries contributes substantially to redfish mortality.
We decided to take one step at a time. Being accountable for our contributions to the decline in redfish puts our sector on even ground with other stakeholders that need to modify their fishing to contribute equally to redfish recovery. You can’t point fingers and pretend that recreational fishing impacts aren’t a substantial reason for redfish declining by over 60% in the last 20+ years. We understand why people so passionately feel that “It’s all the pogie boat’s fault!” – but you instantly lose a lot of credibility with managers when you take this route. First, it shows that you still need to read the stock assessment. Second, if you want to have a respected seat at the table, you better put the resource first instead of completely denying that recreational anglers kill many fish. It isn’t up for debate. The resource must remain the top priority.

We are working hard to ensure we take this Louisiana redfish campaign across the finish line while simultaneously working on our menhaden letter.

Thanks to all for the support, from letter sign-ons to social media shares shining a light on every step of the process. None of this is possible without our incredible community.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you very much for everything you do. I feel fortunate to visit your fishery every couple of years, and I was there this year when all this was going down. Speaking with our guides over the 4 days of fly fishing made me realize how much passion and knowledge the LA salt water guide community holds. Thank you again, we see what you are accomplishing.

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