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*** UPDATE 03/14/2022: TPWD passed the proposed speckled trout regulations which will go into effect March 16th, 2022. You can find the most recent speckled sea trout regulations and limits here.

2022 Texas Speckled Sea Trout Regulation Changes

The speckled sea trout is one of the most popular inshore fish in Texas because it can be caught year-round and make for a delicious meal. Unfortunately, their population has been on the decline since 2018 with two clear contributing factors—the winter storm and the increase in recreational angler activity as a result of COVID-19.

With the recent population decline, Texas Parks and Wildlife staff have proposed new and more strict regulations to help speckled trout recover. These new regulations would impact a majority of the Texas Coast, but TPWD will hold public discussions at various locations across the state from January 11-13th. TPWD will vote on the proposed regulation changes from January 26-27th.

Speckled Trout Population Decline

Covid Fishing Pressure

The speckled sea trout population took a hit in 2020 with increased pressure from a rise in recreational angler participation during COVID. Texas saw a rise of 50,000 combination hunting and fishing licenses and 70,000 fishing licenses compared to previous years. Recreational fishing participation increased because it was seen as a safe activity and a great way to get outside during the start of the pandemic.

Severe Winter Storm

The second and more severe blow to the Texas speckled trout population came from the winter storm in early 2021. Speckled trout winter in shallow bays and backwaters but will move to deeper water to escape a drop in temperature. The February storm brought sub-freezing temperatures to the coast, rapidly cooling the water before the trout could escape to deeper waters. The low temperatures severely impacted the sea trout population, killing an estimated 160,000 fish—143,000 of which died in the Laguna Madre. The die-off in the Laguna Madre caused emergency limits to quickly be put in place.

Speckled Sea Trout Regulation Changes

Current speckled trout limits allow anglers to keep 5 fish per day within the slot limit of 15”- 25”. Additionally, one of the five fish is allowed to be over 25”. The proposed limits would drop the daily bag limit to three fish per person and tighten the slot limit to 17”- 23”. The one oversized fish currently allowed would also be dropped with the new regulations.

Areas Affected by the Proposed Regulations

The area that the proposed new limits would impact would run from the Lower Laguna Madre to Eastern Matagorda Bay and include gulf waters within 500 feet from shore. The bays that fall within the range of the potential new regulations are Corpus Christi, Lower Laguna Madre, Upper Laguna Madre, Aransas, San Antonio, and Matagorda.

Regulation Change Impact

The proposed regulations are not official yet, but they will likely be adopted and go into effect starting in early 2022 with the earliest date being at the start of the new year. The regulations are expected to be adopted quickly because the recommendations came from Texas Parks and Wildlife Staff and were proposed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Under the proposed plan, the new regulations would last until August of 2023. Once the regulations expire, the slot and bag limits would revert to the previous/current limits in the affected areas. The strict limits over the next 18 months would attempt to reduce pressure on speckled sea trout for two spawning events which could allow the species to recover.