Bonnet Carre’ Spillway Opening Creates Uncertainty for Mississippi Anglers

Large eddy at the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway

The Bonnet Carre’ Spillway is designed to release water from the Mississippi River during extreme flooding in order to relieve pressure on levies and protect New Orleans and populated areas 28 miles downriver. It has been opened just 13 times in its 90 year history; however, it has been opened 3 out of the last 4 years and for the first time ever it was opened in consecutive years when it opened on February 28, 2019.

The release of all of that freshwater into Lake Pontchartrain that then flows into Lake Borgne creates all sorts of issues for both Mississippi and Louisiana saltwater anglers. As the freshwater flows through Lake Pontchartrain, it pushes many saltwater species out of the lake and into waters to the south and east.  Nobody can say for certain whether those fish will push south into Chandeleur Sound or to the east into the Mississippi Sound, but during some years when the spillway has opened, it has resulted in large numbers of fish migrating into Mississippi waters and around the barrier islands. This has the potential to add up to a banner fishing year for many Mississippi anglers, but this year the Commission on Marine Resources (CMR) is taking steps to ensure that Mississippi anglers do not over harvest speckled trout as a result of these fish seeking saltier water and journeying into Mississippi.

On March 1, the CMR called a special meeting to discuss ways in which it might limit the harvest of speckled trout if the spillway opening appears to be creating a situation that could result in a large uptick in harvest. Speckled trout have been in a rebuilding phase in Mississippi and the CMR has already made changes to increase the size limit from 13” to 15” in order to help rebuild the stock.  Although the opening of the spillway could potentially cause an increase in the number of fish in Mississippi waters that is likely to be a short term impact. Nevertheless, the CMR would like to take steps to limit harvest and allow more of those fish to escape, continue to spawn and contribute to rebuilding the stock.

At the March 1st special meeting, a variety of short-term options were discussed to limit the harvest.  The preferred option presented by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) would be to lower the bag limit for recreational harvest from 15 fish to 10 fish per person for up to 60 days and to place a daily catch limit on commercial harvest. It should be noted that commercial harvest is limited to a 50,000 lb. quota per year broken into two 25,000 lb. seasons so the daily limit on commercial harvest merely prevents the entire quota from being harvested in a very short period of time.

Unfortunately, the motion that passed out of the CMR was to give Director Joe Spraggins, the Director of the MDMR, the authority “to close it down, if he sees it getting out of hand.”  It is completely unclear what the standard is for “getting out of hand” and many recreational anglers went into an immediate tail spin when hearing that the CMR and DMR would even consider a complete shutdown of a fishery to address an event that was producing extra fish in Mississippi waters as opposed to a mortality event such as a hard freeze or a red tide.

MWF does not believe that a complete shutdown of any fishery is likely as a result of the opening of the Bonnet Carre’ spillway. Director Spraggins has been clear in his comments by specifically noting that he would not take such drastic steps without science to guide his decision.  There simply is not sufficient to guide such a science-based decision at this point. MWF applauds Director Spraggins for his commitment to making a transparent and science-based decision before moving ahead with any changes that would drastically alter the ability of recreational anglers to access the speckled trout fishery.

MWF does not support a shutdown of the speckled trout fishery, but the discussion surrounding that possibility creates a good opportunity for recreational anglers to reflect on the need for responsible harvest and strict adherence to creel and bag limits. Please take what you can eat and consider letting larger spawning fish return to the water to continue producing fish for seasons to come.  Get out and enjoy some great fishing on the water and leave some for your next trip.

MWF will continue to work with CMR commissioners and MDMR staff as the results of the spillway opening continue to unfold.  Stay tuned for more updates.