Louisiana Red Drum Numbers are Down: Management Needed

   01.13.23

Louisiana Red Drum Numbers are Down: Management Needed

Juvenile red drum(redfish) numbers are down according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) most recent stock assessment. At their December 1st commission meeting the stock assessment showed that even though the spawning stock of redfish is still above the needed limit for a healthy population for now, it is being depleted at a rate that is unsustainable and requires management changes in the near future for the health of the redfish population.

The red drum population is divided into two monitored portions, the juvenile stock and adult spawning stock. The juvenile stock consists of fish up to the age of 5 and generally under 27 inches in length. These fish generally reside in inshore waters such as the marshes. The adult spawning stock are fish that are greater than the age of 5, over 27 inches in length, and generally live in nearshore coastal waters. Red drum are unique fish in that 97% of the population that is harvested is of juvenile stock. These fish are harvested when they are between 16 to 27 inches in length or about 1.5 to 4 years old. Given this type of harvest strategy for the fish, the amount of red drum that moves through this fishery and into the offshore adult spawning population is critical to the future status of the fish.

There is the term of escapement rate for juvenile red drum, this is the percentage of red drum that pass through the recreational fishery and make it into the older and larger spawning population offshore. To have a healthy population of redfish there needs to be an established escapement rate of 30%, the current escapement rate for Louisiana is 20%. This is a problem showing that too few redfish are surviving to make it offshore and eventually spawn.

The spawning stock of red drum is measured with a Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR), simply put, the number of red drum available to spawn relative to the population if they were not fished. While the current red drum SPR is above the limit of 20%, it has been declining since 2005 as fewer and fewer red drum “escape” to the offshore population. Since red drum are a long-lived species (39 years in Louisiana), recovery times will be long even if escapement rates rebound quickly as there is a lag between juvenile fish leaving the estuary between ages 4 and 5 and those fish living out their lifespan to 39 years old.

The escapement rates will need to be increased through some management measures to rebuild the red drum population for the future of the fishery. If it’s not nipped in the bud now instead of a quick recovery through management action of 3 to 5 years to help the juvenile stock out, it could be a 30-year recovery if the spawning stock is negatively affected due to inaction. Back in 1988 the redfish was designated a game fish ending the commercial harvest of red drum in Louisiana when the population crashed due to the spawning adults being overharvested. Since then the recreational red drum creel limit of 5 fish with only 1 over 27” was initiated.

In the near future, LDWF will collect public input through email and online surveys on potential management measures to provide those results to the LWFC for consideration of future regulatory changes.

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Fishing Writer for AllOutdoor.com An avid angler since I was little, based out of the South East United States.

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