Well the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is at again. They are refusing to recover and rebuild the striped bass stock. Yes, you probably should have come to expect this at this point. ASMFC spent the last couple of months reviewing hundreds of public comments and conducting hearings on the proposed actions to reduce striped bass mortality by 18 percent. Overall, there was encouraging public support for reversing the ongoing trends in the striped bass stock.

Leading up to the October 30th meeting, I was optimistic. Many of the hearings were widely attended; people I wouldn’t have expected to get involved were submitting comments advocating for conservation; and, during my local meeting, the ASMFC official told me the clear majority of comments were in support of equal reductions through one ocean striped bass at 35″ and one Chesapeake Bay striped bass at 18″.

These indicators all pointed to a realistic possibility of recovering the striped bass stock in the timeliest manner given the set of available options ASMFC developed. A coast-wide implementation one striper at 35″ appeared to be the most rational because it was previously used to recover striped bass after the near collapse in the 1908’s. And the 35″ option received 72 percent of the support for the equal reduction sub options.

From ASMFC

However, with this information, the Board approved Option 2 and sub-option 2-A2, one fish at 28″-35″ slot. This sub-option received 17 percent of support.

There are two important caveats to the Board’s decision to implement a slot limit to achieve a 18 percent coast wide reduction in striped bass mortality. First, the public overwhelmingly wanted something else. Public support is an essential component to successful conservation–this goes without saying. Second, the possibly of the slot limit working is widely up for debate–even with a 7″ slot, which should include several year classes. Striped bass are overfished and overfishing is occurring. The overfishing portion of that sentence is important because it denotes the population structure–the female spawning biomass–is out of whack.

Amendment 6 requires the stock to be rebuilt (i.e. the age structure and spawning biomass) based on this scenario, but I do not see how a slot will efficiently recover and rebuild the stock. Sure, if the stock’s age structure was well-distributed and we had a healthy spawning biomass, then sure a slot limit would work.

But today we don’t have this, so the slot will put intensified pressures on several year classes. In turn, this may lessen the probability of meeting long-term rebuilding goals. Regardless, I would be thrilled to see this decision prove successful.

What was once the norm, courtesy of @NorthBarMedia

There were a couple of beneficial decisions to come out the ASMFC meeting. The Board voted to mandate circle hooks for all bait fishing. This is a very commendable and common-sense action by Board that will help decrease release mortality–kudos. And, the Board voted to find Virginia out of compliance for its Chesapeake Bay menhaden reduction fishery. This is a complex topic, but essentially now the Secretary of Commerce (who may be napping) will decide whether to impose a federal moratorium on the fishery. Omega Protein–the only company participating in this fishery–should not be allowed to willingly exploit menhaden, which is an immensely important species in the Bay’s food chain.

There is a lot to take in from this meeting and, in the end, none of it may matter due to conservation equivalency. But it is important to remember that–to a degree–these liberal (not in the political sense) reductions can be unimportant. If recreational fishermen fully understand that they are killing too many striped bass and correct that, then striped bass can be saved. But, as great as that would be, it is a pipe dream.

Photo courtesy of @NorthBarMedia

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This article was written by Flylords’ Conservation Editor, Will Poston.