Striped bass declines trigger emergency regulations

Trophy striped bass like this are now off limits to anglers in the Chesapeake Bay thanks to new emergency regulations. (photo provided)

Winter may still be almost over, but the outdoor community is already looking forward to spring when our hunting seasons begin. The overflow crowds at this weekend’s Philly fishing show at the Oaks were proof enough that a lot of people are already looking forward to wetting a line and hooking up with some trout, bass, flounder or striped bass.

Speaking of stripers, when it comes to saltwater fishing, summer flounder gets the nod as the number one target for anglers, but striped bass are a close second choice. And while the flounder population appears to be fairly stable, striped bass find themselves in deep trouble, so deep, in fact, that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) recently created a set of emergency regulations that significantly shake up the bass fishery. Scheme.

A recent press release from MDNR outlined the complex and stringent list of emergency regulations it has introduced aimed at boosting striped bass populations — regulations that have been approved by the Maryland General Assembly Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review, and are effective immediately.

Emergency regulations extend closure periods for recreational striped bass fishing in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Targeting striped bass will be prohibited from April 1 to May 15, eliminating the Maryland Cup striped season. On the Susquehanna Flats, targeting striped bass is prohibited until the end of May.

The Chesapeake Bay is the primary spawning and nursery area for 70% to 90% of the Atlantic Coast striped bass. The emergency regulation aims to protect mature fish that travel through the Gulf and return to the rivers, where they hatch to lay eggs each spring.

Emergency regulations can take effect for 180 days; The state also tracks these regulatory changes through its standard regulatory process that can create regulations that remain in effect for more than 180 days.

These Maryland measures complement additional coastwide recreational and commercial measures established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). On January 25, the ASMFC approved an addendum to the Interstate Fisheries Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass that aims to reduce fishing mortality in 2024.

For Chesapeake Bay recreational fisheries, which include charter boat fishing, the supplement implements a slot limit of 19 inches to 24 inches and a bag limit of one fish per person per day. For recreational ocean fisheries, the annex implements a slot limit of 28 inches to 31 inches and a coastwide daily bag limit of one fish. For commercial fisheries, the addition reduces commercial quotas by 7% in both the ocean and Gulf.

In addition to the approved emergency regulations, Maryland is considering making these new rules permanent. The state is also considering extending the summer recreational and charter boat closure for an additional week, through Aug. 7, and closing the commercial hook and line season during the summer recreational and charter boat closure. Recreational fishermen are currently prohibited from targeting striped bass in all waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries from July 16 to July 31, the hottest part of summer when fish are most likely to die after being caught and released.

Emergency regulations go into effect after five years of below-average striped bass production success. In 2023, Maryland’s annual Young Adult Index, which tracks reproductive success, was 1.0, well below the long-term average of 11.1. Environmental conditions, including warm winters and low water flow, have been unfavorable for striped bass spawning and are considered to be factors causing low spawning rates.

The full effects of declining spawning populations will likely become more evident in adult striped bass populations in the next few years, as juveniles reach maturity and contribute to a decline in the abundance of legal-sized fish. DNR biologists have emphasized the need to protect the striped bass spawning stock in order to enhance the odds of spawning success when environmental conditions are favourable.

A comprehensive assessment of the striped bass stock scheduled for release in 2024 will determine how the species responds to previous management actions taken by Maryland and other coastal states over the past few years.

While attending a fishing show in Philly, I met Captain Chuck Woodfield who runs Elligail Charters out of Rock Hall, MD. Catching Chesapeake Bay striped bass (often referred to as rockfish by Marylanders) has long been the bread and butter of Woodfield’s charter business. I asked the captain how the new emergency regulations would affect his work, and he acknowledged that they were a challenge. There are also other species available in the Chesapeake, he noted, and once anglers fill their one-fish daily limit with slot fish ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches in length, they will likely focus their fishing efforts on the abundant blue catfish. that roam the Gulf.

The blue catfish is a voracious, invasive species that fights hard and is a good food for the table. Adults usually grow less than two feet long but can reach five feet in length and weigh more than 100 pounds. Blue and flathead catfish were first introduced to Virginia in the 1970s and 1980s to establish recreational fisheries. Since then, their numbers have spiraled out of control and they can be found in almost every tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. For Elligail Charters and others, it represents the most viable backup plan for striped bass.

In fact, DNR officials encourage anglers to go after other fish, such as blue catfish and northern snakehead, instead of striped bass. Blue and snakehead catfish are considered invasive species and their harvest contributes to improving the Gulf’s ecosystem.

More information about Maryland’s state fish can be found on the DNR’s striped bass web page. For more information about Elligail Charters, visit their website at www.elligailcharters.com.

Tom Tatum is the outdoors columnist for MediaNews Group. You can reach him at tatumt2@yahoo.com.

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