Tighter conservation measures for striped bass are on the table for discussion this month as fisheries managers and fishermen continue to grapple with a worrisome decline in the popular saltwater sport fish.
A weeklong series of public hearings in Massachusetts begins today on Nantucket on a plan to lower catch limits for recreational and commercial fishermen next year. Similar hearings will be held in coastal states from Maine to North Carolina.
In early August the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s striped bass management board adopted a new set of conservation goals for the coming year, called draft amendment IV.
Striped bass populations are currently at a low ebb. Scientists who trap juvenile fish in the Chesapeake every year to measure their breeding success found that in 2012 the population hit a record low. In 2013 the young of the year index, as the measurement is called, was higher than 2012 but still extremely low when compared with previous years. Warming weather conditions are believed to be a factor but there are many other issues and competing interests. There is concern about the decline in bait fish that adult striped bass feed on and debate over whether more protection is needed for the larger breeding females.
In Massachusetts, recreational fishermen are currently limited to two fish per day and may only take fish that are 28 inches or larger. Fisheries managers are considering reducing the limit to one fish per day and increasing the minimum size.
Commercial fishermen are allowed to take 15 fish per day and may only fish on Mondays and Thursdays. The minimum size for commercial fishermen is 34 inches. The commercial quota for the year was 1.1 million pounds; that quota was met on Sept. 1 and the commercial fishery was closed for the season on Tuesday.
Many states now prohibit commercial fishing for striped bass, including Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Massachusetts has been reluctant to embrace the trend, and efforts to pass legislation making stripers a game fish only have failed more than once in recent years.
Now with the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby set to begin Sept. 14, striper conservation is again an active topic for discussion.
“Between now and October, we want to know what the public is thinking,” said Mike Waine, striped bass management plan coordinator for the striped bass management board of the ASMFC. The board’s 73rd annual meeting will be held the last week of October in Mystic, Conn.
Four hearings will be held this week, beginning with the one on Nantucket this morning and a second hearing tonight at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne. Hearings will be held Sept. 3 in Gloucester and on Sept. 4 in Braintree. A public comment period is open until 5 p.m. on Sept. 30. Comments may be sent to Mike Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.