SALISBURY -- The Department of Natural Resources has started getting the public's view on proposed regulation changes for sea trout next year.
The first hearing on the changes for recreational and commercial sea trout and spotted sea trout fisheries drew a large and vocal crowd to the Wicomico County Library on Monday night.
The DNR is asking for a change in net mesh size and a closure of the coastal fishery from July through September.
The recreational catch would be limited to 10 per day of either species this year and five of either per day in 1994. In all cases, the minimum size for both would be 12 inches.
Harley Speir, DNR program chief of estuary and marine fisheries in Maryland, said the changes in regulations are necessary because surveys of sea trout population show a 78 percent mortality rate and spawning potential that is only 7 percent of the optimum rate.
"There is danger of stock collapse and reproduction failure," Speir said, "so we need to cut the harvest rate."
Although sea trout are a fast-growing fish, Speir said, they cannot grow to spawning age unless the size limit is increased. A 12-inch limit would allow virtually all sea trout and spotted sea trout to spawn at least once.
Recreational and commercial fishermen as well as bait-and-tackle retailers in attendance were in favor of conserving the trout population. But they also were worried that the creel limits will send fishermen to Virginia, where a larger creel limit is allowed.
"If they [DNR] want to cut the limit to five," said Dennis Robertson, a recreational fisherman, "they might as well close the season -- just as they did the rockfish."
Shad Edwards, president of the Somerset Charterboat Association, said that sea trout are a popular draw for the county's 39 charter boats at Crisfield and Deale Island.
Edwards estimated that charter boats could lose as much as 20 percent of their business if sea trout limits were cut to five per day.
DNR contends that the changes in regulations will not have an economic impact on the recreational fishery. Retailers disagree.
Several businessmen from the Ocean City area asked if the state had considered how much revenue would be lost if people stop buying fishing licenses, bait and tackle or renting boats, for example.
"You are sending our business and your tax dollars to Virginia," said Sue Hayes, a tackle dealer from Ocean City. "We need parity with Virginia, because we, as retailers and fishermen, are already taking the big hit."
The second scheduled hearing on DNR's proposals is tonight at 6 in the Department of Agriculture Headquarters Building on Truman Parkway in Annapolis.