Louisiana's Specks Five Years Later
Significant events become part of the fabric of our lives.
Posted on April 10, 2015
By Chris Bush
Significant events become part of the fabric of our lives. Everything from personal occasions like wedding days to national traumas like September 11 are seared into our memory banks and are recalled again and again, as if in HD.
For many, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was just such an event. For me, it is also a personal event because it impacted the fishery and environment I am fortunate enough to call home.
Barataria Bay possesses a quality unique to most of the modern world. Its natural beauty is still present in its rawest form. It is also an aquatic nursery teeming with life, under, on and above the surface. However, for months in 2010, this heaven was covered by an oily hell.
Speckled trout, along with many other aquatic species, were in the cross-hairs of viscous oil plumes and toxic dispersants. Among anglers, discussion of impacts to speckled trout was rampant. Captain Danny Wray, a notable Grande Isle fishing guide, told Nola.com that "He was surprised that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) hasn't suspended all speckled trout fishing." This once plentiful fish was in short supply. With livelihoods at stake, concern bubbled up like a crawfish boil on a sunny spring day.
Other notable guides, Captain Shane Mayfield and Captain Ross Burkhurst, who operate out of Venice, signaled that guide limits should be illegal to keep for clients on a charter. A seemingly-backward thought for captains who wish to have their clients pose with wheelbarrows full of their speckled quarry in order to help promote business.
As a lifelong resident and a part-time guide out of Port Sulphur, I can attest to the decline. And it turns out, so can fisheries scientists. In a report released recently by the National Wildlife Federation, I came across two extremely interesting facts that coincide with the decline of the speckled trout fishery that many anglers observed.
Trout are prolific spawners and do so by batch spawning, meaning they shed eggs more than once during a spawning season. In most cases, this typically ranges from April to September, and predominantly takes place on beaches with passes nearby. The speckled trout spawn therefore coincided with the oil spill and its clean-up efforts, which may have had a significant negative impact to the 2010 year class.
The second point that I find interesting is that female speckled trout showed a delay in reproductive organs pre vs. post spill. According to NWF's report, "...while female trout in Mississippi exhibited development delays at the beginning of their reproductive season one year after the spill, as compared to pre-spill data, this did not appear to be true for Louisiana. However, dramatic reductions in trout spawning frequency were also noted after the spill in both LA and MS, suggesting the potential for population impacts such as reduced recruitment into estuaries." In short, we didn't just lose the 2010 year class but subsequent year classes fail to meet pre-spill spawning classes recruitment. In other words, the supply of the fishery can't meet the demand of the fisherman.
So what can you do? First, read NWF's new report Five Years and Counting. It will provide you with scientifically based information on the impacts to Gulf species. Second, get involved with the LDWF Trout Tagging Program, which provides invaluable data upon trout recapture with regard to movement, growth and reproduction.
Remember the Mississippi River Delta is one of the greatest fisheries on the planet, fed by one of the largest rivers in the world. Very few people can say they've fished in south Louisiana, and those that do come back time and again. Let's be sure those young and old, novice and veteran, local or tourist all have the opportunity to catch those silver wonders, we cherish so dear.
As a husband and father, Chris Bush, enjoys the simple joys in life, particularly being with his boys and spending time as a family. However, as an avid inshore saltwater angler, nothing gets his blood pumping more than catching trophy trout. See his blog, entitled Speckled Truth.