Thursday, February 24, 2011

Going, Going...

Where have all the stripers gone?

An editorial in the Norwich Bulletin by Bob Sampson:
I’ve been around long enough to see striped bass populations build up and disappear twice since the late 1960s, when they were abundant.   In those days, when alewives, or buckeyes, were legal live bait, all you had to do was net a couple, impale one live one on a hook, cast it almost anywhere in the upper Thames River between late April and early June, and it was doomed...

Heavy fishing pressure, mostly from commercial netters in Chesapeake Bay, the stripers’ primary breeding area, combined with a constant drain on adults from both sport and commercial rod and reel fishermen here in the northeast, eventually devastated the striper population.  By the mid-1980s, fishery managers were in panic mode as the east coast population of striped bass plummeted to historically low levels.

To protect the few remaining fish, stringent regulations were put in place. During the mid-1980s, federal authorities imposed a five-year moratorium on commercial fishing in Chesapeake Bay. Here in the northeast, rod and reel sport fishermen were limited to a single fish per day that had to be at least 38 inches long.
And that's about when I arrived in the Bay area, just in time for the moratorium on striped bass in the Bay.  
Striped bass were saved from destruction and their numbers built up during the 1990s, only to be chiseled back down by heavy targeted pressure from all sides over the past half-decade or so.
 And as you can see the recreational catch Coast wide has gone back to the levels at the time of the moratorium, and a similar pattern is seen in the Maryland data:

So, while fishing pressure is up, the catch is down. In the simplest of fishing management schemes, increasing effort and declining catch is a sure sign that you are fishing beyond the "Maximum Sustainable Yield", the holy grail of fish management.  (The Holy Grail being something one seeks with religious fervor, maybe glimpses, but never attains).

Time to step up and do something about it.

Graphs swiped from Brandon's post on TidalFish.

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