The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries wants to remind the public to report any cold-stunned spotted seatrout they may see in North Carolina coastal waters.
During the winter, spotted seatrout move to relatively shallow creeks and rivers, where they can be vulnerable to cold stun events. Cold stun events have the potential to occur when there is a sudden drop in temperature or during prolonged periods of cold weather, making fish so sluggish that they can be harvested by hand.
Many fish that are stunned die from the cold or fall prey to birds and other predators. Studies suggest that cold stun events can have a significant negative impact on spotted seatrout populations.
No cold stun events have been reported so far this season, but if there are concerning weather conditions in the upcoming weeks as described above then a cold stun event could occur in coastal rivers and creeks.
Spotted seatrout cold stun events can be reported at any time to the N.C. Marine Patrol at 1-800-682-2632 or during regular business hours to the division spotted seatrout biologist Tracey Bauer at 252-808-8159 or Tracey.Bauer@ncdenr.gov. If reporting a spotted seatrout cold stun event, please provide where (the specific location) and when (date and time) the cold stun was observed, along with your contact information.
Under the N.C. Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan, if a significant cold stun event occurs, the Division of Marine Fisheries will close all spotted seatrout harvest within a management area until the following spring. A significant cold stun event within a management area is determined by 1) assessing the size and scope, and 2) evaluating water temperatures to determine if triggers of 5 C (41 F) at eight consecutive days and 3 C (37.4 F) during a consecutive 24-hour period are met. Data loggers are deployed statewide to continuously measure water temperatures in coastal rivers and creeks that are prone to cold stuns.
Closing harvest allows fish that survive the cold stun event the chance to spawn in the spring before harvest reopens. Peak spotted seatrout spawning occurs from May to June.
Under N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission rules, the spotted seatrout season automatically closes in inland waters when it closes in adjacent coastal waters.