Delaware Advised To Take A One Fish Recreational Striped Bass Reduction

The Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries recommended DNREC take a one fish limit at 28 to 35 inches with a summer slot of 20 to 25 inches July 1 to August 31, to comply with the ASMFC reduction requirement.

Last night was the Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries. This council advises DNREC on matters concerning our fishery. Per the DNREC website… “The Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries was created in 1984 and is comprised of seven members, with each member serving a term of three years. The Council members shall be appointed by the Governor and shall represent finfishing interests to include, but not limited to, the bait and tackle industry, fishing from shore, fishing from privately vessel or the charter or head boat industry. Three members of the Council shall represent the commercial fishing interest to include, but not limited to, the wholesale of seafood, fishing with fixed fishing equipment and fishing with drifting or hauling fishing equipment. The seventh member shall be designated the Chairperson and shall be impartial to recreational or commercial fishing.”

These meetings are usually quick and to the point, the members keep a close eye on the fishery and issues related. There is hardly ever anyone at these meetings, last night wasn’t much different for a crowd. However last night we learned that DNREC has just ten days to send in Delaware’s decision on the required striped bass reduction of eighteen percent per the ASMFC. That was news to pretty much everyone. So the debate began and there were three options. One was a default option and there were two secondary options that DNREC brought to the council. These last two options were not approved by the ASMFC but would keep Delaware in compliance. Since the council is made up of three recreational and three commercial representatives at one per county. Their job is to help or advise DNREC on the best alternatives or choices. Let the debate begin, I have never seen this in action, it was 7 PM, the meeting usually ends about 7:30 PM, not last night.

I have included a picture of the Delaware’s Striped Bass Management Options for 2020. Keep in mind we will see another bench stock assessment I believe in 2022, I could be wrong on that date, it doesn’t matter for this issue anyway, but it will eventually.
A new assessment will show us if we need more coast wide reductions or none, that is unknown and the point of the ASMFC reduction for 2020. To rebuild the stocks already in trouble. Again this reduction is coast wide. I also want to point out as Brian Hoffecker (council member for the commercial sector) mentioned during this debate that the state of Delaware is allocated less than two percent of the coast wide catch limit. That means and in his words I might add, Delaware doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things, but we are required to take on these new limits like every other coastal state. He is absolutely correct too I might add.

Delaware's Striped Bass Management Options for 2020, ASMFC reduction for striped bass, delaware, sussex county, kent county, new castle county, rockfish
Delaware’s Striped Bass Management Options for 2020 table 1

Are you with me so far? Delaware receives less than two percent of the coast wide allotment catch limit, but we have to reduce our harvest to comply with he ASMFC requirement for an eighteen percent reduction in harvest coast wide, recreational and commercial. Now if you take that further, the harvest allotments for Delaware as a whole are ninety percent recreational and ten percent commercial. In other words the commercial anglers don’t get much of that coast wide allotment that is under two percent of the entire east coast sock. They can literally limit out on their catches in under a week, I have seen it done in two days.

This all brings me to my next point. I watched this debate commercial versus recreational, and knowing how the fishery works and what not. I already knew one thing that rings true in every fishery. The recreational angler is one of the biggest burdens on their own stocks. Delaware recreational anglers have the ability to catch and kill more fish than commercial anglers in Delaware. Trust me when I say we outnumber the commercial guys a thousand fold and then some, but only in Delaware. Also charters are counted as recreational not commercial.
Keep in mind my only concern at this point was Delaware, not the coast wide issues or other state fisheries which have their own issues. One thing we all know and has been proven, catch and release by recreational anglers has some serious drawbacks and the mortality rates are staggering, especially in the Chesapeake bay. Despite the fact we are talking Delaware, that release mortality issue still applies for our waters.

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Delaware's Striped Bass Management Options for 2020, ASMFC reduction for striped bass, delaware, sussex county, kent county, new castle county, rockfish
Delaware’s Striped Bass Management Options for 2020 tables (options) 2 and 3

In the tables (above) you see the three options Delaware had on the table. The first table is the ASMFC default requirement, the second two are what DNREC came up with to keep in compliance and offer options. Regardless recreational is looking at one fish across the board on all options. By the way this is where I get to say I told you so from the meetings a few years ago, but we are a small amount of the overall picture.
In two of these options, one being the default, the commercial anglers were going to take a huge hit. In trade for the recreational sector being able to catch a fish three inches larger, THREE inches. A whole three inches!
Now take the reality of that further, we hardly catch huge striped bass in Delaware except in one area and season, that is the Delaware Bay in the spring during the run. The fall migration hasn’t come to shore in years or inside the EEZ. So what do we recreational anglers do, we head to Jersey waters in our boats to catch these large striped bass. We do get some fish here, don’t get me wrong, but the vast majority of the fall run is far off the coast beyond the EEZ.
So It got me thinking, why should these commercial guys take food off their tables and out of their pockets so I can catch a fish only three inches bigger. Not to mention and more importantly, isn’t it smarter to let the big breeders live so they can rebuild the socks? I mean that is the entire point of this reduction. It is what everyone is always complaining about and we are going to be reduced to a one fish limit no matter what.

Delaware Advisory Council On Tidal Finfisheries
Delaware Advisory Council On Tidal Finfisheries Left to right … Recreational … James G. Little, Marvin M. Kahl, Jr. Bernard L. Pankowski, Dr. Dewayne Fox, Chair (center) … Commercial … P. Wes Townsend, Joseph A. Smith, Brian Hoffecker

The boys are debating, I am talking to a couple commercial guys sitting near me and listening to the recreational council sector debate about approving table one or two. The audience is adding a few comments when they raise a hand. Meanwhile in my mind, table three is the best choice. It also allows us to keep the summer slot season which is about less than five percent of the overall catch for Delaware. I like that season, those smaller fish are better to eat, and they are males. No harm no foul to the stocks in the long run catching and killing male resident fish. And again why should the commercial sector be reduced heavily for three extra inches of fish. It isn’t like we have a huge commercial fishery anyway. Also for the most part these guys know to care for the stocks, so they have more fish to catch each year.

When it came to public comments, the council was divided three to three on this subject, I raised my hand. “I think you all should consider table three. I don’t think the commercial sector who took a huge hit the last time we did this reduction, should take a further hit so I can catch three more inches of fish. As Brian stated we get a small allotment as it is as a state. Also aren’t we supposed to protect the breeders more, recreational anglers cause the most damage to that fishery. I don’t Seen Brian Hoffecker or Wes Townsend (commercial council members) on Facebook taking selfies with their catch in the nets. I do see it all over the internet with recreational catch and release fish, which a majority probably don’t survive. We already know the recreational catch and release mortality rates are staggering. There are groups trying to educate people to only keep one fish and as small as possible. I don’t think we need to make these guys (commercial) take another hit for three extra inches of fish that we should be protecting anyway.” I probably stunned a few people. Here is a recreational angler saying give the commercial sector a better catch allotment. Yup, I said it. In the long run it protects the fish better and they can’t speak for themselves. The only way to really protect it all is to shut it down, and that won’t happen, nor will Delaware make much of a dent anyway in the grand scheme of things.

The council talked a bit more and then this happened. The recreational representative Bernie Pankowski (new castle county), said, “I think we should look at this table 3 and consider it.” The chairman asked if this was a motion, it was made a motion and the council voted. The commercial sector, all three, voted yes, recreational was … one yes, one no, and one abstain. The motion carried and it was recommended to DNREC to take option three to the ASMFC for approval. By the way, that is the other issue, this table or option three is not sanctioned by the ASMFC, it will have to be approved. So it could be shot down and we go right back to the drawing board, or another debate.

Some will say that it is lame to want to allow the commercial sector to take more fish, they kill this and they kill that etc. I hear it all the time, I have said it a few times in certain instances myself. But the reality is if we want to rebuild these stocks we need to start doing some real protections and start in the recreational area. Delaware is such a small cog in the big wheel of the coast wide fishery that we hardly count. If we could not be regulated by this ASMFC reduction, due to our measly less than two percent coast wide allotment, then the entire coast would come here to fish. That is why we have to comply like the rest of the states, that are doing the most damage. Sometimes you have to take a small hit to lead by example and why should one group suffer financially because of that?
In my book, the striped bass won in Delaware last night and I slept better for it. Now I am going to go striped bass fishing this morning because I can, and surf rats are on the menu.

Fish On!
Rich King

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