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Seatrout, Spotted (Cynoscion nebulosus)
Also known as: Gator trout (larger spotted seatrout), Papermouth, Sow trout (pregnant females), Speck, Speckled trout, Spotted squeteague, Spotted weakfish, Trout, Truite gris (Louisiana French), Yellowmouth
Source: Wild-caught in Gulf state waters from Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Florida

Spotted seatrout are found in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Florida and throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico. They’re most common along the northern Gulf and Florida Gulf Coast.

Spotted seatrout live in the brackish waters of upper estuaries out to waters about 30 feet deep in the Gulf. Adults often spend their whole lives in or near the estuary where they were born. They swim near seagrass beds, oyster reefs, and other shallow water habitats, mostly in the lower parts of estuaries, and in the open Gulf of Mexico during spring and summer to feed and spawn. When waters cool in the fall, they move into deeper waters and scatter throughout the estuaries. They return to shallower, saltier waters in the spring as waters warm.

Spotted seatrout grow fast and are able to reproduce by the age of one or two. Females grow more quickly and reach larger sizes than males—females are about 11 inches when they sexually mature, males are much smaller. Females also live longer, up to 10 or 12 years; males rarely live longer than five years (so most spotted seatrout in a population older than five are likely females). On average, spotted seatrout weigh two to three pounds. Males on average grow to 19 inches in length by the end of their life; females average 25 inches by the end of their life.

From March to October, hundreds of thousands of male spotted seatrout gather in shallow, saltier areas of coastal bays, estuaries, and lagoons, especially near passes or other areas with currents, to spawn. Males use specialized muscles along their swim bladder to make a drumming sound to attract females. Females release their eggs; males then fertilize the eggs by broadcasting sperm over them. Spotted seatrout are very productive—they can spawn multiple times per season, and females (depending on their size and age) can release millions of eggs per year. Eggs hatch in about 18 hours, and the young trout find shelter in shallow marsh ponds and along marsh edges to avoid predators.

Larvae float in the water column and feed on plankton; young trout feed on small crustaceans and fish. Adults often school together and move into shallower areas to feed on fish with the incoming tide. They eat many species of fish and shellfish. One of their favorites is mullet—they can eat one more than half their size. Larger fish including gar, striped bass, tarpon, and barracuda, feed on spotted seatrout; other predators include dolphins, sharks, and birds.

Spotted seatrout have iridescent, dark gray or greenish upper sides and back and are white on their lower sides and belly. Their dorsal fin is long and separated by a deep notch. Their dorsal fin and tail are dusky, their tail’s edge is black, and their other fins are pale or yellowish. They look similar to other related species (such as sand and silver seatrout) but can be distinguished by the round dark spots on their back, fins, and tail. They have a streamlined body and a long pointed head; their lower jaw extends farther than their upper jaw. They have two large canine teeth at the front of their upper jaw (which sometimes break off during their life), and the edges and inside of their mouth are often yellow.

Commercial fishermen have been harvesting spotted seatrout since the 1880s in all Gulf states. The commercial spotted seatrout fishery grew into a major fishery in the Gulf—during its prime, the Gulf supplied an average of 90% of the spotted seatrout harvested in the United States. The Gulf states enacted increasingly restrictive regulations for commercial spotted seatrout fisheries due to concerns about the popularity of the species, growing number of fishermen, decline in habitat, and overfishing, significantly reducing commercial harvests. Today, a limited amount of fishermen harvest spotted seatrout in waters of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida, and supply about 20% of domestic spotted seatrout. Texas and Alabama have declared spotted seatrout a “gamefish”, closing commercial fisheries for the species in their waters.

Spotted seatrout continues to be one of the most popular sport fish in the Gulf—it’s abundant, puts up a great fight, and tastes delicious. Recreational landings far exceed commercial landings in all of the Gulf states.

Individual Gulf state fisheries management agencies are responsible for monitoring and managing the spotted seatrout resource in the Gulf. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission helps coordinate monitoring and management among the states to ensure they’re consistent through the species’ range. Although specific management measures vary among the states, their general approach is to maintain the spotted seatrout resource and prevent overharvest.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

Gulf-wide commercial landings of spotted seatrout averaged nearly five million pounds per year until the 1980s when the Gulf states began to implement increasingly restrictive regulations on the fishery. Landings sharply declined and have averaged just 57,000 pounds over the last decade.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics

Landings Summary Data :  

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Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch

Individual Gulf states assess the status of the spotted seatrout resource in their respective waters using data from biological sampling and survey programs. They monitor commercial spotted seatrout harvests through trip ticket programs—docks purchasing spotted seatrout directly from commercial fishermen submit information pertaining to the catch, including who caught it, where and when it was caught, how much was caught, etc. Commercial fishermen who sell directly to consumers must also submit trip tickets. States collect data on recreational harvests through the federal Marine Recreational Information Program or state-run data collection programs (in Louisiana and Texas).

Current Abundance

There is no comprehensive Gulf-wide stock assessment for spotted seatrout as evaluating the status of spotted seatrout on a Gulf-wide basis is challenging. Spotted seatrout tend to stay in localized areas, and local influences such as fishing typically only affect the local population. In addition, each state has different conservation standards to evaluate the status of the population in their respective waters. According to available state assessments, spotted seatrout populations are abundant (not overfished) and fisheries are operating sustainably (no overfishing).

Additional Research


Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

Each Gulf state is responsible for managing spotted seatrout fisheries in their state waters. The Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC) helps coordinate monitoring and management among the states, gathering scientific data and organizing management measures to ensure they’re consistent through the species’ range.

Spotted seatrout are most abundant and almost exclusively harvested in state waters so federal agencies do not directly manage spotted seatrout fisheries in the Gulf.

Management Program

The GSMFC's 2001 Regional Management Plan for the Spotted Seatrout Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico provides an understanding of the biological, social, and economic characteristics of spotted seatrout fisheries as well as efforts regarding science and management of spotted seatrout in the Gulf. The plan set goals and recommended management measures to ensure the viability of spotted seatrout fisheries for the benefit of future generations. Specific management measures vary among the states but generally include size and harvest limits, licensing requirements, seasons, and gear restrictions. Commercial harvest is prohibited in Texas and Alabama.