The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met last month to hash out the details of Addendum VI, which addresses the current overfishing of striped bass and will implement new regulations taking effect in 2020.
Don’t expect this new management plan to solve all our problems or even to ameliorate them quickly. The newest management plan has a 50/50 probability of meeting the target in 2020. If all goes according to plan, female spawning stock should reach 93% of the target by 2027.
ASMFC won’t be discussing a possible amendment until February 2020.
A Coastal Conservation Association statewide campaign called “My Limit is One” in 2014 and ASMFC-imposed reductions back in 2015 (following a quota increase in 2014) did nothing to stem the overharvest of striped bass.
The newest monkey wrench in the data is the high mortality rate among fish discarded by catch-and-release fishermen. How and why this is happening is anyone’s guess, but the newest data suggests recreational removals are 2.3 times higher than the data used in previous stock assessments.
Each state can adopt ASMFC suggestions or come up with their own plan to meet ASMFC’s requirement of reducing mortality approximately 18%.
In Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources will be deciding how Maryland anglers, both commercial and recreational, are going to accomplish this. In the Potomac River, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission sets regulations. Expect some big changes like slot limits and possible closures during certain times of the year.
Or maybe just recreational anglers should expect big changes. Be aware that DNR has the option to hold the commercial fishery “harmless.” That means recreational anglers could be the only folks to take a reduction, and since they’ll have to make up the difference if the commercial sector doesn’t take a cut, the amount of reduction would have to be higher to meet the overall goal of 18%. Another option is to reduce the commercial quota by 1.8%, considered a “proportional” reduction in removals.
Some numbers for you to consider: Data suggests that 90% of striped bass caught by recreational fishermen are released alive. Of those fish, 9% (or possibly more) don’t survive.
Last year, recreational fishermen harvested 2,244,766 striped bass and released 2,826,667 striped bass that eventually died after release, many of them smaller fish that didn’t meet minimum size. According to the data, recreational fishermen are releasing more fish that die than they keep to eat.
In 2018, commercial fishermen were responsible for 12% of total striped bass removals. That number includes both landings plus dead discards.
The majority of fish caught by commercial fishermen are concentrated in the Chesapeake Bay region, where 70-90% of all Atlantic coast striped bass come to spawn. About 60% of commercial striped bass landings by weight and 80% by numbers of fish come from the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia has been proactive in its dealings with the depletion of the striped bass fishery. Back in the spring, Virginia cancelled trophy season. And on Aug. 27, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted to lower the bag limit from two fish to one fish for recreational fishermen. Models suggest that this move will reduce the amount of striped bass removed by recreational fishermen by 24%.
Other changes for Virginia fishermen include increasing the size limit of striped bass from 28 inches to 36 inches in an effort to decrease the number of fish that are released and die. Virginia utilizes a slot system meaning any keeper fish must measure between 20 and 36 inches. And their commercial sector was hit with a new maximum size gill net mesh size of 7 inches in the Chesapeake Bay.
The rest of the states that make up the ASMFC are considering their options. If ASMFC guidelines are adopted, new regulations could be announced as soon as October. If states decide to come up with their own plans to handle their scenarios uniquely, called conservation equivalency, it will take longer for quantitative analyses to be run and the technical committee of the ASMFC to approve, but finalized regulations will be in place by 2020.
Options have been provided for the Chesapeake Bay recreational fishery. A bag limit reduction, size minimums that vary, size slots and a trophy season start date no earlier than May 1 are all on the table. Managing the striped bass fishery is complex, the numbers can be confusing, and finding a path to an 18% reduction will be complicated.
We are now entering the public comment period and it’s time for stakeholders to evaluate Addendum VI and let their opinions be known to the folks who will be deciding the fate of the striped bass fishery. There are lots of opportunities for people in Southern Maryland to contribute to the process. There are several upcoming public hearings in our area.
The PRFC will be meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at 222 Taylor Street in Colonial Beach, Virginia. For more information, contact Martin Gary at 804-224-7148 for more information. A FinFish Advisory Committee meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12 and the public is invited to attend that as well.
Also at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12, the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment will be meeting at the Aquatic Resources Education Center at 1900 Anacostia Drive in Washington, D.C. For more information, contact Julia Robey Christian at 202-450-7878.
DNR will be meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 25 in the basement room of Calvary United Methodist Church at 301 Row Boulevard in Annapolis. For more information, contact Michael Luisi at 410-260-8341.
You are also welcome to provide written input by sending your opinion to Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland Street, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201. Comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 703-842-0741. Use the subject line: Striped Bass Draft Addendum VI. The deadline to comment is Oct. 7.
ASMFC will reconvene in the end of October. States will present their proposals and then move forward to implement them in 2020.