Despite Pockets of Abundance, Bass Numbers Are Down, 2012 Rules May Change

There’s good news and bad news on the striped-bass front these days. Both the good and the bad will almost … Continued

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There’s good news and bad news on the striped-bass front these days. Both the good and the bad will almost certainly be hotly argued as usual when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meets November 8th in Boston to consider changes in striper-fishing rules for 2012.

First, the good news. Young Of The Year surveys of juvenile stripers in Chesapeake Bay were announced last week to show spawning success at near-record levels in 2011. Most stripers appearing along the Northeast coast in spring, summer, and fall come from the Chesapeake, mixing with smaller numbers from other spawning areas such as the Hudson and Delaware rivers. This year, apparently, environmental conditions such as water levels and temperatures were ideal for spawning. So in 4 or 5 years, I and millions of others should start catching fish from the big 2011 year class of striped bass.

That’s a good thing, because it at least somewhat offsets this bad news: Right now, striper fishing coastwide is way off. Despite local and temporary pockets of abundance, the numbers of both fish and fisherman have radically declined over the past 7 years or so.

Don’t just take my word for that. Here’s a quote from an ASMFC bulletin issued last spring, explaining why it might consider fishing reductions for 2012:

“The Board’s action responds to recent trends in the fishery and resource, including a 66% decline in estimated recreational catch from 2006 to 2009; an estimated 25% decline in estimated striped-bass abundance from 2004 to 2008; and lowered recruitment in recent years.”

That all translates to fewer fish and fewer people fishing. And that’s a huge loss to coastal economies from Maine to North Carolina. So maybe both recreational and commercial striper quotas should be cut way back. And instead of being allowed to keep two bass over 28 inches–the rule in most areas–I might get to keep only one. Or maybe commercial striper fishing should be eliminated entirely instead of just becoming even more restricted.

Right now that’s all up in the air. It’s anybody’s guess how the rules might be changed for 2012. I do know that the Boston hearing room will be packed with both recreational anglers and commercial fishing interests fighting over how to divide the pie. I can only hope that in the end striped bass themselves will be the winners.