Louisiana Looks at Tighter Regulations for Redfish

Red drum stocks in Louisiana are being depleted and could require major management changes for the popular gamefish.

Angler releasing redfish
Reds are in trouble in Louisiana. Bob McNally

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) reports it met with the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC) on Dec. 1 and that a recent stock assessment of redfish in the state’s coastal waters shows reds “are being depleted at a rate that requires management changes.”

The LDWF says that while current spawning stocks of redfish in the state are still acceptable “it has been declining since 2005, as fewer and fewer red drum ‘escape’ to the offshore population.”

“Escapment” to offshore waters for redfish is vital to the fishery, since inshore juvenile reds up to about 10 pounds are sexually immature. Once juvenile redfish grow to about double-digit weights, they migrate offshore (escape) and join spawning stocks of redfish to replenish the species.

According to the LDWF, “recovery times will be long even if escapement rates rebound quickly as there is a lag between juvenile (red)fish leaving the estuary between ages 4 and 5 and those fish living out their lifespan to 39 years old.”

LDWF monitors two red drum stocks: juvenile fish (up to age five and generally under 27 inches long) that reside inshore; and adult migratory spawning redfish over age five and 27 inches.

Over 95 percent of redfish harvested are non-spawning juveniles, between 16 and 27 inches long and up to five years old.

LDWF says, “Escapement is the percentage of red drum that pass through the recreational fishery (there is no commercial fishery allowed for red drum in Louisiana) from inshore waters as juveniles and make it into spawning stocks offshore. The targeted juvenile redfish escapement rate for management is 30 percent. Louisiana’s escapement rate is only 20 percent, indicating too few juvenile red drum are surviving long enough to spawn.”

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Louisiana Fisheries reports escapement rates must increase to rebuild the state red drum population and prevent it from declining. Fisheries managers say it may take up to 30 years to recover the state’s spawning stock redfish population to proper levels.

LDWF soon will be asking the public through online surveys for input for potential management and regulatory measures to increase the Louisiana redfish population.

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