Photo courtesy of David Redden

Md. Rockfish Proposal Includes Mid-August Season Closure

One 19-inch fish per day and no fishing for two weeks in August: these are the key takeaways from Maryland’s proposed striped bass recreational fishing season.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released its proposal for striped bass limits in response to the Atlantic fishery managers’ coastwide directive to impose conservation measures. In 2018, an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) assessment determined that the striped bass population was overfished and that mortality due to fishing was too high, and ASMFC ordered the states to put new limits in place.

Striped bass is Maryland’s state fish, the most popular for anglers in the state to pursue, so it’s not surprising that fishing reductions on the species locally known as rockfish are proving contentious.

It’s up to the states to determine which specific conservation measures it will use to meet ASMFC’s requirements, and Maryland has been weighing three options for the start of the 2020 Chesapeake Bay striped bass season. After a public comment period, DNR has targeted “Option 2,” a proposal the agency details this way:

The proposal calls for the 2020 summer-fall season in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries to be open May 16 through Aug. 15, and Sept. 1 through Dec. 10. Anglers would be able to keep one striped bass per person, per day, with a minimum size of 19 inches. The season would be closed on all other dates. During the closure period from Aug. 16 through Aug. 31, anglers will be prohibited from targeting striped bass, which includes catch-and-release, charter boats and commercial hook-and-line fishing. During a chartered fishing trip, the captain or mate would not be permitted to land or possess striped bass for personal consumption.

Last year, anglers could take two stripers per day at a minimum of 19 inches each. Some recreational anglers criticize the plan, saying it favors charter captains over individuals who like to fish (charter guests are expected to be exempt from the one-fish limit under an electronic-reporting pilot program). A coalition of recreational fishing interests like BoatUS, American Sportfishing Association, and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Maryland sent a letter to DNR just before the public comment period closed, pushing for “Option 1,” which would allow recreational anglers one fish per day at an 18-inch minimum, wouldn’t allow charter boats any extra fish, and wouldn’t include a two-week closure in August.

CCA Executive Director David Sikorski expressed his disappointment, saying with a plan he believes favors the charter business, DNR has divided the recreational fishery, picking “winners and losers.”

Sikorski says CCA’s priority (after ensuring the measures meet the necessary conservation goals), is “finding as much parity as possible in how folks access their fish,” so that there’s no preferential treatment for anglers who fish from a charter boat rather than a pier or their own boat.

The charter industry isn’t discouraged by the proposed two-week closure in August. Maryland Charter Boat Association Secretary Bob Munro notes, “By that time of the season we normally have plenty of bluefish and Spanish mackerel visiting Maryland’s portion of the Bay, generally south of the Bay Bridge.  And bottom fishing for white perch, Norfolk spot and various species of catfish will be in high gear.”

Pending a fiscal and legal review, the proposed regulations will be opened up to another public comment period from May 8 to June 8, 2020. A public information webinar to discuss the changes will be held May 11.

-Meg Walburn Viviano