Photo: Capt. Chris Dollar

Fishery Managers Cut Striped Bass Catch by 18%

With the Bay’s beloved rockfish in trouble, fisheries managers voted to reduce the coastwide striped bass catch at this week’s Annual Meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).

ASMFC approved an addendum to the fishery management plan that lowers the coastwide striped bass catch by 18 percent for the 2020 season. The move comes in response to the 2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment, which found that numbers are down on the Bay and along the East Coast, and rockfish are being overfished.

The addendum “reduces all state commercial quotas by 18%, and implements a 1 fish bag limit and a 28”-35” recreational slot limit for ocean fisheries and a 1 fish bag limit and an 18” minimum size limit for Chesapeake Bay recreational fisheries,” according to ASMFC.

But states do have a chance to submit alternative regulations through “conservation equivalency” that would still allow 18% fewer fish to be taken from the water.

The addendum also calls on all states to require circle hooks for anglers fishing with bait, in hopes that more fish will survive the catch-and-release process. States must implement mandatory circle hook requirements by January 1, 2021. Maryland became the first state to require circle hooks last year.

All of the other limits detailed in the addendum must be implemented by April 1, 2020, ASMFC says.

Evironmental and conservation groups applaud the new requirements. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) says, now it’s the states’ turn to act.

CBF Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore said in a statement,

“This is an important step in a much larger process to recover the striped bass population up and down the Atlantic Coast. All states in the region must now take meaningful action if we hope to see the iconic striped bass fishery once again rebound.“Virginia has already implemented strong measures to protect striped bass, including closing the spring trophy season this year and reducing fall catch limits. We now look for action from Maryland, which harvests approximately 34 percent of the total striped bass catch on the Atlantic Coast, to implement robust conservation measures for the 2020 fishing season.”

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is also getting behind the ASMFC’s decision.

“Virginia has been leading on striped bass conservation… We are continuing to work with stakeholders to determine how to best meet the overall 18% reduction,” said Deputy Commissioner Ellen Bolen.

For its part, Maryland says it’s already looking at additional conservation measures for 2020.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokesman Gregg Bortz tells Bay Bulletin, “The department had already begun scoping potential date changes to the 2020 trophy season and limits on catch-and-release fishing prior to spawning season.”

Maryland has a public comment period open for some of the proposed changes. Click here for the details.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland (CCA), a conservation group of anglers, praised ASMFC.

“Recreational anglers are key partners in the conservation and management of our fisheries resources, and we will be keenly focused on ensuring that the State of Maryland crafts conservation measures which will maximize the in-water benefit to the fish and recognize the many positive economic benefits that recreational fishing provides,” said David Sikorski, CCA’s executive director. 

Meg Walburn Viviano