Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ASMFC Eyes New Rockfish Restrictions

For the last several years, those of us who routinely fish for Rockfish (as Striped Bass are usually called in Chesapeake Bay) have grumbled that they don't seem as abundant as they used to, that it's harder and harder to catch a limit, and that the large schools of stripers that used to be frequently found out in the main Bay are much rarer and smaller.

Fisheries scientists assured us that Rockfish populations were fully recovered, and that we were just old farts exclaiming the glories of the old (post-moratorium) days.  Now, it seems, they've come around to our point of view:

New rockfish catch limits eyed
Worried by recent declines in the numbers of Maryland's state fish, Atlantic states fisheries regulators are weighing slashing the annual striped bass catch by up to one-third next year all along the East Coast and in the Chesapeake Bay.

The proposal, to be aired Tuesday before the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, comes six months after a study found the striped bass population verging on being overfished and the number of spawning female fish likely to slip to unsustainable levels soon if no action is taken.
Conservation groups, (including fishing conservation group) applauded the move:
"We're thrilled," said Tony Friedrich, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, which has long pressed regulators to curtail the catch. "I don't know anyone who doesn't think the stock is in trouble."
 Shockingly, ;-), Watermen were opposed to putting further restrictions on the catch.
A catch reduction of that size would hit Maryland's watermen hard, though, especially since their mainstay of crabbing appears likely to be poor again this year, based on a recent survey.

"It's called being regulated out of business," said Robert T. Brown Sr., president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. He contended that "there's no shortage of fish."
Striped bass, also known as rockfish, are the bay's premier fish, with Maryland's commercial landings worth $7 million in 2012, the most recent year for such figures. The bay is a prime nursery for the fish, which migrate as far north as New England.
At least they had the decency not to trot out the old chestnut about how the excess of Rockfish (that they would be more than happy to fix for us) is causing the bad crab numbers.
. . ."The striped bass is a marquee species for the Atlantic coast," said Tom O'Connell, Maryland's fisheries director. But surveys show that only 20 percent of the fish in the Chesapeake in summer and fall are females, he said, so making an across-the-board cutback in catch there would protect relatively few of the future spawners.
O'Connell said he's also worried that a 30 percent reduction in watermen's catch would have "substantial" impacts" on their livelihoods.

Recreational fishing groups contend that the cutback should be the same for all, including commercial fishermen.

Friedrich said recreational fishermen in Maryland will happily accept a reduction in their allowable catch of rockfish from two fish a day to one, the same cutback anglers on the coast could face.

"We don't necessarily care how many fish we take home," he said. "We just want to make sure fish are there for our grandkids."
Not that I haven't caught and kept my share, and probably more, but yes, I'd settle for that.  To tell the truth, there are better tasting fish in the bay, anyway.

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