Questions arise regarding the definition of “taking” speckled trout

Published 1:42 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2014




By Fred Bonner


Several readers have called to ask if they could continue to fish in the coastal and inland waters of our state after a recent proclamation from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries was released stating that the “harvest” of speckled trout in both coastal and inland waters is prohibited beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 5. This proclamation pertains to all sport and commercial fishing.

A recent press release from a private recreational fishing group refers to the recent proclamation as “prohibiting the taking” of speckled trout which, under the accepted definition of  “taking” of fish and wildlife means being able to “harvest or “attempt to harvest” wildlife resources.

There has been confusion about this definition of a “taking” of wildlife after an incident several years ago in Beaufort County, where a bear hunter using a 45-70 rifle “took” a bear on the opening day of the bear season and then returned to the woods with that same rifle in what the hunter described as his “attempt to take a deer.”  A game warden approached the hunter and, after examining the hunter’s large caliber rifle, decided that the hunter was “attempting to take” another bear because he was using a large caliber rifle that he felt was specific for bear hunting. The bear season limits bear hunting to one per season. The hunter was charged with attempting to kill a bear after he’d already killed one bear. He was heavily fined for a wildlife violation.

The recent closure of the “harvesting” of speckled trout in coastal and inland waters does not prohibit the “taking” of speckled trout, as long as the fish is promptly released and unharmed.

Yes, coastal anglers and commercial fishermen can continue to fish in coastal and inland waters and can take speckled trout, but they cannot “harvest” any speckled trout until the season is re-opened by proclamation. The recent proclamation also states that all commercially caught speckled trout harvested prior to the closure date must be sold or disposed of before Feb. 12.

In past years, anglers along many coastal streams have found sub-legal speckled trout in great numbers, catching and releasing many of these fish. Hopefully these fish were released in relatively unharmed condition.

Unfortunately, many of the lures designed to catch red drum, trout and flounder in our area are equipped with very sharp treble hooks that are very difficult to remove from the fish without doing a lot of damage to the fish. Even though the trout are released using a reasonable amount of care as to not harm the fish, many die within hours of having being caught.

Anglers fishing for striped bass on the Roanoke River are very familiar with the regulations on the river pertaining to striped bass during the spawning season. The regulation requires that single, barbless hooks be used to facilitate the fish being released with a minimum amount of harm. Even thought the anglers may be fishing for another kind of fish on the Roanoke, the regulations require that the single, barbless hook be used on this body of water while these fish need to be protected.

With our very cold, sensitive speckled trout that frequently don’t see many survivors after a really cold spell like we’ve recently seen, a similar hook requirement could be necessary in order to protect our speckled trout while they’re under this kind of cold stress. Hopefully most anglers will voluntary use precautions like a single, barbless hook without having laws passed that require such measures be taken. Our speckled trout are some of our most valued fishery resources.