Spotted seatrout, Cynoscion nebulosus
Spotted seatrout range throughout Florida’s bays and coastal waters. Studies indicate that
spotted seatrout from various areas of Florida are more genetically isolated from one
another as their geographic separation increases (Ramsey and Wakeman 1987, Gold et
al. 1999). Results from a re-analysis of spotted seatrout genetic structure in Florida show
the presence of five genetic spotted seatrout stocks (Wilson et al. 2002). These stocks and
their boundaries are: 1) a northeast stock located from approximately northern Volusia
county to the Atlantic state border (and possibly beyond) 2) a southeast stock located from
approximately southern Martin county north to Volusia county 3) a Biscayne Bay vicinity
stock 4) several Florida Bay/ Keys stocks, in which a complex of populations subdivisions
apparently exists, and 5) a gulf coast stock from Florida Bay through the Florida
panhandle. Each area may have specific, localized groups of fish that do not intermix
regularly with other groups, thus they are affected only by local fishing pressure. Gold and
Richardson (1998) suggested that, based on their genetic analyses of spotted seatrout
populations in the Gulf of Mexico, it appeared that female fidelity to their natal estuaries
played an important role in maintaining subpopulations. Growth is sex- and area-specific.
Males grow more slowly than females, and spotted seatrout in the Indian River Lagoon,
and Apalachicola Bay grow more quickly than do those in southwest Florida (Table 1;
Murphy and Taylor 1994). Maximum ages reached in Florida are 9 years for males and 8
years for females. Spotted seatrout first spawn between 0 and 2 years old and 11.8–15.7
inches total length (TL). Spawning occurs within estuaries and in nearshore waters during
spring, summer, and fall.
The diet of juvenile seatrout (<1.2 inches SL) includes amphipods, mysids, and carideans
(Hettler 1989). Larger juveniles and adults feed primarily on shrimp and fish such as bay
anchovy, gulf menhaden, shad, mullet, sheepshead minnow, gulf toadfish, pipefish,
pinfish, pigfish, silver jenny, Atlantic croaker, and spotted seatrout (Hettler 1989; McMichael
and Peters 1989).
Spotted seatrout landings totaled 2,963,147 pounds during 2006. The recreational fishery
made most (99 % by weight) of the total statewide landings. Landings were greater on the
gulf coast during 2006, where about 81% of the statewide landings were made. Since
1996, the fishery has moved from what was a mixed-sector fishery, with about 20% of the
landings made by commercial fishers, to an almost exclusive recreational fishery. In 2006,
the small commercial fishery landed spotted seatrout in almost all coastal counties,
adjacent to large estuaries or nearshore grassflats, e.g., Lee County on Charlotte Harbor
and Volusia, Indian River, and St. Lucie Counties on or near the Indian River Lagoon (Fig.
1). Recreational landings made during 2006 were highest throughout Florida’s gulf coast
except in Monroe County, and in the north and central regions of the Atlantic coast (Fig. 2).
The 2006 total landings of spotted seatrout were 4% lower than the average landings in
the previous five years (2001–2005) and were 36% lower than the 1982-2006 historical
average landings (Fig. 3). Total Atlantic coast annual landings of spotted seatrout dropped
sharply in 1988 (Fig. 3). On the gulf coast, total landings have fluctuated after a generally
decline from 1989 to 1996 (Fig. 3).
The commercial fishery was under a quota and trip-limit system from November 1989 until
January 1996, and this is partially responsible for maintaining stable commercial catch
rates through the mid-1990s (Figs. 4, 5). More recently, elimination of entangling nets and
the limits on the commercial season in Florida waters severely affected the commercial
fishery. Commercial catch rates on the Atlantic coast have shown little change since 1992
though recent rates are up somewhat (Figs. 4). On the gulf coast, commercial catch rates
have increased each year between 2001 and 2005 then dropped markedly in 2006 (Fig. 5).
Total-catch rates for anglers fluctuated without trend on both coasts since 1991, with both
coasts showing a similar pattern of decline between 1999 and a very low catch rate in 2001
(Figs. 6 and 7).
The index of abundance for young-of-the-year spotted seatrout on the Atlantic coast
fluctuated without trend since 1996 (Fig. 8). The gulf coast index was fairly stable during
1997-2004 following a relatively strong year class in 1996, but decreased to lower levels
during 2005 and 2006 (Fig. 9). Post-young-of-the-year abundance showed a U-shape on
the Atlantic coast during 1998-2005 with a low in 2001 (Fig. 10). The 2006 post-YOY catch
rate in 2006 was as low as the observed 2001 minimum rate. The gulf coast index didn’t
show any long-term trend from 1996 onwards, except for a sharp increase during 1999
(Fig. 11). Increased prevalence of gross external abnormalities from spotted seatrout ≥75
mm SL was noted on both coasts in 1999 and 2000, and in 2005 on the Atlantic coast
(Figs. 12, 13), with the only abnormalities observed on the Atlantic coast being
erosion/scale loss. The gulf coast spotted seatrout showed a variety of abnormalities:
ulcers/lesions, red/bloody areas, remainder, and “other” (Figs. 14, 15).
Transitional spawning potential ratios (tSPR) for spotted seatrout have trended strongly
upward since about 1989 in all Florida management regions. In the northern regions tSPR
was relatively flat during much of the 1980s whereas in the southern management region
tSPR was increasing slowly (Murphy et al. 2006). In the Northwest region, tSPR increased
across the 35% management threshold in 1997 and has fluctuated between 38 and 40%
since then. In the Southwest region, the tSPR rose above 35% in 1993 and continued to
increase through 1995 when it leveled off at about 46%. On the Atlantic coast, the tSPR’s
crossed the 35% management target in 1992 in the Southeast region and in 1997 in the
Northeast region. In both areas tSPR continued to increase before leveling off in 1994 in
the Southeast at about 49% (average for 1994-2005) and in 2002 in the Northeast at about
62% tSPR (2002-2005 average).
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