Commission to hear challenge of new speckled trout rule

Published 5:29 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources is expected to hear a petition Tuesday to reconsider its decision to reduce the speckled trout minimum length from 14 inches to 13 inches in waters off Harrison and Hancock counties.

The commission vote in December kept the limit at 14 inches for most waters off the coast of Jackson County, the easternmost of Mississippi’s three coastal counties.

The commission will reconsider its decision based on a petition from the Coastal Conservation Association of Mississippi.

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While anglers at Mary Walker Marina in Gautier were divided Sunday about the length, they were united in saying the minimum length should be the same across the Mississippi Coast.

“What is good for one, should be good for the other person,” said Earl Chambers. “The length should be the same statewide, all the same.”

Mike Hinkel said anglers off the Coast run the chance of getting caught in legal limbo if the limit remained split.

“If I run to Biloxi and catch a 13-inch trout but on my way back drop a hook off Horn Island, then I am illegal,” he said, adding that any reduction should be statewide.

Hinkel said he favors keeping the minimum length at 14 inches.

“It’s one of the dumbest decisions I have ever heard of,” he said, noting that state biologists recommended keeping the limit at 14 inches.

Chambers said he favors the reduction to 13 inches.

“That’s about what most of the fish that are caught are,” he said. “You can catch fish all day and most will be 13 to 13 1/2 inches. One out of 100 will be 14 inches.”

He disagrees with the state requiring that all fish under limit be released back. He said that about 20 percent of the fish released back into the water, particularly those that were gut hooked, are going to die.

“They should set up a bank somewhere where you can take them and give them to people who really need something to eat,” he said.

David Clark agreed that there are a lot of smaller speckled trout in western Jackson County. However, he said, the waters off the eastern coast, from Chevron east, are populated by mostly 15-inch and 16-inch trout.

“If you know where to go,” he said, “you will get the larger fish.”

In its petition for the commission to reconsider the trout decision, the Coastal Conservation Association of Mississippi said commissioners went against the best science, which was the Department of Marine Resource’s advice to keep the limit at 14 inches, in reducing the minimum length to 13 inches.

In addition to reducing the minimum size for speckled trout, which are also known as spotted sea trout, the commission altered the creel limit, or the number of fish an angler can catch, from 15 fish to 10, which would take effect if an angler has one trout less than 14 inches.

If the angler only has 14-inch speckled trout, the creel limit would remain at 15 fish.