Maryland is changing the way striped bass are caught for sale, ending decades of regulating the popular Chesapeake Bay fish by limiting the times when it can be harvested. Starting Jan. 1, commercial fishermen will have individual quotas of striped bass they can catch almost any time, not just in the relative handful of days permitted this year.
State officials say the change to catch shares, as the quotas are known, should help fishermen make a better living while improving oversight of harvests of the much-sought-after fish with distinctive black stripes — known popularly as rockfish.
Some of the state’s watermen welcome the flexibility of being allowed to fish when it suits them, rather than compete in all kinds of weather in one- or two-day fishing “derbies.”
You might remember years back on "Deadliest Catch"
, that Alaska switched the crab quotas to individual quotas. One thing it did was make crab fishing marginally safer; there was less incentive to do stupid shit to beat the competition to the fixed total crab catch. That's not much of a factor in Chesapeake Bay, but it would lead to more thoughtful fishing.
But others complain that the quotas rob them of initiative by limiting the amount they can catch, in some cases well below what they’ve been landing lately. They warn that the cutback could drive them into oystering or other pursuits, making the tasty fish — a holiday staple for some — pricier and harder to come by in local restaurants and at seafood counters.
“Back in the old days — which wasn’t really more than five or six years ago — we could fish five days a week and catch 1,200 pounds a day,” said Don Marani, a commercial fisherman and proprietor of Don’s Seafood in Fells Point. “Now we can catch in a year what we used to be able to catch in a day. … I mean, rockfish is a great fish, but you can buy red snapper cheaper.”
Another problem that they don't want to publicize, was that the quotas were based on the past reported catches by the watermen. Of course, many watermen have been substantially under reporting their catch for years, selling on a "black market." Their new quotas only represent what they wanted to report, not what they actually caught. I'm not saying that the new system will stop the poaching, but it does put a bonus on making sure that your watermen competitor correctly reports his catch.
“It’ll be the end to the traditional fishery and the smaller fishermen on the bay,” predicted Robert T. Brown Sr., president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.
Not everyone agrees. Virginia and Potomac River officials have doled out catch shares for striped bass for years, and fishermen who’ve worked under those systems say they like it, at least in concept.
“It’ll be a little bit harder on the individual — he’ll have to do a little marketing himself,” acknowledged Lee Wilson of Crisfield, president of the Chesapeake Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Association, whose members mainly work in the lower bay.
But in the end, he said, “it gives you a lot more opportunity” because fishermen can try to time their catch for when prices are higher, instead of having to catch them all at once and have to sell them cheaply because the market is glutted.
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