Today, February 3rd, the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board conducted its annual winter meeting. The Board considered a suite of topics, including the Amendment 7 process and a lengthy discussion on how to define ‘bait’ for fishing purposes. The amendment process carries massive implications for the future of striped bass, which are overfished and subject to overfishing and have been for several years now. How the Board moves forward on Amendment 7 will determine the future of striped bass management and the fate of the fishery.
You may remember that striped bass regulations throughout the Atlantic Coast changed last year, due to a declining spawning stock biomass (breeding females) and too many removals (harvests and dead discards). Most states adopted the regulations recommended by the Board: 18 percent reduction in mortality through recreational regulations of one fish per day @ 28-35” for the ocean and one fish per day larger than 18” for the Chesapeake Bay. Several states, however, continue to game the system and circumvented ASMFC’s recommendations through a mechanism called conservation equivalency.
Today, the Board opened consideration of the draft Public Information Document (PID). The PID is the first step in the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) roughly two year amendment process. The purpose of the PID is to inform the subsequent public comment period and answer this primary question: “How would you like management of the Atlantic striped bass fishery to look in the future?” Public comment on this document will aid the development of Amendment 7 over these next months. While some questions remain–did the Addendum 6 regs even work and why is the Board moving forward on the Amendment process without the best available data (COVID effect)–it is time to band together and continue advocating for striped bass.
The PID will consider 10 primary issues: Fishery Goals and Objectives; Biological Reference Points; Management Triggers; Stock Rebuilding; Targets and Schedule; Regional Management; Conservation Equivalency; Release Mortality; Recreational Accountability; and, Coastal Commercial Allocation. Obviously, each issue is complex and carries serious implications for the future management of striped bass. For instance, increasing accountability for stock rebuilding efforts and conservation equivalency programs would strengthen management and repair some of the failures of past managerial actions. Conversely, moves to lower the biological reference points or consider Atlantic striped bass as two distinct stocks would threaten long term abundance are clear attempts to ‘lower the goal posts’ and allocate more harvests. Delaware representatives made their intentions to use Amendment 7 to lower the spawning biomass reference point clear.
The Board considered the PID rather smoothly, with only one brief spat. A surprise addition to the document from Delaware, claiming that striped bass reference points may be “unattainable” under the fishery’s current objectives, was met with opposition. Captain John McMurray, Board Member and President of the Atlantic Saltwater Guides Association, was perplexed with the inclusion and considered the sentence conjecture that would ultimately mislead the public. Unfortunately, discussion on the PID was rather limited, whereas discussion on a circle hook exemption went on rather repetitively for nearly three hours.
Over the next several months, your comments will help influence ASMFC determine how to manage striped bass in the future–and how many are swimming. The PID and public comment instructions will be released by ASMFC shortly. Stay tuned for updates on our platforms and from the folks at the American Saltwater Guides Association. Thankfully, for striped bass, much of the recreational striped bass community is passionate about rebuilding and protecting the stock. Think about the recent uproar on social media instigated by Massachusetts’ proposal to add additional days to its commercial striped bass season. That passion and energy will be necessary throughout the amendment process. In the meantime, consider the good ‘ol days, that storied blitz you always hear about, the fall when the bass were so thick you could walk across them, and how great an abundant and sustainable fishery can be for all stakeholders.