Thursday, May 30, 2024

Charters Still Fighting Striper Regulations

Balmer Sun, Maryland charter boats, anglers grapple with rockfish limit amid population decline

When first mate Steph Shields got the text message, it felt like more of the same.

It was a customer who typically booked striped bass fishing trips on her boat, the Kent Island-based Chasin’ Tail, once or twice per year. But when she told the angler about this year’s regulations, which limit customers to one fish per person, he said he’d have to get back to her.

“That’s what everyone says: ‘We’ll get back to you,’” Shields said. “And then you don’t hear back.”

This year in Maryland, the rules around catching the state fish, known by the nickname rockfish, are among the tightest in recent memory, not counting a moratorium in the late 1980s that spurred a resurgence of the depleted species.

Maryland charter boat crews, who make their living guiding anglers to the prized sportfish, say the catch restrictions have dampened enthusiasm and diminished bookings.

But they come amid troubling population data for the species, including five straight years of below-average tallies of baby rockfish in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay, the birthplace of the majority of the species’ Atlantic stock. The population is considered overfished.

This year, the one-fish limit applies to all recreational anglers in the bay, whether they fish aboard private boats or on charters, which can cost upward of $125 per person. And every keeper must fit within a narrow size limit from 19 to 24 inches long. Maryland officials also canceled the trophy season, a two-week period that previously opened the spring season, during which anglers targeted the largest striped bass after their arrival in the bay to spawn.

Limits for commercial watermen were slashed 7% in the Chesapeake and the Atlantic Ocean this year. But in Maryland, that quota reduction won’t be enforced until 2025.

In March, two organizations representing charter boat companies and other watermen filed a lawsuit against the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the multistate compact that determines fishing regulations for rockfish and a host of other nearshore species. A federal judge in Baltimore rejected their request for an injunction against the rules; they’ve appealed to a higher court.

Charter captains argue the regulations’ impact on charters is excessive.

“Some people straight up say, ‘Man, I’m not coming for one fish,’” Shields said.

Fox 5,  New Maryland fishing regulation has some small businesses concerned

In Maryland’s smaller towns along the Chesapeake Bay, an industry filled with small businesses is concerned about a new regulation centered around the state's fish: the striped bass.

The Maryland Charter Boat Association has about 400 members. People come and pay them to go out on their boats, and they can catch striped bass, also known as the Rockfish.

It used to be that people who paid to go on these charter boats in Maryland on the bay could take two fish per person. Then, in January of this year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission enacted a new rule where these charter boats could only have one fish per person.

The Charter Boat Group says the result of that rule has been devastating for business.

"There have been 19 charter boats that have been sold in the last two and a half months and another half a dozen that are already listed," said fisherman Brian Hardman with Lead Dog Charters. "At one point, it was down 50% to 60% but it’s down, in a lot of cases, 70% to 75% and you can’t survive on that knowing next year might be just as bad as this year."

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is a compact of states focused on collectively sustaining fisheries. The Charter Boat Group and other interested parties filed a lawsuit over this saying, in short, the new regulation was unnecessary and not within the Commission’s authority.

The charter boat companies say the number of striped bass pulled from the bay has decreased in recent years and they don’t necessarily believe the population is declining but rather that the fish have changed its migratory patterns.

In its response, the Commission says this rule change is part of a necessary series of policy changes to ensure the long-term health and longevity of the striped bass population, which they believe is overfished, while arguing that they do have the authority to do this.

I'm supposed to be going out on Monday, for the first time since the new regulations went into effect. 

The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Something Blue up and garnering clicks at The Other McCain.

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