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Fisheries Managers Vote to Take Action on Rockfish Overfishing

Changes are coming to the East Coast striped bass fishing rules in response to overfishing. But what changes, exactly? The public will have a chance to weigh in.

On Tuesday the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) unanimously approved a number of options to reduce striped bass fishing mortality along the Atlantic coast and in Chesapeake Bay. The proposal, an addendum to the existing striper management plan, is necessary due to an alarming decline in the population of this iconic sport fish, as previously reported by Bay Bulletin’s Wild Chesapeake column.

Fisheries biologists have determined that rockfish are being over-fished, which triggers action to make coast-wide changes prior to the 2020 fishing season.

During the nearly four-hour meeting, opinions and suggestions varied among commissioners as to how to achieve the necessary reductions. But all of the commissioners agreed that action needs to be swift to slow the decline and begin to rebuild the stock.

Last week, Virginia’s fishery board closed their recreational trophy season, an indication of just how urgent the situation has become. Other coastal states followed with preemptive steps to reduce the pressure on stripers. At Tuesday’s meeting, a member of the Virginia delegation mentioned the possibility that Virginia may consider issuing mandatory tags that anglers would need to keep just one trophy rockfish, 36 inches or longer, for the season.

The 2018 Atlantic Striped Bass Benchmark Stock Assessment indicates the resource is overfished and experiencing overfishing relative to the updated reference points defined in the assessment. Decline of large breeding sized rockfish particularly worrisome. Source: ASMFC

The 2018 Atlantic Striped Bass Benchmark Stock Assessment indicates the resource is overfished and experiencing overfishing relative to the updated reference points defined in the assessment. Decline of large breeding sized rockfish particularly worrisome. Source: ASMFC

Mike Luisi, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service division director and Maryland delegation member lobbied to add language that would “apply needed reductions to the recreational sector only.” Some commissioners said this idea caused them “heartburn,” and ultimately, they voted down that potential addition to the motion. 

Members also debated the words “equally,” “equitably,” and “proportionally” to try and come to consensus on precise language regarding reductions to both commercial and recreational sectors. Final options under consideration in the addendum are:

  • Minimum fish sizes for the coast and the Chesapeake Bay. 
  • Slot limit to prohibit the harvest of fish over 40 inches. 
  • Mandatory use of circle hooks when fishing with bait to reduce discard mortality. 
  • A provision to allow seasonal closures in conservation equivalency proposals. 
  • Reductions applied equally to both commercial and recreational sectors.

The next step is to formally release the proposal to the public so stakeholders will have opportunities to weigh in on the options before the ASMFC meets again in August. At that meeting, the ASMFC would likely incorporate public feedback and fine-tune the plan to make a final decision at its October meeting.

Many conservation-minded anglers would like to see the ASMFC take up significant, long-term reforms to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass (February 2003), considering that conditions have changed since it was first adopted. 

 -Capt. Chris Dollar