Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Bob Palmer, talks about conservation of seatrout and their future

The past several weeks saw several feature articles in this slot surrounding the seatrout. That's not very unusual, given that seatrout are one of the favorite fish pursued by anglers over the winter months. That is not to say that they are not pursued in the warmer months, but over the winter, they can be easier to find and target, when other fish are, or appear to be almost non-existent.
Given the increased pressure on seatrout every year, I thought it would be interesting to hear from an expert about the health of the seatrout fishery, for the southern United States in general and more specifically for Florida.

I was working on a feature assignment for Florida Game and Fish Magazine when I spoke to Bob Palmer, Florida's Chief of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries Management. He was more than willing to answer several questions.

As it turns out, the seatrout fishery in Florida is in excellent shape.

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Palmer attributes the health of the fishery to several things.
As you may know, Florida instituted a net ban several years ago. It was a heated issue between the commercial fishing interests, the conservationists and the sport fishing industry. "The net ban has helped the trout stay in a stable and growing environment," Palmer said, "but the fishery was actually doing well before the net ban."

"We had changed the commercial regulations for seatrout to a hook and line only fishery several years prior to the net ban," he indicted. "Commercial fishing accounted for only about twenty percent of the total seatrout harvest, even prior to the ban."

Florida has a slot limit of 15 to 20 inches with one fish allowed over the upper limit, and a creel limit of four or five, depending on the area of the state. Most anglers identify these limits as being an effort to save a dwindling fishery. In fact, Palmer says the restrictions are not at all for that reason.

"We decided, with input from public hearings, to develop a quality seatrout fishery," he said. "While the fishery was healthy and within reproductive parameters, the average size of the fish was decreasing. The past five years of larger length limits have seen the average size increase. The folks on the Treasure Coast (Cocoa and Melbourne) are going to be able to brag about their "gator" trout again."

"Seatrout are very territorial, and very non-migratory," said Palmer. "They spawn from May through October, and seldom does any fish travel far from the bay or inlet where it grew up." For that reason, Palmer indicated that it is possible to over-harvest the seatrout in a particular area. Anglers should make note of that fact. Several of us have favorite inlets where we catch trout, and if we do not vary our fishing patterns, we could see the catch decline in those inlets.

Palmer also indicated that even in other states, the seatrout fishery is in good shape. It's one of the most stable fisheries, and if we manage it properly, it will continue to thrive. So, you see the reason I spend the time on seatrout. They are plentiful and catchable - even if I can't seem to catch one lately!

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