Paul E

Are striped bass doomed? Some conservationists are worried.

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Here's something for those of you who selfishly oppose limits, restrictions, moratoriums, pure catch & release, banning bait - all because you'd rather catch your fish.

 
(Daniel Castro Maia/For The Washington Post)
By Jason Nark
Today at 9:00 a.m. EDT
 

The Dawn Marie is rising and falling in the gray swells, one of a hundred boats crowded together in search of striped bass — sometimes called America’s fish — on the Chesapeake Bay. Captain John Motovidlak, 72, has six fishing customers aboard the vessel, which departed from a dock on Kent Island in Queen Anne’s County, Md. They paid $110 apiece to charter the boat, and they expect to catch and keep a cooler full of striped bass by day’s end.

 

It was likely they would succeed: Motovidlak has a half-century of on-the-water experience as well as a high-tech fish finder that scans the bay. It doesn’t take him long to get over a school of what the fishermen call “stripers,” also known widely in the Chesapeake area as rockfish, a species valued for its white, flaky meat. “Fish on!” one young man yells as his line goes taut.

A few months earlier, a New England-based nonprofit group called Stripers Forever, aimed at protecting the striped bass as a game fish, called for a 10-year moratorium on the harvest of stripers from Maine to North Carolina, including in the Chesapeake, the largest striped bass nursery area on the East Coast. Anglers could still catch striped bass, but every one would have to be released. Many who fish for sport do that already. For Motovidlak, his charter customers and any of the hundreds of other fishermen looking for a meal on this cool June morning, however, a moratorium would mean no fish filets. “What it means is retirement,” he said of a potential moratorium, which, if enacted, would be carried out by state officials.

 

Fish, particularly species known as both sporting fish and table fare like the striped bass, need to be managed, collectively, among the states where they are sought. There’s often tinkering year to year, a tidelike give-and-take of state regulations — such as rules governing how many fish one person can keep — to appease recreational anglers, charter boat captains and commercial fishermen. That tinkering extends to other species of fish the striped bass eat. In some places, like the Chesapeake, Cape Cod and Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, striped bass are intertwined with both the economy and the culture.

Stripers Forever believes the time for tinkering is over when it comes to striped bass. The call for a 10-year moratorium is an alarm meant to wake up anyone who believes the stock is healthy, says Mike Spinney, a member of the national board of Stripers Forever. “Immediately after we made that suggestion, the conversation changed,” Spinney, a Massachusetts resident, told me. “We got lambasted by some, but we received positive reception from others. The fact that people are debating whether this is the right approach is a plus for us. Why do we have to wait for a collapse to take action that is necessary now?”

 

Most of the Atlantic’s striped bass spawn in the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries each spring, and juveniles often stay there for years before heading into open ocean. Counting fish is not easy, obviously, and extrapolations are made based on the size of large breeding females known as cows. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which oversees management of the species for the Eastern states, has deemed the striped bass “overfished,” based on a 2018 assessment. The commission also found the striped bass’s mortality rate was high, meaning too many fish that are caught and released are not surviving.

 

“The stock is declining, and we’ve been seeing that in the stock assessments,” says Toni Kerns, the ASMFC’s fisheries policy director. As a result, the commission told states they needed to reduce the overall “removals” of the fish from the water, whether they are taken for food or accidentally killed. Lowering removals is often done in myriad ways, including instituting open and closed seasons, regulating the size of fish that can be kept and requiring the use of specific hooks aimed at reducing mortality. In Maryland, in June, each fisherman on Motovidlak’s boat was allowed to keep two striped bass between 19 and 28 inches. Everyone caught two legal fish, and plenty of smaller ones were thrown back. Occasionally, small dead stripers floated past the Dawn Marie and other boats.

Spinney, of Stripers Forever, says Maryland is the striped bass’s worst enemy on the East Coast, likening the state to Nero, fiddling while Rome burned. “Maryland is at the top of the list for the continued decline of striped bass and against taking action,” he told me.

Mike Luisi, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Monitoring and Assessment Division of Fishing and Boating Services, points out that managing an ecosystem is not black and white, and that one must take the needs of the fish and all types of fishermen into account when making rules. “We have to find a balance, and that’s not as simple as some people think,” Luisi told me. “There’s a lot riding on it.” The state has had moratoriums in the past, he notes, “but we don’t believe we’re at that point again. There’s other things we can try to do to help the population rebound before we do that. We can reduce the amount of fish you could take home, for instance.”

 Legal-sized striped bass. (Jason Nark/For The Washington Post)

Motovidlak has been fishing so long that he’s used to most regulation changes and rolls with them. It’s the more recent hook requirements that really irk him. Traditional hooks, shaped like the letter “J,” can be swallowed more easily when a striped bass inhales bait. A fish that swallows a hook into its stomach is usually doomed. In 2018, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources required fishermen like Motovidlak to use circle hooks, which have more bent angles meant to pierce the fish’s mouth and lips.

 
Motovidlak says he catches fewer fish with circle hooks and some still get “gut hooked” and die anyway. He hates circle hooks so much that in 2019, undercover DNR officers posing as fishermen on his boat found that he wasn’t using them and fined him for the hook infraction and other violations. “That was my first ticket in 49 years,” he says. “I’m on probation.”

For Nick Li, a recreational angler from Yorktown, Va., who catches 50-plus stripers a year over 40 inches long in the bay and the Atlantic, the thought of a moratorium brings mixed feelings. He knows a moratorium would be best for the fish and his interests: Li, 26, has never kept a single striped bass to eat, only handling them long enough to take a photo before releasing them. “I value them as a sport fish, not for food,” Li says. But he also knows a moratorium would possibly end a way of life for many bay watermen.

On the Dawn Marie, amid all the hooking, netting, measuring, baiting and chumming, Elam Fisher, the patriarch of the family who came from Pennsylvania to charter the boat, seemed puzzled when I asked if he would still visit Maryland to fish if he couldn’t keep any. “No,” he said, after a few seconds. “What would be the point of that?”

Jason Nark is a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a freelance writer.

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Interesting article. I don’t see any issue with a moratorium. Only thing is like he said it would end a way of life for some commercial guys but there’s other fish they could target. 

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That charter boat way of life will end anyway if the captains are opposed to ALL of the reduction measures. I’m not sure there’s a proper solution available. 

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They hit the nail on the head!  It's time for a moratorium or gamefish status, and if I had a say it in we'd be paying for any kind of conservation effort out of Maryland taxpayers pockets.  1 per day at 19" is absolutely criminal.

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I knew that the overfishing was an issue, but I didn’t know it was that bad down in Maryland. I always blamed the lax regulations back in the 80s and prior for the issue. I’m personally fine with the moratorium, but then again it could lead to more poaching in certain areas. Yes, charters will cry about it, just like everything else that changes. But if we want to keep these fish around for out kids and grandkids to experience, then we need to do our part now. Massachusetts has some pretty strict regulations on keeper size (must be between 28 and 35 inches, 1 per day) and I’ve only caught one in that range this season, on the low end. I’m surprised Maryland’s regulation is that low. 

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I'd like to see a complete moratorium. No targeting striped bass for any reason. Release or not.

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Just treat the Stripers like we do Redfish.... have an upper limit. 

 

Anything over 32" or 36" must be released.

 

 

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It is crazy that the state that is the most important to producing future generations of bass has such loose restrictions. 2 fish/day at 19-28" must put a big dent in future breeding stock each year? 

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1 hour ago, KenY said:

Just treat the Stripers like we do Redfish.... have an upper limit. 

 

Anything over 32" or 36" must be released.

 

 

That’s what should have been instituted at least 15 years ago and we most likely wouldn’t be discussing this.

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Posted (edited) · Report post

The science mentioned in this post is 85% wrong with where they Spawn and Migrate been to enough ASMEC Meetings in the past 25 years that it is more a political football for Special Interests Groups with the Most Money Wins Out. When they could never get the Fishing communities to go for CIRCLE Hooks that would have saved 1000000s Regulate the Comercial & Recreational The Same and by Districts Mass. NY NJ- Del- Md Va all of which have different Breeding and Migrations. And NJ Free of Licenses and suffer the most regulations on more than just Stripers. 

Left out of all so-called expert reports is the Numbers lost from Sandy and the Storm just before the Pollution was enough to kill off marine life top and Bottom and Now for some Conspiracy that holds truths all the Off-Shore Grounds and inshore affected by Beach Replenishment, the destruction will take generations to return to normal. NJ does not allow commercial fishing for Stripers.  This is like preaching to a Wall since most Armchair Fishing Lawers  Read a Pc from a report of the Washington Post. Just fact check but most won't.  

 

What the hell let me throw in 3 Mile Island Tocks Island Forked River Stripers by the Millions Killed along with many others did someone say Bluefish Weak Fish on what they depended on for food. Loss of Bukers Millions just this Year from bad waters bacteria NJ NY Years of their absence helped also. But what do I know   

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Edited by Cheeckakoe

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Yes, the striper fishery is doomed...……..again.     :mad:

 

This will be a good refresher for those too young to remember the 1st crash of striper stocks and what was required to save and rebuild the stocks.

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Does everyone who goes on a charter demand to bring home “a cooler full of striped bass”? Couldn’t many of these captains stay in business catching and releasing fish? 

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I believe there will be a moratorium, I feel we are already past the point of no return for the species being overfished. 

 

I don't like it, but I also want my grand kids to be able to fish for stripers. 

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