Striped Bass, They Need Your Help

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Many have been saying this for the last several years. We are seeing less and less striped bass catches, this year being no exception. Some keep saying that the fish are all in the EEZ (exclusive economic zone), or my favorite “The fish are in the EEZ because they know we can’t catch them there”. Yes there are a lot of fish out in the EEZ, but they have always been there, even when the coastal fishing was fantastic.

The ASMFC meetings this week have been both interesting and informative. Listening to the webinar on the striped bass assessment yesterday, which is not complete due to the government shutdown, so far paints a grim picture. Essentially if the thresholds that exist now are followed, striped bass are overfished and overfishing is occurring. That is obvious to anyone who has been fishing the last few years.

How We Arrived Here

So how did we get here? There are a number of reasons. The main reason is by ignoring the problem that was predicted by the last stock assessment update.

striped bass, rockfish, maryland, delaware, asmfc, sussex county, chesapeake bay
Screenshot of the webinar from the ASMFC

 

 

In 2011 it was predicted that striped bass would be overfished by 2017. Here we are in 2019 and the preliminary assessment is telling us that overfishing is occurring and that the stock is overfished. Although this assessment is preliminary, since the full assessment won’t be out until May, every peer reviewer I know is saying the same thing: striped bass are in serious trouble. The SSB, spawning stock biomass, is way down. These are the big breeders everyone likes to photograph, and are called trophy fish. Sadly, the giant bass were hardly caught by anyone this year. However, year over year mortality is on the rise. Other year classes are almost nonexistent in numbers.

Given the data from the preliminary assessment holds true that overfishing is occurring and the stock is overfished, the changes needed to save the species will be drastic.

If we do not make serious changes, the striped bass will go back into a moratorium. Overall striped bass fishing mortality was dominated by the recreational fishery, with 48% … FORTY EIGHT PERCENT of all fishing mortality due to recreationally-caught fish that die after release. Another 42% is attributable to recreational harvest, 8% to commercial harvest, and 2% to commercial discards. Based on these numbers, the recreational discards, or CPR’ed fish, contribute MORE to FISHING MORTALITY rate than the number of striped bass harvested for table fare. It has been said many times in the past, the recreational anglers are far more damaging to the fishery than the commercial harvest. 

 

circle hooks, J hooks, maryland striped bass regulations, offset, non offset

Hooks allowed for striped bass fishing in Maryland 

Not long ago while attending a Delaware Tidal Finfish advisory council meeting, someone asked the DNREC representatives: “I’m hearing rumors out of New York that the striped bass fishery is in trouble”
DNREC … “We haven’t heard anything out of New York about that”
I raised my hand and informed the board what I have been reading online from fishery experts up there. The stocks are in trouble they aren’t seeing fish at all like they used to and many are concerned. I was told the stocks are fine and then rudely dismissed by a Tidal Finfish Advisory board member ” Pssssh … We read the same stuff online, you don’t know what you are talking about”
Fast forward to yesterday and what I was saying is exactly what the incomplete assessment is reporting. The people I was quoting are peer reviewing the preliminary assessment.  They have fished the areas in question for over 50 years, and had to live through the last moratorium. One would think it would be a good idea to listen to them this time…

How Do We Get Out of Here …

There are several ways we can fix this issue and many will not like it, but if we do not we will have another moratorium.

Slot limits that protect the breeders (SSB).

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End Catch and Release in Spawning areas coastwide that target striped bass.  The excuse I am catching striped perch with a bucktail doesn’t fly.

Changing seasons for fishing for striped bass, especially in the Chesapeake Bay will be necessary. Maybe the fishery should be closed until the waters cool down and the oxygen levels increase.

The trophy bass season should be eliminated.

The summer fishery for the smaller bass should be restricted and regulated more heavily.

Modify the allowed fishing gear to fall in line with the recently implemented circle hook requirement.

Limit the amount of fish charters can take daily.

Manage the fishery coast-wide and no per state, as with game fish species.

Remove the extra daily tag from New Jersey anglers.

Some of the recommendations proposed above may appear on the surface to be drastic, but the fishery has declined into such a state that only drastic measures can save it. Limiting the number of fish a charter boat may harvest in 24 hours is a major step. Taking 6 passengers out and “limiting out” on 2 fish per passenger is 12 fish PER TRIP on a 6 person charter. Those charters make 3 trips per day, for a total of 36 slot fish PER DAY. Multiply that times the number of charters run per day and the daily take is astronomical. Add in the daily limit of two per recreational angler and the problem begins to come in to focus. During the previous year, despite Maryland agreeing to a reduction in striped bass harvest, the number of striped bass landings actually INCREASED. Another loss for conservation.

The main way out is to stop needlessly targeting the large fish that support the fishery by spawning year after year. In the report the recreation DISCARD mortality was 48%. Let that sink in for a moment. For every fish caught and released 48% of them died by the hand of the same people thinking they are helping. The best way to save a fish’s life other than by not targeting it, is leaving it in the water to live out its life.  If you are going to catch and release leave the fish in the water when you remove the hook.

If you hadn’t noticed this year DSF didn’t spend any time putting up pictures of large striped bass for two reasons.  One, there were hardly any caught, and two, we need to back off these large breeders (SSB).    We are also removing striped bass from all of our fishing tournament catch lists going forward in 2019.

There are many ways to fix this issue right now. However none of them are going to be popular.  As always I leave that decision up to you, because none of us will like a moratorium.  

Fish On!

Rich King 

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