• Dave LeGear

The State of Sea Trout in South Florida (My Take)

In speaking with many of my guide friends, there is some concern about the actual levels of Spotted Sea Trout (they are a Drum, not related to Trout many seek in Freshwater) in SWFL and other areas of Our Great State.

In many locations in West Central and SWFL, water quality issues (like the forced pumping of wastewater from places like Piney Point) and other Red Tide outbreaks, have really taken their toll on not only what could be labeled as "Florida Most Popular Saltwater Game fish" but the forage spices they feed upon. As such and as the simple Predator Prey relationship clearly dictates, no food, no predators either...


Yet the FWC (Florida Wildlife Commission) in what some would label as a lack of logic... Has reopened this fishery even in locations that were even chemically burned off (much like If you dumped way too much fertilizer on your lawn) and those areas have, sea grass beds in trouble which may take years to recover and naturally, have fewer fish on them.

Now, how do we know this? How do we suspect that it will take years to recover? On average and as reported and seen, a simple prop scar takes 7 years to fill back in, and that is if something (like an Outboard operated by someone unfamiliar with the local waters on lower tides) does not go blasting back though it again... Sea grasses, simply do not grow back at the rate your lawn does back at home in the summer with our near daily rains. Combined with a myriad of other water quality factors have led to the overall decline in the amount of sea grass acreage (just exchange the word sea grass, for fish nurseries) our State now has.


Combined with the large fish kills in some of those same areas many of those were the smaller forage species that many might not even saw floating around. By having an active take of fish that don't appear to move around much (unlike say Redfish or Tarpon) is a recipe for even further decline in Sea Trout populations much less, those in a breeding size still left behind. And speaking of size and how that impacts eggs produced at each spawn. I found in my research for this topic, this interesting picture from the GA DNR and how they have asked anglers to release them over 18 inches and makes perfect sense to me!

But, in light of all this and as I found, FWC has still given the green light to the following regulations...


Area Fred Howard Park Causeway in Pinellas County near the Pasco County line through Broward County.

Limits Bag limit: 3 per harvester with exception in SW Florida listed below. Zero captain and crew bag limit when on a for-hire trip Slot limit: More than 15" and less than 19" total length May possess one over 19 inches per vessel or, if fishing from shore, one over 19 inches per person, included in the bag limit. SW Florida bag limit: Tampa Bay:

  • Snook, redfish and spotted seatrout have reopened to harvest in Tampa Bay. This applies to all Florida waters of Manatee County north of State Road 64, including all waters of the Braden River, and all tributaries of the Manatee River, excluding all waters of Palma Sola Bay; all Florida waters of Hillsborough County; and all Florida waters of Pinellas County, excluding all waters of the Anclote River and its tributaries.

Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County:

  • Spotted seatrout harvest has resumed with a six-fish recreational vessel limit in all state waters south of State Road 64 in Manatee County (including Palma Sola Bay but not including the Braden River or any tributaries of the Manatee River) through Gordon Pass in Collier County.

Special regulations apply for this species when fishing in Biscayne National Park.

Seasons and other regulations Open year-round in most state waters (see exception below) SW Florida: Tampa Bay:

  • Snook, redfish and spotted seatrout have reopened to harvest in Tampa Bay. This applies to all Florida waters of Manatee County north of State Road 64, including all waters of the Braden River, and all tributaries of the Manatee River, excluding all waters of Palma Sola Bay; all Florida waters of Hillsborough County; and all Florida waters of Pinellas County, excluding all waters of the Anclote River and its tributaries.

Sarasota Bay through Gordon Pass in Collier County:

  • Spotted seatrout harvest has resumed with a six-fish recreational vessel limit in all state waters south of State Road 64 in Manatee County (including Palma Sola Bay but not including the Braden River or any tributaries of the Manatee River) through Gordon Pass in Collier County.

Allowable Gear: Hook and line; cast net Illegal Gear: Cannot harvest using any multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait; snatching prohibited



And in the face of ever-increasing fuel costs and other economic factors that come into play which could affect them including... More fishing pressure on Sea Trout since those who might take trips offshore to target other species, simply can no longer afford or "choose" to afford to fill up the boat with $5.00 plus a gallon of fuel, and then burn $500.00 or more of it in a weekend so they can run offshore and tangle with our great Offshore and Pelagic fishing in those now (expensive to reach) waters.


Oh, and speaking for economic value, let's look at those numbers now, and see how they have grown just for Recreational Fishing in the Great State of Florida which is now the same State that is taking in as reported, 1000 new residents a day...

From my last check years ago and why I was already taken back that we cannot get more attention for the protection of our most valuable resource, water, and fishing. This and what most come to Florida to enjoy while on Vacation also. At that time, it was around 6 Billion (as in a capital B) dollars annually! Shocks me at times why our elected officials and fisheries managers of our resources seem to always forget this?


Well, seems that the last time I looked up that number was quite a few years ago now and was surprised to find as if 6 Billion was not enough, that number has grown to a now staggering 9.2 Billion as of 2020!

Much less how Salt and Freshwater fishing jointly supports a reported 120,000 jobs in our State which when you take into consideration all the Boat Builders and Hotel employees alone, that number though large, still seems low to me? Be that as it may, Recreational Fishing in Florida is and if managed correctly, a Major Economic Driver in our State!


So, the question seems to be how do we protect Sea Trout in our State's (much less in many of our other US Coastal States) our most popular saltwater game fish at the same time? How do we ensure that the one species that is the underpinnings of them all the Sea Trout, that all can enjoy is protected to provide access including the Dad and his Daughter wading the Flats having a ball pitching lures at them after work and weekends!


Seems some simple logic really needs to be employed here, and what I have discussed with many of my friends and colleagues in this industry.

  1. Ensure that Water Quality issues are driven to and kept on the forefront on a constant basis so that our Ecosystems can support them. You can have all the closures you want and limit the access and taking of all Saltwater game fish till Florida freezes over, and one Chemical Spill or Green Algae / Red Tide event can wipe out years of work! Then the clock starts all back over again and as we have seen, years of effort and improvement much less progress is just wiped out... What is that saying I heard from my Father when staring down and dealing with Snakes "Take a Deep Breath and Don't Move" well when it comes to water quality, we all as Citizens of Florida can only hold our breath for so long... I think we all are getting a little tired of "Holding our Collective Breath" and not enjoying our Natural Resources all because of poor management or the selfishness of a few, undoing it for all of us... And Thank God for the efforts of CCA of Florida and Captains for Clean Water leading the charge in improving and keeping others from undoing all that was and still needs finished on the water quality front! Did I say 9.2 Billion Dollars yet? And tell me why Recreational Fishing is the group that must suffer the most? This takes me to number 2 in the simple logic plan here.

  2. Close the Commercial take of Sea Trout and ask yourself a couple of simple questions on that topic I am quite sure will raise a few eyebrows...

  • Why was it ever opened in the 1st place years ago much less, the changing the current daily commercial limits to 50 per harvester and 100 per vessel, just down from 75 and 150 in some areas? (Did I say 9.2 billion Dollars yet, that number does not include their commercial value) and we as the Recreational Sportsman who are paying to support the system, when can we ever take and keep 50 of them? Why would you want too anyway...? But we the hook and line majority to (maybe) get the joy to watch the strike and in many if not most cases, are just releasing them to fight another day. I seriously doubt that any amount of Hook and Line fishing could affect fish stocks like using nets can and do each day.

  • Here is another change that got me a tad warm: Re-establishing the February recreational closure in the Western Panhandle zone and the November-December recreational closure in the Central East zone. Really, seriously, you are going to stop a Father and his Daughter from taking home a few 15 to 17 inch Trout they "might" get on a Weekend, but keep the Commercial take open? Who came up with that blatant unfairness and insanity? If you need to shut it down, shut it down for everyone...

  • And where are all these Sea Trout commercially taken going anyway? I suspect out of our State, and Nation for I cannot remember, and not after making some simple searches online. Find any Sea Trout (again our most popular Game Fish) on any local Seafood Restaurant Menus? And just what is this estimated commercial value of these fish anyway? Well from what I found (in total) the Commercial Value of all fishing in Florida is 3.2 Billion. And from my simple math as I was taught back in the 1960's that is 1/3 that of Recreational Fishing in Florida at again 9.2 billion... What is that saying "If you want to get someone's attention, hit them in the wallet!" Well, 9.2 billion is a huge fist! Have our "Elected" (Not Ordained) Officials and Fisheries Mangers felt that punch yet? I suspect they will in just a few months from now 😊

3. Areas that have been affected by spills and other major hits from biologic outbreaks like the areas hit by the Piney Point spill, just make them all Catch and Release till they really recover. And if you need to move some Trout from areas that have good populations to those that don't, I say why not! They are not known as a fish that travels much over its lifetime, unlike say Redfish or Tarpon do. If you wipe them out of an area getting them back to good breeding population levels is going to take time and some help. Again, we are dealing with simple logic here. And if you are not up to speed on this or need a reminder, this video from Tampa Bay Waterkeeper should help!



4. Use of barbless hooks, Sea Trout have paper thin mouths and most of them due to their size, you are going to release anyway. Besides, if you need to dig that same hook out of yourself, you will be Very Thankful it does not have a barb on it!


5. Employ the smaller management area's like the size of the new purposed for Redfish management areas. Again simple logic here, this allows for better / targeted population studies by ecosystem and smaller (if needed) closure areas at the same time.


6. More enforcement officers are needed! This is simple, all the rules and regulations are not worth the paper they are written upon IF you cannot enforce them (period) I would think that 9.2 Billion dollars could pay for a few salaries. Speaking of this we all have a Fishing License so we have a actual Head Count of people who partake in the Sport, and do you know why? So that extra tax (as if we were not paying enough taxes) that is put on all sporting goods tackle is "Returned" to each State based upon the number of Sportsman they have. I sure hope someone is making sure we get all those dollars back to Florida, and why you need to just go buy a fishing license! And again it is the Sportsman that are supporting the entire system here even so the Bird Watchers who do not buy a license can go Watch the Birds. Let's not forget that, when some misguided souls start to make comments about something they are not spending money to help support.


In closing, what is missing is some simple logic here. And not that I am against Commercial Fishing for that is how I get the majority of the Seafood dinners I get to enjoy! What I think and hear is the huge discrepancy in how the two groups are manged. And let's not be mistaken, fish stocks are controlled by the management of fisherman, and not the fish...


As Captain Mike Anderson said so well in our Podcast "Shut up and put your money where your mouth is" and get involved! We the Sportsman are the majority and we (already) produce a ton of revenue and value for this State and Nation as a whole. Time we made our collective voices heard and protect the lowly little Sea Trout for that species swings a Big Monetary Bat and if they are good, so is the rest of the Ecosystem! And remember... No Fish, No Florida!


Tight Lines, and God Bless!

Dave




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