This Winter the Striped Bass fishery was officially deemed “overfished” along the eastern seaboard. In short, what this means, is that that the raw amount of fish are below the pre-determined threshold and that fish have been taken out of the fishery at a faster rate than they have been put back in. There are obviously many causes to a fish population falling, the primary of which is over-harvesting the large fish. Striped Bass mature where they can start spawning when they are roughly 4 years old or 28 inches. At this point the female fish continue to grow and the male fish growth process slows down, so most of the large fish (over 34 inches) harvested are female fish.
Virginia in a great move, closed the trophy season for Striped Bass. This is an incredible decision when the typically slow to move Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board said they would wait another harvest season, until the Fall, to make a decision on new regulations. Well done Virginia for going above and beyond! Read the Article
So this move highlights an interesting relationship between the federal and state governments on managing fish. States are responsible for waters within 3 miles of the coast while the federal government is responsible for waters outside of 3 miles. Famously, since the early 80’s the federal government has kept targeting bass in federal waters illegal. But the states take their lead on regulations typically from the ASBMB. Typically the ASBMB lays out a quota for all Atlantic states and divides that quota per state, based on a variety of factors and than the states implement how they want to manage their fisheries to achieve that quota. For instance, Mass has a bag limit of 1 fish per person over 28 inches recreationally while Connecticut has a slot limit. Most states commercial fishermen are allowed to target a limited number of big fish, in Mass that number is 34 inches.
There is certainly a debate out there looking forward what the right management tool is, which is probably why the ASBMB is dragging its feet. Some say close the fishery to harvest, some say implement just a slot limit, while others say keep just the trophy and allow all the fish to reach maturity.
The other conversation that should NOT be ignored though is the role that the lack of bait plays. It is no secret that scarcity in bait is a serious issue looking forward. Less bait, the the harder it is to feed and as history tells us, less reproduction. Herring, Bunker, while technically not overfished are heavily pressured to a point where there have been changes in quotas to try and stay above the threshold. Squid on the whole is healthy, but what is unhealthy is the localized depletion of the squid.
This article is not meant to scare anyone, more to create awareness. It will be important looking forward, that we not only look to release the fish we catch, but we focus on mortality of our catches and make adjustments to our techniques to reduce mortality rates.