A positive development for striped bass
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently announced that the 2011 Young of the Year (YOY) Striped Bass Survey is 34.6, the fourth highest measure of striped bass spawning success in the Chesapeake Bay in the survey’s 58-year history. This is also the first really successful year class since 2003, and it comes at a time when most signs have indicated the fishery was in real trouble.
This is certainly a positive development for striped bass, and while this boost to the population is something to look forward to, it is also important to consider these points:
* The number of small fish along much of the coast is at critically low levels. It will take 4 years for the 2011 year class to grow to 18 inches, the minimum legal-sized fish to catch, and only then in Chesapeake Bay. Fishing for all but the big fish highliners will continue to decline until that time. There are some very lean years ahead.
* It will be 8 years before this year class will be 28 inches long and legally available to the coastal fishery. Long before then all but a few remnants of the 2003 year class, which provides most of the current coastal catch, will have died of old age. Current coastal commercial quotas and recreational harvest are clearly excessive considering the gap that exists between the 2003 and 2011 year classes.
* By the time the 2011 fish reach 18 inches, they will be virtually the only stripers left to harvest in both the recreational and commercial fisheries of Chesapeake Bay. Without a large decrease in fishing mortality, this year class will be severely depleted before it can grow to the normal coastal keeper size of 28 inches. Because these fish would then be virtually the only legal coastal size available, current bag limits and quotas would quickly deplete them.
* An additional concern is that no one knows for certain to what extent mycobacteriosis, a disease thought to be fatal to striped bass and wide spread in Chesapeake Bay, will prematurely reduce the abundance of the 2011 year class. Some biologists feel that mycobacteriosis is substantially elevating striped bass mortality; perhaps well beyond the levels used by fishery scientists to calculate future population levels.
* One good game does not a season make. This spawning spike may prove to be just an aberration in a downward trend. It would be a foolish risk to defer conservation measures based on a single successful spawning year that may never reach fruition, and that certainly won’t meaningfully replenish the coastal stock for nearly 8 years.
* The real socio-economic value of striped bass is in the recreational fishery. Due to the decline in the quality of fishing, caused at least in part by current harvest levels, guides have lost their jobs, tackle shops are closing, and we are seeing an overall decline in recreational fishing activity. Fishing mortality levels must be reduced now to preserve the current adult population and maintain recreational fishing economic output.
The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission, responsible for striped bass management, will be meeting on Nov. 8 in Boston to decide if a plan to reduce current harvest levels of striped bass fishing mortality should be developed and sent to public hearing. Some states, especially those with commercial fisheries, will see this year’s Young of the Year survey as a solid excuse not to reduce fishing mortality on striped bass. Look for a follow up e-mail from Stripers Forever in a few days requesting that you contact your state ASMFC delegation, and providing you with all the contact information.
Brad Burns Pres. Stripers Forever
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