CWitek

Might be time to start worrying about the health of the bass population

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The new benchmark stock assessment went through peer review a week ago.  I wasn't on the call, but enough has leaked out now that it's starting to seem like the problems that a lot of us have suspected are real.

 

Every time a benchmark assessment is produced, it tries to incorporate the most recent data and most recent knowledge about the stock in question.  This year's assessment was unique for a couple of reasons.  Managers submitted two population models, one that more-or-less adhered to former practices, and a new model that tried to model biomass and fishing mortality by stock, although the Hudson and Delaware stocks were lumped together and the Chesapeake Stock broken out separately.  In addition, recreational catch and effort estimates were updated in accord with a new and more accurate methodology adopted by the Marine Recreational Information Program, which showed that anglers have been harvesting more bass than previously thought (not necessarily a negative, because the higher harvest also means that there was a bigger biomass to support such harvest, and it isn't impossible that things could balance out and no change in stock status occurs, although that isn't the only possible conclusion).

 

We won't know precisely what happened, and what the stock assessment says, until all of the reports are written and the results are released four to six weeks from now, and I wasn't going to post anything until that occurred.  However, given what I'm hearing, it seems that some foretaste might be in order.

 

It appears that the new model will not pass peer review.  The person who told me that got on the call late, and wasn't 100% sure, although the tenor of rumors since then indicates that was the case.  So at this point, we're looking at a model somewhat similar, although probably not exactly the same, as the one used five years ago, with  updated numbers to reflect the newest and hopefully most accurate data.

 

The word I'm getting there, from at least one person who was physically present at the meeting, was that "it was mostly bad news."  A screen shot from the webinar broadcasting the Stock Assessment Workshop where the Stock Assessment Review Committee examined the assessment read like this

 

State of Stock

 

The current SSB threshold for Atlantic striped bass is the 1995 estimate of female SSB.  The F threshold is the F value that allows the stock to achieve the SSB threshold under long-term equilibrium conditions.

 

Female SSB for Atlantic striped bass in 2017 was 68,476 mt, less than the SSBthresold of 91,436 mt, indicating that the stock is overfished.  The associated Fthreshold was 0.240; F2017 was 0.307, indicating the stock is experiencing overfishing.

 

That's not going to be a big surprise to a lot of folks reading this post, but it does open the door to the question "What now?"

 

My guess is that we're in for another big fight at ASMFC, where the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions, probably allied with New Jersey and maybe Delaware, and cheered on by the six-pack, party boat and commercial fishing industries, will launch an all-out effort to move the goal posts, claiming that the biomass threshold is set too high, that the bass can tolerate higher rates of fishing mortality, and that today's conditions should be viewed as the new normal.  On the other side will be the anglers and fishing guides who value abundance and are concerned for the long-term health of the resource, and will be supporting the "management triggers" in Amendment 6, which requires fishing mortality to be reduced to target (which is lower than the Fthreshold) within one year, and female spawning stock biomass restored to the SSB target (which is higher than SSBthreshold) within 10.  Unfortunately, those management triggers aren't legally enforceable, and ASMFC can ignore them with impunity if it chooses to do so.  Amendment 6 also calls for maintaining a stock structure that will assure the bass' future health, and calls for management that leaves more large fish (15+ years) in the population compared to 2000 levels, but the folks who want to change the thresholds will want to change those goals, too.

 

So the bottom line is that the science is supporting the folks who say that we're having a problem, and that there is probably going to be a big effort by some at the table--but not all--to sweep that problem under the rug.

 

I'd also guess that folks who care about the bass' future shouldn't make too many plans for this summer, because we're probably going to have some fighting to do.

Edited by CWitek

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So, in summary - things are bad, and people will still push for the same harvest at a minimum or at worse what really amounts to an increase in landings. More importantly, they're likely to succeed in this current political climate.

 

I will certainly be involved where I can, I will certainly try but imho - bass are toast. Too few care to do the right thing.

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1 min ago, mybosox3 said:

Gamefish status only

I am sure the enlightened people will come along and tell us why you are mistaken; even though it is obviously important if we are serious. 

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9 mins ago, mybosox3 said:

Gamefish status only

True gamefish status, not just eliminate the commercial fishery for a fish grab for the rec anglers.

 

Eliminate the commercial fishery. Reduce rec harvest by 98%. Allow for retention similar to FLA tarpon. You want to keep one - pay for the permit/tag. Have that cost north or $250 to limit its use.

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1 min ago, Drew C. said:

True gamefish status, not just eliminate the commercial fishery for a fish grab for the rec anglers.

 

Eliminate the commercial fishery. Reduce rec harvest by 98%. Allow for retention similar to FLA tarpon. You want to keep one - pay for the permit/tag. Have that cost north or $250 to limit its use.

Eliminating the commercial fishery would remove those with special disproportionate access to the resource while eliminating a perpetual vote against conservation, leaving the recreational industry as the only opposition to conservation.

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7 mins ago, rollincoal said:

Eliminating the commercial fishery would remove those with special disproportionate access to the resource while eliminating a perpetual vote against conservation, leaving the recreational industry as the only opposition to conservation.

Yes, and they are the biggest problem in that regard. Eliminating the commercial fishery without a significant reduction in rec harvest does nothing to address the issue.

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Now is the time for anyone who is a member of the recreational fishing alliance to quit and send them a letter that their support for party boats and charters has resulted in extensive over killing of striped bass. They represent the party boat and charter owners, not the recreational fisherman. 

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1 hour ago, Drew C. said:

So, in summary - things are bad, and people will still push for the same harvest at a minimum or at worse what really amounts to an increase in landings. More importantly, they're likely to succeed in this current political climate.

 

I will certainly be involved where I can, I will certainly try but imho - bass are toast. Too few care to do the right thing.

The one bright note is that we're dealing with the states, not with NMFS, so the political climate in Washington matters less.  The bad thing is that we're dealing with ASMFC, so there are no legal standards.

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10 mins ago, CWitek said:

The one bright note is that we're dealing with the states, not with NMFS, so the political climate in Washington matters less.  The bad thing is that we're dealing with ASMFC, so there are no legal standards.

My concern is that some of the states at some point will pull a 'NJ Fluke' and get Ross involved in order to get their way.

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34 mins ago, Surfratiam said:

Now is the time for anyone who is a member of the recreational fishing alliance to quit and send them a letter that their support for party boats and charters has resulted in extensive over killing of striped bass. They represent the party boat and charter owners, not the recreational fisherman. 

They sure as hell don't have the best interests of any resource in mind - they are only concerned about lining the pockets of those that profit off the harvest of our public resources.

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5 mins ago, Drew C. said:

My concern is that some of the states at some point will pull a 'NJ Fluke' and get Ross involved in order to get their way.

That could happen, but is more likely to occur with individual states' claims of conservation equivalency, rather than over the threshold issues of reducing mortality and rebuilding the stock.  It's on those first points where we need to prevail, because if we lose there, there is no fallback.

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3 mins ago, CWitek said:

That could happen, but is more likely to occur with individual states' claims of conservation equivalency, rather than over the threshold issues of reducing mortality and rebuilding the stock.  It's on those first points where we need to prevail, because if we lose there, there is no fallback.

got it, thanks for clarifying

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