A 49" catch-and-release striped bass. Photo: Flickr/DNR

DNR Offers Charter Boat Compromise on Rockfish Fish-Per-Day Limits

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has offered a compromise to one of the most contentious changes to the state’s striped bass regulations.

Charter boat operators say the modification “helps some” but they’ll continue to fight East Coast fishing regulators in court.

When striped bass were found to be overfished on the East Coast and fishery managers called for a reduced harvest, individual anglers in Maryland were hit with a one-fish-per-day limit. Charter boat guests, on the other hand, were allowed to take home two fish per day. The two-fish bonus for charters was offered as an incentive to reward captains for participating in the FACTS Charter Pilot Program. Those who reported their catches through the FACTS program would get to keep two rockfish per guest.

But this year, amid dismal juvenile rockfish numbers on the Bay, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted in January to tighten coastwide striped bass limits even further, leaving Maryland responsible for adjusting catch limits to fit the reduction.

The 2023 striped bass juvenile recruitment numbers were the second-lowest they’d been since 1957 in Maryland. And they were lower than usual in Virginia, too.

One of the steps Maryland proposed for 2024 was to eliminate the two-fish-per-angler charter exception. Charter captains didn’t take the news well. Rockfish is the biggest draw for Chesapeake Bay charter guests, and business owners said many anglers wouldn’t bother booking excursions for only one fish a day.

Two groups from the state’s charter fishing industry filed a lawsuit in March against ASMFC, calling the new limits “illegal, unnecessary and improperly premised.”

The Delmarva Fisheries Association and Maryland Charter Boat Association and two of their members had a preliminary injunction denied in the case, after a judge determined they would need Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General to get involved. They’ve appealed to the state and to Attorney General Anthony Brown, but so far the state has not stepped in on their case against ASMFC.

One of the members involved in the lawsuit, Severna Park, Maryland, charter captain Ken Jeffries from Sellfish Charters called the one-fish limit “just terrible”.

He and the other charter groups estimate their industry will lose 70 percent of its business over the tighter limits. He points to tackle shops that are closing and an increase of charter captains leaving the business.

Jeffries says, “The DNR did support giving us a second fish,” but the natural resources department is tasked with imposing limits that accomplish ASMFC’s controls.

DNR attempted a compromise, announcing on Friday, “Starting with the 2024 open striped bass recreational season, the special harvester flexibility for the Charter Pilot Program has been modified.”

Under the modification, charter guests this year will still only get to keep one fish per person. However, charter captains participating in the FACTS catch reporting program will be allowed to land “up to two additional striped bass (one for the captain and one for a mate, if present, per day) in addition to their clients’ one-fish per person limit.”

So if a charter captain has eight guests on board, they can keep eight fish plus two for the captain and mate, for a total of 10 fish on the boat.

To learn more about DNR’s new modification for charter captains, you can read DNR’s FAQ flyer and the updated Charter Pilot Permit Agreement.