Nearly forty years ago when the Atlantic striped bass were on the verge of disappearing altogether from our waters, the state and federal government launched a study to examine the troubling decline in stocks.

“No one seems to agree on what ought to be done,” said David Allen, a scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, at the time. “If you got 50 experts in the room, you’d get 50 different answers.”

The same words could be spoken today. Fishermen, conservationists, scientists and regulators are all worried about the recent decline in striped bass stocks. But there is widespread disagreement about the cause, and what should be done about it.

Regulators who sit on the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission took significant steps last month when they voted to adopt new rules for striped bass, including lower commercial and recreational quotas, stricter size limits to protect large breeding females and a future requirement for the use of circle hooks for conservation-mind fishermen who release their catch. We know now that even catch-and-release is causing harm, because many of the fish that are returned to the sea die anyway.

The plight of the stripers is an important issue on Martha’s Vineyard, where commercial and sport fishing are both a cog in the seasonal economy and a symbol of the Island’s historically rich natural resources.

So what should be done? There are growing calls among respected longtime fishermen for a moratorium on this historically important game fish.

There is well-known precedent for a moratorium, dating to the 1980s. In 1984 when the state of Maryland adopted a five-year moratorium on fishing for striped bass in state waters. A year later the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby removed striped bass from the competition; the ban stayed in place until 1993. It was controversial at the time — as it would be today — but the derby weathered the storm. And it has always been seen as a leader in the effort to conserve the species, as well as promoting sportsmanship and saltwater fishing.

Striped bass populations eventually rebounded up and down the East Coast, and stripers returned to the derby too.

Today the issues around striped bass have grown even more complicated, in part due to increasing environmental pollution and changing ecology of the sea with warming waters caused by climate change.

Whether or not a moratorium is adopted, it’s time for the derby to lead the way again in helping to further the public understanding of this critical issue.