The future of striped bass fishing hangs in the balance. The struggle between commercial and recreational fishing playing out in the Northeast will determine the quality of angling for future generations.
Within the last decade or so, the Hudson River has produced a bountiful harvest of spawning fish. However, fishing creel surveys conducted up and down the coastline, from Virginia to Maine, tell a different story. The number of anglers catching larger, mature stripers is decreasing.
That means there might be an imbalance in the structure of the coastal bass population. Anglers catch more younger fish overall and fewer of the important mature breeders that are essential to stabilizing the striped bass population. Where did those big fish go?
“With a high size limit, both the coastal recreational and commercial fishing efforts are being concentrated on the larger, mature fish,” said Brad Burns of stripersforever.org. “What anglers get is far fewer of these prime breeder fish in the population than is optimal for a healthy stock. When that happens, the quality of the fishing suffers, the health of the stock suffers.”
Burns is a longtime striped bass angler and has authored several books on the subject. He’s one of those who actually does the math behind the numbers so the real story can be told.
“The 11,000,000-pound commercial, recreational and charter boat quota for the bay area takes out a lot of fish that would normally join the coastal migratory stock,” he said. “The legal commercial fishery — which receives 40 percent of this quota — as well as the large illegal fishery, could be eliminated. It would make it much easier to return a healthy year class distribution to the entire striped bass population over time.”
Then there’s the issue of the pin-hookers — anglers fishing for striped bass who illegally sell the fish they catch. In his research, Burns has discovered that the recreational catch numbers that are developed don’t count the number of fish sold by pin-hookers.
Burns believes that a large number of striped bass are caught in this illegal angling trade. Those numbers are not counted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is charged with managing the coastal populations of striped bass.
The other potential logjam is the commission itself. According to Burns, commercial fishing interests have largely dominated the commission since its inception. That might explain why size limits have been so lopsided over the years in favor of commercial fisherman.
“In states with coastal commercial fisheries, the minimum legal size for anglers is 28 inches, which puts a bass for dinner out of reach of the great majority of rod-and-reel fishermen,” Burns said.
For information and to learn how you can help, go to http://www.stripersforever.org.
Contact David Dirks at http://www.dirksoutdoors.com, or P.O. Box 87, Westtown, NY 10998.