Louisiana officials to reconsider regulations on redfish catch limits

Published 10:18 am Friday, November 10, 2023

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(The Center Square) — The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will reconsider regulations to halt the decline in the state’s iconic redfish population following a legislative oversight hearing on Tuesday.

House lawmakers on the Joint Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted 8-2 to find proposed regulations for redfish, also known as red drum, unacceptable and to urge the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to reconsider an initial proposal from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries this summer.

LDWF officials told the committee the state’s redfish population is not overfished. Still, overfishing has occurred in eight of the last 10 years, with recreational landings now at the lowest level since the 1980s. The department’s recruitment estimate, a look at the survival of young fish, has been declining since 1994 and is now at a record low.

“We’re depleting the stock faster than it can maintain itself,” Jason Adriance, fisheries biologist, told the committee.

In July, LDWF presented a notice of intent for regulations to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission that would have restricted harvest to fish between 18 and 27 inches, with no fish over 27 inches and a four-fish bag limit. The proposal aimed to reduce the harvest by a minimum of 35%, with an actual reduction of 36.9% to return the population to management goals by 2050.

After reviewing public comment, the commission ultimately adopted a notice of intent in July for more restrictive regulations of 18 and 24 inches, with no fish over 24 inches and a three-fish bag limit. The change would have resulted in a roughly 55% harvest reduction to return the population to management goals by 2034.

Numerous fishing guides, fishing retailers, residents and others testified Tuesday about the economic impact of the state’s iconic redfish fishery and its ability to attract anglers from across the globe.

Most spoke of the consequences of inaction and urged the committee to support harvest reductions to prevent a collapse that would impact thousands of anglers and businesses that rely on the fishery.

“I’m worried about my future,” St. Bernard Parish guide Steven Cratty told lawmakers. “The rate of decline of the redfish population … in the short period of five years in the state of Louisiana is truly terrifying.”

Several noted Louisiana’s recreational fishing industry has a $2.5 billion economic impact that supports nearly 18,000 jobs. The industry brings in an estimated 1.2 million anglers worldwide, with those targeting redfish spending an average of $1,100 a day.

Some testified about how the redfish decline has already led to canceled trips from regular customers. Others suggested the redfish population is strong and not overfished, noting many guides are booking more than 200 days a year in trips.

“The majority of our members believe the NOI passed in July goes a step too far,” said David Cresson, CEO of the Coastal Conservation Association, which represents over 20,000 members.

Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, offered an initial motion to find the regulations proposed by the commission acceptable but was countered by Rep. Joseph Orgeron, R-Larose, with a substitute motion to find the regulations unacceptable and recommend the commission adopt the LDWF’s initial proposal instead.

The substitute motion carried, and the committee’s Senate members did not object. The result nixes more stringent regulations and returns the proposal to the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for further consideration.