Commisson delays action on striped bass seasons
A plan to reduce next year’s striped bass harvest by up to 40 percent along the Eastern Seaboard was shelved by regulators who worried that the move would be seen as premature without the science to back it up.
Yesterday's decision means that in all likelihood there will be no major changes dictated by ASMFC for Maryland’s 2012 season.
By a vote of 14-2, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission delayed a decision about releasing a multi-option proposal for public comment until November’s annual meeting in Boston.
The original timetable had called for a 30-day window, ending in mid-September, during which citizens could offer their opinions on four commercial options and five recreational options to reduce striped bass fishing from 10 percent to 40 percent or keep the status quo.
But with the updated striped bass stock assessment due out in mid-September, the timing struck the majority of commissioners as “putting the cart before the horse,” as New York Commissioner James Gilmore said.
ASMFC biologists say that while striped bass are not being overfished, there has been a decline in catches and abundance, as well as low numbers of juvenile fish. Coast wide, the catch has declined 75 percent since 2006 and a fatal disease, mycobacteriosis, has struck at least 50 percent of adult fish in the Chesapeake Bay.
However, the problems have not become so severe as to trigger the mechanisms to dial back fishing effort. Instead, commissioners from the northern New England states proposed action at ASMFC’s spring meeting.
“You talk about putting the cart before the horse. I’m concerned about getting the barn door closed before all the horses are gone,” said New Hampshire Commissioner Ritchie White. “There are no small fish, none. Just keepers. I see the trend getting worse.”
The Maryland contingent, led by Fisheries Service Director Tom O’Connell and supported from the audience by Ed O’Brien of the Maryland Charter Boat Association, sided with the wait-and-see majority.
“There is a tremendous amount of concern, but we really need the details,” said O’Connell.
O’Brien agreed. “I understand the spirit behind the [proposal]. It’s a good concept, but I do think we’re a year too soon,” he said. “Without the numbers, there would be a credibility problem with the fishermen. You would have recreational fishermen against the commercial fishermen. That room would be packed.”
But Patrick Paquette, a recreational angler from Massachusetts, warned the commission, “the mainstream believes we already have enough information. If we hit the triggers, the hearings will be in Congress. The public is expecting something. People are reading about this on the Internet and reading about it in major newspapers in 11 major cities on the East Coast. Our most important fish is clearly showing something.”
Only New Hampshire and Maine voted to put the options out for public comment. The rest of the states are willing to take up the matter in November, with any changes coming in the 2013 fishing season.