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Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters
Martha's Vineyard
Surfcasters Association
P.O. Box 3053
Edgartown, MA 02539

ASMFC Spring Meeting Update & Release a Breeder Club (Stripers Forever, Brad Burns, May 19, 2014). Check out the latest on striped bass management.

May 24

Written by:
5/24/2014 9:40 AM  RssIcon

ASMFC Spring Meeting Update & Release a Breeder Club
Stripers Forever, Brad Burns, May 19, 2014

At the annual meeting of the ASMFC last fall MA State Director Paul Diodati told his fellow commissioners that one didn't need to be a fishery scientist to see what has happened to striped bass. They simply weren't there in the numbers that they had been, and that when he looked at the current data, it was apparent to him that action should have been taken to reduce harvest years ago.  In fairness to the managers, the data keeps changing and the statistics didn't look as bad years ago as they really were.  Under the new "models" that are supposed to more accurately estimate the population, the true condition of the fishery is now thought to be more accurately reflected, and it is not a pretty picture.  Fishermen's reports, which are referred to as  "anecdotal data", have displayed warning signs for the last 7 or 8 seasons, so it turns out that they were more accurate than the scientific data.  Diodati suggested an immediate 40% cut across the board for the 2014 season - just the kind of sensible thing that our members would agree should have been done, but his recommendation failed.

There was substantial pushback to Diodati's proposal, mostly from commercial fishing states, but even from some recreational commissioners, who in our view hold the outdated view that people value harvest more than conservation. They wanted to go more slowly and look at the matter again in subsequent meetings.  That is the scenario that has played itself out in the last two meetings.  The ASMFC Management Board gave the can a gentle kick down the road by asking the scientists to come up with some options to reduce harvest by about 31% beginning in 2015 - a calculation designed to keep the spawning stock biomass from slipping into the overfished category.  This ignored the scientists having told them that a 31% cut would not be enough.

Since the Winter meeting resistance stiffened behind party lines with Chesapeake Bay commercial fishermen insisting that they caught the smaller, non-migratory Bay fish and not the increasingly scarce coastal cows, and of course they played the old commercial sympathy card, complaining about how much they needed these fish to pay their bills, and how a 31% cutback would ruin them.  A story in a Maryland newspaper that recently aired this viewpoint showed a gillnet full of stripers on a commercial boat; every one of them that could be clearly seen was a large female full of eggs.  Also not mentioned was that the Chesapeake Bay area Young of the Year index over the last few seasons is a shadow of those in the 1990s and early 2000s which produced today's larger fish.

So that is how the battle is shaping up.  Recreational fishing and environmental groups are calling for stronger conservation measures - SF went on record as asking for a 50% cutback - and commercial fishing groups along with a few old-school members of the recreational community want a go-slow approach, with the 31% cut to be phased in over three seasons and not to take effect until 2015.  This delaying tactic is designed to give them time to claim that no cutbacks at all are necessary.  If it all sounds a bit confusing, it should, because there is very little direction to the plan at all.  Here is the ASMFC press release on the meeting.  Stripers Forever will be making comments to the ASMFC commissioners prior to the August summer meeting, and doubtless we will advocate then for complete catch reductions to begin with the 2015 season.

In the meantime, Stripers Forever encourages recreational fishers to do their share to conserve large striped bass.  A month ago we introduced our Release A Breeder Club program This program recognizes and rewards both guides and individual anglers who release striped bass 36 inches and larger.  The RBC page explains our free program and has links to the online forms for individuals and guides to enter. Their names and catches will be listed on our website and they will receive decals and certificates decorated with Alan James Robinson's terrific striper artwork.  

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