Last year's fishing was good; maybe too good
Published on March 5, 2006
By Jim Gilford
Special to The News-Post
FISHING DURING LAST YEAR'S SPRING STRIPED BASS season was so good it became a problem. Even though recreational anglers were limited to a single fish 28 inches or longer a day, the number of big stripers taken far exceeded the 31,434 fish cap approved for the 2005 fishery in the Chesapeake Bay by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Service (ASMFC).
It was not the first time the spring quota has been exceeded. In 2003, recreational anglers went over the approved quota by nearly 14,000 fish. The overage in 2004 was only a third of that but last spring, when the big stripers from the coastal stock remained in the bay longer than usual, the estimated catch was 65,644 fish, topping the cap approved for the 2005 fishery by 38,910 fish.
The catch estimate -- the number of stripers taken by anglers during spring season -- is based on information collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service's Marine Recreational Fishery Statistical Survey (MRFSS). Log book records maintained by charter boat captains usually yield similar information, although they didn't last spring. Both showed the season catch had exceeded the cap to some extent, but the MRFSS catch estimate was abnormally high.
Pay it back
An overage is a problem because it must be paid back. In previous years, that has been done by deducting the overage from the quota approved for the following year. In keeping with that process, the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board, last October, approved a 55,208 fish cap for Maryland's 2006 spring striped bass season and adjusted it downward to 16,298 fish by subtracting the 2005 overage based on the MRFSS catch estimate.
The 2005 catch overage estimates are based on MRFSS data which was collected under a new sampling regime. The MRFSS catch records differed significantly from entries in the charter boat log books for 2005 and, although abnormally high, they were used to calculate the spring catch and overage for the 2005 season. They also were used to adjust the 2006 cap to account for the 2005 overage.
As first reported, the reduction in the cap approved for the 2006 season to pay back the 38,910 fish overage from the 2005 season left Maryland with an adjusted cap of only about 16,000 fish for its 2006 spring season. Regulations put in place to keep the catch from exceeding the cap would not be fisherman friendly.
The overage problem has its origin in the cap approved for the 2005 season, which was much lower than it should have been, based on updated information about the size of the 2005 coastal striped bass population. Lacking the information to refute the MRFSS catch estimate, the Maryland Fisheries Service decided to find relief from the 2005 overage problem by asking for an upward adjustment of the cap, based on the new population information.
The Fisheries Service submitted a proposal to ASMFC last November to recalculate the 2005 cap for the Chesapeake Bay spring fishery. Based on the updated population information, the case was made for raising the 2005 cap to 56,424 fish, adjusted to 51,744 to pay back the 4,680 fish overage of the 2004 cap.
Approval of a 51,744 cap for 2005 would reduce the overage for the 2005 season to 13,720 fish. Deducting that overage from the 55,208 fish cap approved in October by ASMFC for the 2006 season would result in an adjusted cap of 41,288 fish. Alternatively, if the proposal was rejected, the adjusted cap for 2006 would be about 16,298 fish.
A pay-back plan
Maryland's proposal was considered by the Striped Bass Management Board when it met in Arlington, Va., last week. Maryland Fisheries Service Director Howard King, one of Maryland's three representatives to the management board, proposed paying back the 2005 overage by installments. The first installment would be a 13,720 fish reduction in the spring 2006 striped bass catch to be achieved by raising the legal minimum size for striped bass from 28 to 33 inches April 15 through May 15.
The remainder of the 2005 overage would be paid back through a variety of additional controls in future years on fishing effort. Controls listed for 2007 and beyond included a recreational striped bass permit to enable the collection of fishing effort and catch data to supplement the MRFSS records and limits on spring striped bass fishing permits.
Other possible measures included in Mr. King's proposal to the board, for keeping the spring striped bass catch under the approved cap, involved limiting the numbers of days in the spring season and maintaining the current recreational creel limit and prohibiting possession tournaments before May 1.
It was not an easy sell. Various board members expressed concerns about policy issues unavoidably associated with the proposal. And there were some board members that were not convinced that paying back an overage by installments was appropriate. The board did approve Mr. King's proposal for paying back the 2005 overage on a 7 to 6 vote, with two members not voting.
Having accepted the pay-back proposal, the board approved, without opposition, the 33-inch minimum size, April 15 through May 15, for Maryland's 2006 spring fishery, as well as arrangements to pay back the remainder of the 2005 overage in subsequent years, subject to the board's approval.
The AELR (Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review) Committee will be asked to approve an emergency regulation raising the minimum legal size for striped bass to 33 inches for the 2006 striped bass season, which begins April 15. The increased size limit is calculated to reduce the number of striped bass taken by anglers this spring by 13,000 to 14,000 fish, which will keep the catch well under the 55,208 fish cap approved for the 2006 season.
Maryland's recreational anglers need to credit Fisheries Director Howard King and the Maryland Fisheries Service for finding an innovative yet acceptable way to pay off the overage from a spring when striped bass fishing was so good it became a problem.
A summary of the 2006 recreational striped bass fishing regulations is available at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries...ecregchrt.html
The size limit in the spring trophy season (April 15-May 15) is listed as TBA (to be announced) pending adoption by emergency regulations of the ASMFC approved 33-inch minimum size. The creel limit in the spring season remains at one fish per angler per day.
(Jim Gilford can be contacted at [email protected]