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The slow-motion crash of striped bass along the East Coast of the United States is continuing, and the main deliberative body that could do something about it (the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, or ASMFC) has kicked the can down the road. That is the gist of a message we received this past month from Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever, a nonprofit conservation organization that is supporting immediate cuts in recreational and commercial harvest. Stripers Forever believes a key need at this point is for all coastal states that host striped bass populations to declare stripers a sportfish.
In technical language, what ASMFC did recently is adopt a new stock assessment for striped bass that pegs fish numbers slightly above the overfished threshold, and that provided the rationale for postponing a cut in recreational and commercial harvest quotas until 2015. Never mind that the assessment also indicated that spawning stock biomass is below the level set to provide a cushion against bad spawning years and below the level necessary to provide quality recreational fishing. Never mind also that the cheery conclusion completely ignores data that is emerging from another important source – namely, the Chesapeake Bay Young of the Year survey.
“In 2012, the young-of-year count in Chesapeake Bay was the worst ever recorded, and 2013 was also below average,” Burns says. “The Hudson River, which is a very distant second to the Chesapeake Bay in the production of baby stripers, has also now had three years of poor spawning success. While no one can prove exactly why this has occurred, it all began to go wrong when commercial quotas and recreational bag limits were dramatically increased in the 1990s.
“Longtime observers will remember that we have been here before with striped bass populations. They collapsed in the late 1970s and, back then, everything from pollution to sun spots was blamed. However, as soon as fishing mortality was eliminated, striped bass rebounded. In spite of all the great science we have today, we simply do not understand how much fishing mortality striped bass can handle and still maintain a robust population. Clearly, it must be lower than it is today.”
“Where does all this leave us? If you extend all the trends on the graphs, it is nearly certain that the striped bass spawning stock biomass is already below the overfished threshold level. In fact, we are now back at levels that have not been seen since the last population crash. ASMFC has essentially thrown away the striped bass recovery that created so many socioeconomic benefits along the East Coast. Unfortunately, it is not at all impossible to imagine that they will be unwilling to make the cuts needed in 2015 to start down the long road to bringing striped bass back to where they were 10 to 12 years ago.”
Don Causey Note: Here at the Angling Report, we don’t do a lot of lobbying for causes and organizations, but we do think this fight to save the striper is important, and we think Stripers Forever is waging a good, sensible fight that has a chance of success. The organization deserves your support. You can join for free at www.stripersforever.org. But don’t end your commitment there. Burns says the main reason that ASMFC manages striped bass for harvest yield rather than for good fishing is the docility of recreational fishermen. “Anglers simply aren’t making themselves heard to the extent needed to change the old-school values held by many ASMFC commissioners,” Burns says. “Stripers Forever is trying to do something about that. Please help us.”