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Maryland looking for public comment on changes in speckled trout regulations
Thursday, November 21, 2013

A new proposed Fisheries regulatory scoping idea regarding Spotted Seatrout is now available. The public comment period closes at 4:00 p.m. on December 6, 2013. If you would like to submit written comment, please email: fisheriespubliccomment@dnr.state.md.us

Regulatory Scoping Idea - The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) Fisheries Service is seeking public input on a potential fishery management rule change for the recreational and commercial fishery for Spotted Seatrout. Specifically, the action would implement more conservative harvest rules to facilitate Atlantic coast recovery efforts and better ensure that Maryland's Spotted Seatrout fishery does not expand faster than the stock can sustain. Ideas under consideration are included below.

Background: Maryland is at the northern range of Spotted Seatrout distribution along the Atlantic coast, and as such, are a less common species encountered by fishermen. Spotted Seatrout are seasonal migrants to Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, migrating into the Bay around May and leaving the Bay to their southern wintering areas in October and November. Spotted Seatrout are most common in shallow creeks and rivers of the Chesapeake Bay adjacent to beds of eelgrass and widgeon grass, although they will move into deep channels and holes during mid-summer.

Recreational (sport and charter) harvests, both historically and recently, have substantially exceeded commercial harvests but remain low in comparison to other species caught in Chesapeake Bay. Since 1986, Maryland's Spotted Seatrout harvest has been 77% recreational and 23% commercial. The recreational fishery is a targeted fishery primarily in the lower Chesapeake Bay during the spring and fall. The commercial fishery has been a bycatch fishery with the principal harvest coming from pound net and gill net gears. Commercial Spotted Seatrout landings in Maryland have not exceeded 30,000 pounds annually since the 1940s. Over the past decade, annual commercial landings have been less than 2,000 pounds with 3-17 watermen reporting harvests.

Maryland's current management of the commercial Spotted Seatrout fishery includes a 12" minimum size limit, no daily catch limit and no season restriction. The recreational fishery is currently managed by a 14-inch minimum size limit, 10-fish daily creel limit and no season restriction. Maryland's Spotted Seatrout management regulations currently meet the management compliance requirements of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Under the ASMFC framework, States are allowed to implement more conservative plans to meet their State management objectives. In 2011, the Commonwealth of Virginia implemented more conservative management measures for Spotted Seatrout. This included a 14-inch minimum size limit for the commercial and recreational fishery, a winter seasonal closure period, and annual commercial quota. Other jurisdictions along the Atlantic Coast have also implemented a more conservative size limit to provide increased protection to the spawning stock and obtain the greatest socio-economic benefit of this resource over time. These include: a minimum 14-inch size limit by the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, North Carolina, and South Carolina, a 13-inch minimum size limit in Georgia and a 15-20-inch slot limit in Florida.

Spotted Seatrout males are 100% mature at age 2 (8-9 inches). Females mature between age 1 and age 4, and reach 100% maturity at an older age and larger size than males. A minimum size limit of 14-inches allows the majority of female Spotted Seatrout to spawn two times prior to being susceptible to harvest. In addition, a 14-inch minimum size limit will increase the yield for the fisheries.

Recreational fishermen have recently reported a noticeable increase in the availability of Spotted Seatrout in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. These reports are confirmed by increased estimates of Spotted Seatrout harvested as well as caught and released by recreational fishermen (National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Recreational Information Program). This could be the result of conservation efforts being implemented in the Mid/South Atlantic region, and/or due to the Bay's warmer and saltier waters during the past couple of years. Maryland is at the northern range of Spotted Seatrout, and warmer / drier summers could result in a more northern distribution of Spotted Seatrout.

During the 2013 Spotted Seatrout FMP review process, the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission (SFAC) requested MD DNR Fisheries Service to consider implementing a more conservative management strategy to support coastal conservation efforts and sustainable growth in Maryland's recreational and commercial Spotted Seatrout fisheries.

Regulatory Ideas:
1) Increase the commercial minimum size limit from 12-inches to 14-inches. A 14-inch minimum size limit will allow a greater portion of fish an opportunity to spawn before they are harvested. If implemented, Maryland would have consistent size limits between its recreational and commercial fisheries as well as with Virginia which would facilitate enforcement and reduce confusion among fishermen. Maryland's Spotted Seatrout fishery is primarily in the lower Bay area, and fishermen often fish in both MD and VA waters during one trip.
2) Reduce the recreational daily creel limit from 10 to 4 fish. This is a harvest control measure to support conservation efforts by better ensuring that the expansion of this fishery occurs at a level that the resource can sustain and achieve a recreational fisheries preference expressed to MD DNR Fisheries Service by the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission.
3) Establish a commercial daily individual daily landing limit of 100, 150 or 200 pounds. This is a harvest control measure to support conservation efforts by better ensuring that the expansion of this fishery occurs at a level that the resource can sustain and minimize discard mortality. If established, the MD DNR would review regularly with the objective of increasing and decreasing daily landing limit along with changes in abundance.

The public comment period closes at 4:00 p.m. on December 6, 2013. If you would like to submit written comment, please email: fisheriespubliccomment@dnr.state.md.us


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