A coalition of angler-supported conservation groups, including Coastal Conservation Association Georgia, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Satilla Riverkeeper, Georgia Kayak Fishing, Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Savannah Riverkeeper, is calling on Georgia’s fishermen to ensure the future of one of their favorite catches — the spotted seatrout. Dubbed Operation ROE (release over eighteen), the groups are asking their members and the angling public to voluntarily release spotted seatrout over 18 inches long this spring so that more larger fish have a chance to participate in the 2010 spawning season. State biologists and many anglers are concerned that persistently low temperatures this winter caused widespread kills of spotted seatrout.
"Water temperatures below 44 degrees Fahrenheit can be lethal to spotted seatrout, and even if the fish aren’t killed immediately the stress from such extreme temperatures often leads to death later," said Spud Woodward, veteran fisheries biologist and director of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "Plus, seatrout are less active in very cold water making them more susceptible to predators such as bottlenose dolphins."
During a 10-day period in early January, DNR measured water temperatures from 40 to 44 degrees in several locations along the coast. Although the weather moderated somewhat in late January, below-average water temperatures persisted through early March, particularly north of the Altamaha River Delta.
"Anglers reported seeing dead seatrout in several areas of the coast as recently as late February. The situation is serious enough that we’ll be conducting special net surveys this spring to determine whether seatrout abundance has been significantly reduced," Woodward said.
DNR studies show that approximately 94 percent of trout more than 18 inches in length are females, so it is not surprising that many anglers refer to all larger fish as roe (egg) trout. Research has shown that larger, older females produce many more eggs than smaller individuals. An 18-inch female seatrout has the potential to produce almost 18 million eggs during the six-month spawning season — almost five times the egg production of a 14-inch trout. Plus, older fish have survival traits valuable in the gene pool.
"The voluntary release of larger trout is a great way for the average angler to directly participate in conservation while helping to ensure there’ll be more fish to catch in 2011 and following years. We hope all coastal anglers will support Operation ROE," said Harry Lowe, state chairman of CCA Georgia.