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Report Cold-Stunned Trout to Fisheries

Spotted Seatrout: Photo: Raver Duane, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Spotted seatrout

If you see any cold-stunned spotted seatrout in North Carolina’s coastal waters, the state Division of Marine Fisheries wants to be notified.

Spotted seatrout, or speckled trout, head to shallow creeks and rivers during the winter, where they are vulnerable to cold stun events that may occur when there is a sudden drop in temperature or during prolonged periods of cold weather.

The cold stunned fish are so sluggish that they can be harvested by hand and may 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.

While no cold stun events have been reported yet, if  in the upcoming weeks, the temperatures plummet for an extended period of time, 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 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, provide the specific location, date and time that the cold stun was observed, along with contact information.

Under the North Carolina 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 assessing the size and scope, and  evaluating water temperatures to determine if triggers of 41 Fahrenheit for eight consecutive days and 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit during a consecutive 24-hour period are met. Data loggers are deployed statewide to continuously measure water temperatures in coastal rivers and creeks prone to cold stuns.

By closing harvest, the fish that survive the cold stun event have a greater chance to spawn in the spring before harvest reopens. Peak spawning occurs from May to June.

Under state Wildlife Resources Commission rules, the spotted seatrout season automatically closes in inland waters when it closes in adjacent coastal waters.

A cold-stunned spotted seatrout during a previous cold stun event. Photo: Division of Marine Fisheries

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.