Angler Andrew Phemister measures a 46" Striped Bass he caught in the Chesapeake Bay in May 2022. Photo: Maryland Fisheries Service DNR/Flickr

Deadline Looms to Comment on Big MD Rockfish Season Changes

Marylanders only have until Feb. 6 to weigh in about major changes proposed for the upcoming striped bass recreational, charter and commercial fisheries.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lays out its proposed changes to the season here. They come in response to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) just-approved Addendum II, which sets new restrictions for the entire East Coast’s striped bass fishery.

The rules are designed to reduce rockfish mortality, an ongoing problem in the Bay and beyond.

ASMFC’s addendum puts a one-fish limit on recreational anglers in the Chesapeake Bay, only allowing fish between 19 inches and 24 inches to be kept. The one-fish limit applies to anglers in other areas along the Atlantic coast. In those areas, only fish between 28 and 31 inches can be kept.

On the commercial fishing side, the harvest must be reduced by 7 percent. It’s now up to the Atlantic states, including Maryland and Virginia, to implement all the requirements of Amendment II by May 1, 2024.   

Maryland’s proposed changes, for which DNR is currently taking public comments, would play out with shortened recreational and charter rockfish seasons. The state would eliminate the spring trophy rockfish season from May 1-15, eliminate the upper Bay tributaries’ “early season” from May 16-31 (usually open on the Susquehanna Flats, Susquehanna River, and Northeast River) and extend the closure of the summer season from a 15 day shutdown to a 22 day shutdown.

Under the summer closure proposal, all targeting of rockfish by anglers and charter parties would be banned from July 16 to August 7. Commercial fishermen would also be included in the ban.

Maryland DNR says the summer closure is intended to reduce dead discards—fish that are thrown back, but don’t survive the stress of being caught and released in warm water and poor oxygen conditions.

DNR says in its proposal, “Stressful conditions have worsened in recent years with both hotter than average water temperatures and worse than average oxygen conditions occurring over 55% of the time in July and 45% of the time in August.”

The new regulations also take away a special exception to the one-fish limit for charter guests. In recent years, people fishing on charter boats got to keep two fish each, as part of the FACTS catch reporting incentive for charter captains.

So how large is the impact of recreational anglers versus commercial fishermen on rockfish? According to 2022 ASMFC data, 65 percent of the take in the Chesapeake Bay was recreational, while 35 was commercial.

The increasingly tighter striped bass fishing regulations are in response to ongoing population decline and rock-bottom reproduction. In October 2023, the results of the annual juvenile striped bass survey found the worst recruitment in Maryland since 1957 and Virginia’s numbers were lower than normal, too.

In Virginia, the recreational fishery is split into two seasons, spring and fall. The spring season runs from May 16 through June 15. The limit is one fish per person with a size limit of 20-28 inches. The fall season, running from Oct. 4 through Dec. 31, has a one-fish limit with allowable sizes of 20-31 inches. A separate “coastal season” runs from Jan. 1 through March 31 and again from May 16 through Dec. 31 with a size limit of 28-31 inches.