Max Appleman shook my hand pretty hard. We hadn’t met previously but both recalled a Fish Wrap piece from last year in which readers were encouraged to contact him regarding a potential change in striper regulations. A similar Fish Wrap piece with his contact information was picked up by The Pew Charitable Trust and widely distributed. His phone rang steadily for three days. Fishermen understood the severity of what his agency, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, was considering and they offered comments. It was pretty clear he was overwhelmed with responses.
Max was at URI this week for a public hearing regarding Addendum VI and its impending changes to striped bass regulations. The ramifications of the proposals are significant. They will affect Maryland to Maine. They may raise the minimum size of a keeper bass to 35”. They may introduce a slot limit. They may mandate circle hooks.
39 people made the time to attend.
There were more people at the local McDonalds.
Fishing mortality rate is what the Addendum is designed to correct because the striper stock has experienced low recruitment over the last decade. 2012, 2014 and 2016 were pretty strong years but they weren’t enough. In 2017, we removed 7.1 million from the stock. In 2018, 5.8 million fish were removed including discards which die. “About 90% of total removals is attributed to the recreational sectors in the last few years,” Max said.
Approximately nine out of ten stripers landed recreationally are released and 9% of them are assumed to die after release.
Then Max spoke of how we “interact” with striped bass. That’s a fine assessment of how we see that fishery and how much it means to us. It’s not just fishing, it’s interacting. So why weren’t more fishermen there?
Peter Jenkins, Chair of the American Saltwater Guides Association advocated for the 35” minimum size because his group thought it was most important to protect the females now. They’re worried long term conservation efforts may not be realized. The Association wants us to not ignore history and protect the largest breeders so he also called for the one fish at 18” for the Chesapeake since that’s where the vast majority of stripers spawn.
There was a wide variety of people in the room, including charter boat captains, recreational fishermen and fishing clubs. With the exception of one charter boat captain who raised valid concerns about inexperienced anglers being forced to use circle hooks, no one from the commercial fishing industry spoke.
Max Appleman helps explain the regulatory process
Hooks can generate almost as much discussion as any other regulation changes. Many fishermen and women will tell you mandating a particular hook can and will mean the difference between catching and losing. They’re great for some types of chunk bait but they’re lousy for soft sections, like the middle of a menhaden. There was talk of treble hooks. They’re pretty destructive to fish and while not on the official document, it’s something to think about when we spend winter nights hugging a glass of something brown and swapping out old mono and rusty hooks. Properly rigged single hooks can be just as effective with less damage to the fish and therefore, less mortality.
“We believe that circle hooks are important when bait fishing, but mandating use would be unenforceable,” said Steve Mederios of the R.I. Saltwater Anglers Association, supporting Option C under 3.2. They also support Sub Option 2-A3: one fish at a 32″ – 40″ slot limit and for the Chesapeake Bay fisheries, Sub Option 2-B1: one fish at an 18″ minimum.
Greg Vespe of the Aquidneck Island Striper Team agreed with RISAA then asked for future discussions about a trophy tag and more enforcement. Mike Laptew spoke of his history with fish and the need more law enforcement. “…The year class we all hung our hats on,” said he said, referencing Virginia’s over-harvest that largely imploded an entire year’s worth of fishing. That kind of language just shows how much we value stripers. It was good to hear many voices supporting law enforcement, except it wasn’t on the agenda and those comments need to go directly to our legislators.
Last year you rang Max Appleman’s phone off the hook; how about making some local calls and get real support behind RIDEM Law Enforcement.
We don’t want a moratorium. We want to go fishing and catch striped bass but Archie Bunkering some commentary at a screen doesn’t make change.
Standing up at a microphone and speaking your mind does. Fisheries regulators are mandated to read and consider all public comments before they draft changes. That’s the beauty of our system; it’s hinged on our voices but the system fails if we don’t speak.
Earlier in the day, a man from Albany, New York purchased a beautiful Abel pocket knife from The Sporting Shoppe in Richmond.
It was a gift.
He drove 350 miles to purchase a knife because it bore the pattern of a brown trout, a fish he loves to catch on the fly. He drove six hours to buy a knife that looks like a fish.
With almost 47,000 saltwater license holders in this state, 39 people drove to Narragansett to speak about striped bass, which are overfished and overfishing is occurring, to the people who regulate them. As public meetings and comment periods occur for other fish populations, I hope you all email my new friend Max at firstname.lastname@example.org. Public comments are the hinges that swing big doors.