There will always be bass,.....
by Rich Troxler
From my response on another thread
And that's why individual accounts of fishing are not used for assessing the health of any fish stock. And I do understand the reasoning for this. But there is also something to be said for looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck observation, particularly when viewed over a wide range of territory. So I have two points of view, the math/science view and the personal experience view.
From a strictly math/science perspective, unless your data set accounts for the entire range of a species as well as the internal and external factors that effect species (weather patterns, forage abundance or availability, spawning/recruitment, disease, predation (natural, commercial/recreational fishing, etc.), then you are just making assumptions based on incomplete data. It is my opinion that those responsible for determining the health of striped bass and the subsequent regulations, do so based on flawed and incomplete data sets. I also have very little faith in most any government organization to make impartial decisions on anything where money is concerned. Again, these are my opinions.
But even if you take the available data that is a matter of public record, the same data decisions are based on, then the math should tell you something. I would have to go back and dig up the numbers, but they've been talked about enough so that many have already heard them, so if they're off, feel free to correct me.
Basically, other than I think last year (considered good recruitment from the Chesapeake) the last 7 years or so saw almost no recruitment from there and the Chesapeake stock makes up 60 something percent of the total stock. My understanding is that recruitment from the Hudson stock (which makes up the other roughly 30 something percent of the stock) has trended down in recent years, but not enough to make to make the bells go off yet.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that fishing pressure has increased on striped bass over the last decade. I believe that a lot of this has to do with regulations on other species that have caused the recreational industry (I include party/charter boats in this group) to pursue the striped bass, in order to fill the void. Many of those other regulations seem to be based on flawed data sets also, but again this opinion being based on those who fish for them, both for a living and for sport. Certainly the stock of fluke and seabass seem to be healthy and abundant, and many scream at the regulations placed on them as a result. And then there was the debacle of the spiny dogfish being a protected species for all those years.
You probably noticed by now that I haven't even mentioned commercial interests as I'm not pointing fingers or trying to lay blame anywhere, but their numbers have to account for some part of the overall mortality number. We've all seen the video of the boats engaged in high-grading and tossing back large numbers of dead bass back into the sea. These numbers are all part of the mortality numbers that may not be accounted properly by those who do the assessments. That's my only point for bringing this up, not throwing stones.
Then there is mycobacteriosis, a disease that apparently infects about 75% (in 2001) of the Chesapeake stock (this from the MD fish/game website) which can cause a slow death in the fish that become infected. This could very well be one of the reasons for such poor recruitment from the Chesapeake stock. Also, from what I've read, many of the fish examined seem to be suffering from malnutrition, which may address a disruption in the food-chain (i.e. over-harvesting of bunker in that area), all of which should be taken in to account when assessing the OVERALL HEALTH of a species.
So if you accept that fishing pressure has increased significantly over the last decade and that recruitment has decreased significantly, coupled with increased mortality from disease and malnutrition, what does the math tell you? A simple graph using just about any numbers will have one line trending up (mortality) and the other trending down (recruitment) and sooner or later the lines cross.
So from a science standpoint I have my opinions about how and what data should be collected (collectively). I also have my opinions on how that data set should be analyzed. And I have my opinions about how political and economic influences affect the proper management of fisheries in general. The short version is that I think there is a problem with the decisions being made, the data sets they use for those decisions, those actually making the decisions, as well as the external influences and interests affecting those decisions.
Now, from my own personal experience, and this will be short, I firmly believe that the striped bass is undergoing a down cycle. And a lot of the guys from my generation also believe this. Yes, I still catch fish, as there will always be bass to catch, but there are many things happening today that remind me of the 80's. The fish still show in the spring where they should, but don't stay put long. Same for most of the season. If you work hard, you catch fish. But that means little in the big picture.
I also keep hearing a about "the abundance of bait this year". Bait everywhere! Let me pose a simple question. If the number of predators goes down, what happens to the number of prey that they feed on? Cause and effect, all part of a larger picture that needs to be managed as a whole.
BTW, the mid 80's saw a bizarre run of big fish at Block Island, something like 19 fish over 60 and more 50's than could be counted in a 3 week time frame. If you asked those guys if there were any problems based on their personal catches, they would probably say nothing was wrong with the fishery.;)