Va. Cancels Trophy Rockfish Season, Urges Other States to Follow

It’s official- there won’t be a trophy rockfish season in Virginia this spring. Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) has voted unanimously to enact an emergency closure because of worrisome new research about the striped bass population on the Bay.

Trophy rockfish season is officially canceled in Virginia, but still on in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Capt. Chris Dollar

Bay Bulletin reported in early April that VMRC’s biologists called for the spring season to be canceled. And on Tuesday, the commission voted 7-0 to eliminate the spring striped bass trophy season in the Bay from May 1 through June 15, the Coast from May 1 through May 15, and the Virginia tributaries to the Potomac River from April 29 through May 15. Starting May 16 through June 15 fishermen will be able to catch and keep two striped bass from 20 to 28 inches.

The emergency action comes after recent scientific research showed the rockfish population “has been below the sustainable threshold for the past six years and overfishing has been occurring sine 2010.”

“Virginia has always been a conservation leader, and this is a time to step up. The recent stock assessment shows that early action is needed to slow the decline and restore this fishery to sustainable levels,” Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Steven G. Bowman said.

In a letter sent to VMRC two days before the vote, the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association expressed its support for the emergency closure. Apparently 70 percent of the anglers it polled say they’re in favor of the closure.

“As you know striped bass are highly valued by fishermen along the coast and most are willing to reduce their catch if it will help the overall fishery… Some feel that bold action to protect striped bass is overdue.”

VMRC is now urging other states to cancel trophy season, too. Maryland’s trophy rockfish season opened Saturday, April 20 and continues through May 15.

Commissioners want formal conservation measures to be adopted by the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC):

“ASMFC should incentivize and encourage other states to follow Virginia’s lead and take action this fishing season.”

Next week ASMFC will consider the recent striped bass stock assessment.

Bowman calls Virginia’s emergency closure “a starting point for conservation,” and says VMRC will continue to look at other measures to protect striped bass. 

In a statement, CBF Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore said:

“We commend the Commonwealth of Virginia for taking this proactive measure to help protect some of the most important fish in the striped bass population. These large fish are key to helping increase the population moving forward. Closing the spring trophy season signals that Virginia is serious about taking the actions necessary to rebuild the health of this iconic species in the Bay and our coastal waters.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano