Striped bass up and down the Atlantic coast are in trouble.
There aren’t enough fish of spawning age and size out there to replenish the stock. Too many fish are removed annually, and the problem is made more complex by the fact that striped bass are targeted 365 days a year by anglers, either commercial or recreational. When a season closes in one location, it opens in another, as the fish move up and down the coast, from Maine to North Carolina.
Striped bass may be Maryland’s iconic state fish (and also New Jersey’s, New York’s, Rhode Island’s and Virginia’s), but it’s also a cash cow for coastal communities along the east coast, which probably explains why the species is such a popular state fish.
From the guides who rent their boats and expertise for a day to the processors who prepare the fish and the restaurants that serve it, the industry built up around this fish provides jobs and boosts the economy.
A recent study conducted by Southwick Associates found that in 2016, the striped bass fishery on the east coast contributed a total of $7.8 billion toward the U.S. gross domestic product. You might be surprised to find out that the money spent by recreational anglers accounted for 98% of the total economic contributions from this fishery.
While recreational fishing generates a lot of money, there are some serious problems within the fishery that need to be solved. Catch-and-release fishermen kill more striped bass than they keep. In 2018, recreational dead discards accounted for 55% of recreational removals and 48% of total removals.
In 2015, the minimum size for a keeper was increased by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in a misguided attempt to preserve the striped bass population, but that move turned out to be a Catch-22.
Instead of safeguarding the stock, anglers had to catch-and-release more smaller fish to get to a bigger one they could keep. And according to the statistics, about half of those smaller fish that were released died. Those fish never got the chance to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. The pool of those really big spawners keeps getting smaller.
There have already been some changes to regulations to address this problem.
In Maryland, keeper size dropped from 20 inches two seasons ago to 19 inches today. Circle hooks are now required for live-lining and chumming. That’s just the beginning. Expect major changes over the course of the next year in an effort to stave off a population crash.
Coming up with a solution to this problem isn’t going to be easy.
The experts already tell us there’s about a 50% mathematical probability that whatever new regulations are enacted will help us reach the target.
Virginia was one step ahead this spring when it unexpectedly announced the closure of spring trophy season. Maryland went along with its season as scheduled, but there wasn’t much to report in the way of big fish caught, and the season was a bit of a disappointment, both because the fishery is in poor shape and, as conservation-minded folks know, a big fish is more valuable to the fishery in the water than out of the water.
If you’re going to be targeting striped bass this summer, do so conscientiously.
While catch-and-release fishing sounds completely safe, it can be a death sentence when temperatures are high and dissolved oxygen levels in the water are low.
Don’t catch and release 100 fish in an afternoon as you will have inadvertently killed 50 fish. When you’ve reached your quota for keepers, switch to fishing for something else. Handle fish with care and avoid fishing altogether on hot summer days.
Striped bass fishing can generate a lot of money for coastal communities, but only if there are fish to fish for. Let’s do our part this summer to make sure more fish survive.
New campsites added
First there’s glamour camping. That’s for the sophisticated traveler who depends on a home away from home for all the creature comforts that make life worth living. Then there’s just regular camping with a tent and, maybe if you’re lucky, an air mattress. And, finally, there’s a completely different kind of camping for a special breed of folks who really like to rough it.
If you’re in that last camp, you might be interested to hear Southern Maryland has added two new primitive paddle-in campsites to their ranks.
At Newtowne Neck State Park, these campsites offer a quiet and secluded backcountry experience for campers who are on extended paddling trips and need a place to hunker down for the night.
The 700-acre park is situated outside Leonardtown off the Potomac River between Breton Bay and St. Clement’s Bay.
The cost is $25 per night. To make a reservation, call Point Lookout State Park headquarters at 301-872-5688.