Occasionally we feature guest bloggers on Surfcaster’s Journal Blog. Today we have a pleasure to present an article from Mr. Eric Brunley, noted author and fisherman whose books many of you have read…Zeno
A BRIEF HISTORY OF STRIPED BASS MANAGEMENT BY ERIC BURNLEY
The current system of striped bass management had its beginnings in the mid 1970s with the formation of the State-Federal Striped Bass Management Advisory Committee. Each state from Maine to North Carolina had three representatives on the committee. One from the commercial industry, one recreational fisherman and one representative from the state or commonwealth’s department of natural resources. I was the recreational representative from Delaware.
Our first meeting was in Salisbury, Maryland and it was a major education for me and I expect many of the others. The first thing I learned was everyone there knew exactly what was wrong with striped bass. The recreational members said the problem was the commercial men, the commercial men said it was the environment and everyone agreed the problem was caused by someone or something else. The trouble with that line of thought was we were all killing as many striped bass as we could and dead stripers do not make little stripers.
Another revelation was many of the recreational fishermen were in fact hook and line commercial fishermen. There were charter operators in New England who would take out parties, allow them to crank in the fish and then the captain would sell the catch back at the dock.
In Virginia wire line trollers would catch tons of stripers around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and sell them to seafood dealers and restaurants. When the stripers ran out, they switched their attention to weakfish.
With both factions having an economic interest in striped bass, it was hard to curtail the catch and in effect curtail someone’s income. In addition to the fisherman’s income there was the money spent on bait, tackle, boats, motors, fuel and all the other products and services supported by the striped bass fishing industry.
Some of our meetings were a little confrontational, but in the end we were able to agree on a few small measures to stop the decline of the species. The first regulation was a 12-inch minimum size for striped bass. Small as that seems now; it was a major milestone at the time.
Then we ran into the big problem; the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission had no authority to enforce any regulation. We would suggest a regulation, the commission would approve it and the states would ignore it. We also found the striped bass stock was collapsing faster than we could create regulations designed to stop the downfall.
Several members of the advisory committee decided that the only solution to the problem was a complete moratorium of catching and possessing striped bass. To this end we began a campaign to achieve that goal. We lobbied our various legislative bodies and even went to Washington DC to lobby congress. In spite of our work and dedication we accomplished nothing.
Two events occurred that finally solved the problem. The first was the passage of a federal law that allowed the ASMFC to stop all fishing in any state or commonwealth that failed to comply with one of their regulations.
The second was the announcement by the governor of Maryland that he was declaring a total moratorium on striped bass. Delaware followed almost immediately and then the ASMFC created a plan that included the moratorium and established the trigger that would restore striped bass fishing. The trigger would be pulled when the Chesapeake Bay Young of the Year Survey reached a certain level.
Soon after the moratorium began I discovered that trawlers were landing striped bass caught in the EEZ at Ocean City, Maryland and selling the fish to markets in the Midwest. This practice bypassed the ASMFC’s authority. At the time I was living in Maryland and contacted my state reprehensive. She was able to write and have passed a bill by the Maryland legislature prohibiting the landing of striped bass in Maryland and soon after the federal government placed the EEZ off limits to striped bass fishing.
Striped bass remained under a moratorium until 1989 when the new governor of Maryland, with strong support from the commercial fishing industry, was able to pull the trigger. In an action that I still believe was taken to insure the trigger was pulled, a new sampling site at Hambroke’s Bar was included in the Young of the year Survey. The count of YOY striped bass was so high at this new site that when combined with the poor numbers from all the traditional sites the average was high enough to reopen the fishery.
Fortunately, the ASMFC was able to create a very restrictive management plan that kept the mortality of striped bass down until we finally did have a real above average YOY.
The striped bass population has improved since the moratorium, but now we are seeing the same decline in the Chesapeake Bay’s YOY that we saw in the 1960s and 70s. With up to 90% of the coastwide population of striped bass coming from the bay we know this downturn will soon be felt all along the coast. We are seeing fewer small stripers in the Chesapeake and a downturn in the number of medium size stripers has been reported all along the coast.
My suggestion would be for everyone concerned with the current situation to pool their resources and put pressure on the politicians and the ASMFC to make some drastic changes. In my opinion, we need to start saving the large spawning females until they have a chance to reestablish the stock. Remember, as Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Captain Eric B. Burnley Sr. has chased striped bass along the Atlantic Coast for more than forty years. For the past thirty-five years he has written about those experiences in any number of national and regional magazines, presented seminars on striper fishing and guided other anglers to successful encounters with striped bass. He is a full-time freelance writer living with his wife, Barbara, in their home state of Delaware. He is author of many books on fishing including Surf Fish the Atlantic Coast
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