Specks in nets

While other fish are caught in the speckled trout gill net fishery, Beth Burns, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries' spotted sea trout biologist, said the nets don't snare undersized speckled trout.

"Commercial gill net fishermen are especially good at targeting larger spotted sea trout," Burns said. "Their typical fish is about 14-inches long, while the typical fish in the recreational fishery is closer to the minimum length of 12 inches. Commercial fishermen are good at adjusting the size of their net mesh so smaller fish are not caught. There is very little bycatch in the spotted sea trout gill net fishery."

Other fish are caught as bycatch in the speckled trout gill net fishery, which like the flounder and striped mullet fishery drum fishery is a small-mesh gill net fishery. Sea turtles, loons and cormorants are killed by small mesh gill nets. But Burns said commercial fishermen who fish their nets properly — that is, checking them often –minimize the chances of accidentally harming sea life.

Other fish that may be caught in small mesh gill nets that have little commercial value include menhaden and ladyfish.

The speckled trout gill net fishery isn't large. It generally occurs serendipitously when commercial gill net fishermen are setting nets for other species and spot a school of specks, or during winter when other species are unavailable.

The state sets no no quota for the commercial fishery and a bag limit of 10 fish in the recreational fishery. As with red drum, about 10 percent of the fish released in the recreational hook-and-line fishery die as a result. But the release mortality varies greatly by water salinity, with higher mortality rates in lower-salinity waters.