Wednesday, April 4, 2018

We Have to Kill the Rockfish to Save Them

Maryland fishery managers hope that allowing fishermen to keep more of the rockfish they catch in the Chesapeake Bay will help the species thrive once again.

Gov. Larry Hogan's administration is seeking legislative permission to reduce the keeper minimum size limit from 20 to 19 inches in length. An associated gear change is expected to further protect the iconic game fish from overfishing.

The change echoes in a way a George W. Bush-era "Healthy Forests" initiative, which caught flak because it proposed cutting down trees to save forests.

In this case, giving anglers a better chance at keeping the bay's rockfish may help boost its population in the long run, state officials say.

“The logic behind it is that slightly more fish will be brought home, but we’ll be killing less by waste," said Mike Luisi, the Department of Natural Resource's assistant director for fishing and boating services.

Eager to provide their clients with more bang for the buck, the state's charter boat industry is on board with the measure.
Well, duh. Although the good charter captains I've seen have had no problem catching limits at 20 inches.

“It’s definitely going to help us," said Curtis Johns Jr., a Crisfield-based charter fisherman.

The problem: Fishermen have had no issue in recent years catching slightly undersized fish. There was a strong reproductive class in 2015, which has stocked the Chesapeake with smaller rockfish, also known as striped bass.

“You could catch them all day," John said. "You just couldn’t keep them.”

But Johns and other fishermen say they've had to catch 20-30 rockfish some days to reach their quota of two fish. They release the ones under 20 inches in length.

Many of those returned fish aren't surviving because the preferred method for catching them — live bait attached to J-shaped hooks — can take a heavy toll on their innards.

So many dead and dying fish were thrown back over the past three summers in the upper portion of the bay that they created "slicks of fish" two miles wide and three miles long, one fisherman said.

"People were complaining (on Kent Island) about the amount of buzzards," said Capt. Robert Newberry, head of the Delmarva Fisheries Association.
I'd like to see some statistical modelling to back up the notion that allowing fishermen to keep 19 inch fish instead of  20 inch fish is going to save fish in the long run. It's true that sometimes in summer, the smaller fish overwhelmingly outnumber the larger ones, at least in many places in the bay, and that it's quite common to catch many fish just short of the limit for one or two legal fish. But I remember the same thing happening when the limit was 18 inches.

A week late and twice as big due to tax season, Wombat-socho has "Rule 5 Sunday: Not Your Normal Graduation Picture" ready for business.


  1. The season will start with easy 19 inch limits and by August people will complain about all the 18 1/2" they had to throw back. I do like the mandatory circle hook regulation for live bait and chumming though. Great blog btw

  2. Thanks!

    If there's anything fishermen do more than lie about the one that got away was, it's to complain about the regulations. The managers aren't perfect, by any means, but for the most part, they mean well.