Striped bass were a hot topic at the most recent ASMFC meeting. First, Maryland proposed a one-inch reduction in size by mandating circle hooks for the Chesapeake Bay. Circle hooks will make an impact. Frankly, circle hooks should be mandatory anyway. But, these days you take conservation in any form available. A minimal reduction in size is just one of those trade offs that’s almost expected to move the ball. Second and far more important is the review of the Biological Reference Points (BRP’s) used to manage striped bass.
Back in the early 2000’s, Amendment 6 to the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan was passed. This was a turning point for stripers. The idea was to keep a broad range of age and size in the stock to guard against spawning failure. The decision was also made to manage for opportunity not yield. The board decided to keep fish in the water so recreational anglers could have a reasonable expectation of catching some fish. This decision moved managers to establish new target and threshold values for the BRP’s. In the chart below, the dashed line is the threshold, the solid line is the target. Another way to look at it is that we want to be at the target and can’t fall below the threshold. The threshold determines how many fish we should leave in the water. These metrics are based off spawning age females.
The new stock assessment is due out in the beginning of 2019. Several states are suggesting that the BRP’s are far too conservative. The Striped Bass Board and the Striped Bass Advisory Panel were given a survey to determine their opinion of the current state of management.
There was no consensus among the group. Those who are not satisfied with the current management strategy feel strongly that striped bass are managed too conservatively.
The one bright spot is that the most important of all objectives was to maintain and adequate age structure to provide adequate spawning potential.
The most concerning aspect of this process is the lack of public input. When we fought for the 25% reduction in 2012, it passed due to an overwhelming response from the public who knew that the population was in decline. It should come as no surprise that the states pushing this review of the target and threshold reduction are the states that failed to meet the reductions. The Bay States (Maryland, Potomac River Fisheries Commission, and Virginia) and New Jersey believe that we should increase harvest. This is being led by special interest sectors that want to extract more fish in the short term without thinking of the long game. Again, none of these regions met their commitment to lower harvest.
Here’s the memo that asks for guidance in the form of a survey from the board and advisory panel. Is this really a process that includes the public? Are we all ok with a handful of people deciding the future of a fish that is one of the largest economic drivers on the East Coast? If we want to hold the line on striped bass, we are going to have to build an army. ASMFC will meet in February 2019 to review the stock assessment as well as the BRP’s. You can bet the Bay States and New Jersey will push hard to harvest more in the face of a declining population. We’ve stopped them before, let’s hope we can do it again.