1461 dr martens ASMFC board proposes changes to striped bass management
EASTON An interstate striped bass management board approved changes to coast wide striped bass regulations meant to return fishing mortality rates and the spawning stock biomass back to established reference points. The proposed changes will soon enter a public comment period.
Officials were originally considering a 31 percent reduction in striped bass harvest to account for a stock assessment with numbers through 2012 that show the female spawning stock and biomass stock are just near the threshold level of being overfished, even though admittedly recognizing the stock isn’t overfished and overfishing is not occurring.
“The intention is to minimize the chances of overfishing and bring biomass back to its target level,” said Mike Waine, fishery management plan coordinator at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission the interstate body charged with managing East Coast fisheries.
Waine said the 31 percent reduction has been changed to 25 percent.
“The reason for the change is because we estimated commercial discard in 2013, instead of assuming it constant from the 2012 level,” Waine said. In other words, according to Waine, ASMFC got 2013 numbers in to better estimate commercial discard numbers, or when a waterman throws a fish back into the water.
There’s a “suite” of management options being proposed, Waine said.
Tom O’Connell, head of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries service, said now that the 25 percent reduction has been established, the current question before the board is whether states take that reduction in one year or phase it in over three years.
While O’Connell said the striped bass stock remains “at a very healthy level,” the ASMFC, because of the importance of striped bass and the investment made following a moratorium in the late 1980s, has tried to manage striped bass conservatively.
O’Connell said the possible three year period recognizes that the stock is not at a biological level of risk. It also recognizes the economic value of the striped bass fishery to the commercial, recreation and sport industries, he said.
Recognizing that “a 25 percent reduction would have a significant socio economic impact to fishermen” if done in one year, the board “feels that they could phase this reduction in over three years to mitigate the impact,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell said both striped bass fishing mortality rates and the spawning stock biomass are between the target points and thresholds, thus the stock isn’t overfished, or overfishing is not occurring. Also,
he said the spawning stock biomass has been decreasing for the last 10 years and is close to the threshold, but the striped bass management board wants to make sure that it doesn’t continue to drop.
“The New England states really believe the stock is collapsing, and it’s not,” O’Connel said. “It’s still at very healthy levels, but it has been on a decline, which is leading to the reason why anglers feel like it’s collapsing.”
The Chesapeake Bay is a nursery area for striped bass. It’s where a majority of the striped bass along the Atlantic coast spawn and reproduce.
The Bay’s younger stock then migrates to the coast, which is what New England fishermen are dependent on.
O’Connell said that over the last 10 years, there’s been a lower than average reproduction level and as a result, a decrease in migratory fish become part of the coastal population where New England states fishermen work.
“The fishery along the coast has been decreasing and that has led to a lot of sport fishermen really asking the commission to take strong action because they’ve seen a decrease in an abundance of fish,” O’Connell said. “Chesapeake Bay fishermen also experienced a decrease because of the lower reproduction, but right now they’re experiencing some of the best fishing they’ve seen in years.”
He said 2011 had the third highest reproduction reported, and those 2011 fish are now entering the fishery at 18 inches. That 2011 class will then begin to migrate to the coast.
But there’s other nuances to this, O’Connell said.
For the last 20 years, the Chesapeake Bay fishery has been managed with specific reference points different than the rest of the coast, recognizing Bay fishermen are catching smaller striped bass.
With the new stock assessment the proposed ASMFC regulations are based on, new reference points were developed. But O’Connell said the technical committee hasn’t been able to nail down and come to a consensus on specific reference points for the Bay.
“The ASMFC is trying to get a 25 percent reduction to protect female fish, so they’re not accounting for the fact that we have a predominantly male fishery in the Chesapeake Bay,” O’Connell said.
He said the reduction in the Chesapeake handed down by the ASMFC isn’t going to provide the level of protection of female striped bass in the Bay, since it’s predominantly a male fishery, and that is has the potential of being “of significant socio economic impact” and not achieving the desired effect in the Bay.
O’Connell said DNR officials believe that if the ASMFC technical committee continues to work on the Chesapeake specific reference points, it’s going to show that the reduction needed in the Bay is lower than what’s needed on the coast.
“We tried to ensure that this draft addendum has enough flexibility in it that would allow the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions to phase this reduction in over a number of years in the hopes that Chesapeake Bay reference points can be developed soon and we can make the necessary reductions then,” O’Connell said.