We’re officially into May and that means for Maryland and the Potomac River, it’s rockfish season. Virginia is soon to follow, opening its spring season May 16.
But just as trophy season gets underway, it appears there is a shakeup coming from Atlantic Coast fisheries managers. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) said in its latest update that the East Coast saw an increased fishing effort in 2022 that’s standing in the way of striped bass numbers reaching their target—goals put in place to reach a healthy population by 2029.
ASMFC’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board voted Tuesday to implement emergency action to decrease the maximum size for most striped bass fisheries to 31 inches for the next 180 days. At that point, the Board could end or extend the emergency action.
The ASMFC board also voted unanimously to draft a new addendum aiming to reduce mortality in both the recreational and commercial rockfish fisheries. The addendum would consider changes to recreational size limits, season closures and maximum size limits. ASMFC will take up the addendum later this year.
In Maryland the trophy season runs May 1-15. Currently anglers have a limit of one fish per person per day with a minimum size of 35 inches. From May 16 - July 15, anglers can keep one fish with a minimum size of 19 inches. Striped bass fishing is closed July 16-31, resuming August 1.
I'm not a big fan of the trophy season, but now that my boat is back in the water, I may have to go give it a shot.
Concern over gamefish species vital to Virginia, U.S. economies
A recent report from the Striped Bass Technical Committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) found higher-than-expected harvest rates for Atlantic striped bass in 2022. Those numbers show a management effort to restore striped bass stocks to 1996 levels by 2029 is in jeopardy.
So, why is that 1996 number so important?
“That is important because that ’96 metric is the apex of the population in recorded history,” said Martin Gary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. “It’s a really lofty goal.”
The various states that belong to the ASMFC had set 2029 to meet that goal, and the effort looked to be on track until the latest harvest numbers came out.
Part of the issue is the last above-average Atlantic striper spawning class was in 2015. Many of those fish are of harvestable size. With a large number of fish now catchable, they were targeted more.
When the ASMFC meets next month, action could be taken on harvest regulation or on slot regulation.
Slot regulations require fish to be of a certain size before they can be harvested. In Virginia, the legal slot to harvest Atlantic striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay from January 1 through March 31 is 28 to 36 inches; from May 15 to June 16 the slot is 20 inches to 28 inches; and from October 4 to December 31 the slot is 20 inches to 36 inches. Coastal slots are 28 to 36 inches, and the seasons run from January 1 through March 31 and May 16 through December 31. All other fish not in the appropriate slots for the season must be returned to the water.
Because those 2015 fish are now in the prime harvest range, slots could be set to protect them.