At today’s commission meeting, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) presented the state’s stock assessment of red drum to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC).  The stock assessment shows that while the spawning stock is still above limits, it is being depleted at a rate that requires management changes.LDWF monitors two portions of the red drum stock, the juvenile stock (up to age 5 and generally under 27 inches in length) that resides in inshore waters and the adult spawning population (greater than age 5) in nearshore coastal waters. Red drum is unique in that the vast majority (97%) of harvest is on the juvenile stock when it is between 16 and 27 inches in length or about 1.5 to 4 years old. Given this type of harvest strategy, the amount of red drum that moves through the fishery and into the offshore spawning population is critical to the future status of the stock.

The juvenile portion of the red drum stock is measured through an “escapement” rate. 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 the spawning stock offshore. The established escapement rate limit for management is 30%; Louisiana’s escapement rate is currently 20%, indicating too few red drum are surviving to make it offshore and eventually to 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.

Escapement rates will need to be increased through management measures  to rebuild the red drum population and prevent it from declining below the SPR limit in nearshore and offshore waters, While escapement rates can recover to management targets relatively quickly with action (3 to 5 years), recovery of the spawning stock to above management targets could take until the year 2050 given the life span of red drum.

Thirty-five years ago, in 1988, red drum were designated a game fish, ending the commercial harvest of red drum in Louisiana. Also in 1988, the current 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.