New legislation passed by the S.C. General Assembly went into effect June 15 changing catch rates and retention sizes for many popular recreational saltwater species. Spotted seatrout and weakfish, two saltwater species in the drum family that are among the finfish affected by the changes, have similar features that may result in misidentification.
Some identification tips should help anglers comply with the new law.
Spotted seatrout, also referred to as winter trout and speckled trout, have a daily bag limit of 10 per person per day, with a size restriction of 14-inch total length minimum in state waters. State water jurisdiction includes coastal waters out to the 3-mile limit. Spotted seatrout’s size limitation changes from last year’s regulation of a 13-inch minimum total length. To distinguish spotted seatrout from weakfish, look for numerous rounded black spots irregularly scattered on the spotted seatrout’s body and fins. The seatrout’s fins are charcoal in color, and fish have an average size of about 1-2 pounds and 12-20 inches. In addition, spotted seatrout have a range of nine to 12 gill rakers, which are bony projections located on the inner gills that prevent food from escaping through the gills. They are commonly found along inshore areas such as shallow bays, estuaries and rives.
Weakfish, commonly known as summer trout and gray trout, are a newly regulated species this year as a result of the finfish legislation, and now have a daily bag limit of 10 per person per day. Size restrictions implemented for weakfish include a 12-inch minimum total length, a 2-inch difference from the spotted seatrout size limitation.
Weakfish lack the distinct rounded black spots that spotted seatrout possess, and have a more mottled appearance, with faint, irregular oblique streaks along the body of the fish. Their fins have a yellowish tint, and weakfish size is average size is about half to 2 pounds and 10-15 inches. Weakfish also have the gill rakers characteristic of bony fish, and typically have 14-17 located on the inner gills, slightly more than spotted seatrout. This species prefers sandy bottoms and is commonly caught in South Carolina off the grand strand beaches and on near-shore artificial reefs during the fall and winter, but may be found occasionally in inshore waters.
A complete list of the new fisheries laws now in place is as follows:
Newly Regulated Species:
DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.