Talk on the docks these days is the state of our striped bass fishery. Based on some recalculations of data points, the ASFMC determined that in 2017, the stock was overfished and overfishing was occurring. That assessment has triggered a regulatory review to bring the fishery back to the levels we determined to be healthy. Now the ASFMC has identified several options to rebuild the populations and our public input is critical to the process.
The short story background is the female spawning stock biomass, the averaged age and weight of sexually mature fish, is at 151 million pounds. The target number is 202 million pounds, so scientists believe there are too few mature fish to sustain the fishery to hit our target points. While there were ten years of strong recruitment starting in 1994, there were also six poor following years. The strength of a year class is made evident a few years later when we’re catching lots of small bass or, hopefully, enjoying a bounty of large fish. There is a much more detailed report available through the ASFMC and while it can be tricky trying to wade through the acronyms and reference points, it will help you dig into where we are as stewards of striped bass.
To be fair, striper populations are surely subject to natural, cyclical fluctuations we may not yet understand. Tim Terranova, a charter boat captain out of Watch Hill made a pretty clear assessment to me, based on more than thirty years on the water, that there are a few year classes out there now as large as he’s ever seen. What some see as a pending crash may, he feels, could be a natural cycle. That’s a fair observation and likely shared by other watermen. The frustration that follows is regulatory reaction to something which may not require any, just enforcement of current laws and some level of historical perspective. That said, gathering data about a migratory fish when you have only trawl surveys, commercial landing records and the occasional personal account, leads some to believe true stock numbers are unattainable. It’s important to remember that while reports are coming in daily about big fish off Block Island, the effort here is to be proactive, to look beyond this season, to restore abundance.
Now the ASFMC has released its Atlantic Striped Bass Benchmark Stock Assessment and Draft Addendum. According to their office, “The Draft Addendum will explore a range of management options, including minimum size and slot size limits for the recreational fishery in the Chesapeake Bay and along the coast, as well as a coast wide circle hook requirement when fishing with bait.” This is the first step in producing regulations to restore the striped bass fishery. The primary goal is to achieve a harvest reduction of 17 percent, at a minimum, from 2017 population estimations. Several options are being presented for public consideration and comment. Once you’ve read these and possibly made a decision on which works best for you and your input on the fishery, the critical step is to make your voice heard.
For recreational fishermen and women, there are two options. The first is to take no action. That will not help at all.
The next option has a few options. For recreational fishers, that 17 percent reduction could be achieved with a minimum size increase to one fish at 35”. A reduction of 19% could be reached with one fish in a slot limit of 28”-34”. The third option would achieve a 21% reduction with one fish at a slot limit of 32”-40”. Because stripers migrate on their own natural schedule, there would be no need to change the season.
One bone of contention has been the way Chesapeake fishermen are allowed to take much smaller fish than those of us who fish the ocean. The Chesapeake is a primary nursery for stripers, along with the Hudson and Deleware Rivers, so generally, the fish they see there are smaller as they migrate to open water and grow to maturity.
The ASFMC options continue to allow for the taking of small fish.
Option One for them would be one fish at an 18” minimum for ocean states, resulting in a 20% reduction.
Option Two would allow for two fish at a 22” minimum for an 18% harvest reduction.
Option Three would be two fish at a slot limit of 18”-23” for a 19% reduction.
Option Four would allow for two fish to be taken at a slot limit of 20”-24”, which would create a 19% reduction.
Options One and Two would also have no change to the fishing season. Options Three and Four would eliminate their trophy season.
Stripers may be in a natural, cyclical decline, they may be suffering from poor recruitment down south when they’re harvested at 18”, they may be suffering from pollution, poaching, larger dead discards than scientists are estimating or, perhaps, everything is just fine. All these options require a bit of consideration as we are contemplating changes to our passions and professions which will take years to show results. You can switch to circle hooks, which tend to set better, are easier to remove than other styles and can reduce unnecessary fish fatigue and mortality. You can choose to catch and release stripers all the time. You can choose to ignore the whole damn thing and just go fishing like you always did.
Whatever you choose to do, please make your feelings known to the ASFMC. Public comment is what makes the system work the best.
Please contact Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.