Striped Bass Management Heats Up–Will They Rebuild The Stock?

Angler holding a striped bass in the water
Courtesy of Kyle Schaefer / Soul Fly Outfitters

Simply put, striped bass are America’s most popular gamefish. Yet, the species remains at 25-year lows due to short-sighted, irresponsible management. Also, just a week ago, Maryland announced the results of their Juvenile Abundance survey–three years of poor striped bass spawns. Maryland’s survey is a major indicator for the coast-wide population because nearly 70 percent of striped bass use the Chesapeake Bay as a nursery. Things are not going well for this iconic species, which is why many stakeholders and advocates suffered through more than six hours of inaction, with some notable surprises to the benefit of striped bass conservation.

Three years of terrible recruitment provides a grim outlook for the already depleted striped bass stock

The subject of last week’s Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) striped bass meeting was to approve Draft Amendment 7 for public comment. This meeting was a long time coming. Earlier this spring, the ASMFC met to decide what to include in Draft Amendment 7; they put forward management triggers, measures to protect the 2015-year class, conservation equivalency, and recreational release mortality as topics to revisit and possibly modify. Within these topics, there is a great opportunity to improve striped bass management and elevate conservation, but there are several serious landmines to avoid.

For example, Draft Amendment 7 included options to remove or significantly weaken the management triggers, which require conservative action if they’re tripped. There were also some concerning issues of equity in the document. One alternative suggested a moratorium for just the recreational sector. While the recreational sector makes up the majority of the fishery, the commercial side of things plays an indisputable role in the current condition of the stock.

So what happened at this excruciatingly long meeting? Long story short, the Striped Bass Management Board punted, with one caveat. They delayed approval of the draft document until February 2022. However, the Board did make some important decisions that will benefit the ailing striped bass stock:

  • Directed staff to develop a rebuilding plan that will rebuild the stock by 2029 (the deadline, according to ASMFC’s own rules), thanks to Maine Commission, Megan Ware for this measure. This move was a long time coming. The public has vocally indicated their support for rebuilding at nearly every opportunity since the stock was declared overfished nearly three years ago. Former Board Chair, Mike Armstrong, immediately offered his strong support for the motion and added, “I think that this is a lot more important than some of the other things that are in this Amendment 7.”
  • Approved a measure which would hold the Chesapeake Bay accountable for protecting the strong 2015, 2017, and 2018 year-classes. Prior to this motion by Maryland’s Dave Sikorski, the coastal fishery would have been subject to these measures alone, when in fact, these year classes represent a core component of the Bay’s fishery.
  • After some debate, the Board agreed to include a prohibition on using gaffs in the Draft Amendment.
  • The Board rejected a recreational-only moratorium and a unenforceable no-targeting mandate.
  • Unfortunately, the Board removed an alternative that has carried significant public support throughout this entire process, a prohibition on conservation equivalency, arguing it was not their decision and bluntly it wouldn’t happen during final action.

While we do have to wait a couple months to see what the the next version of Draft Amendment 7 will be and even longer for the public comment period to open, there is room for optimism. We will finally have a rebuilding plan with the goal of rebuilding the stock by 2029. Striped bass will need our help during that comment period, especially with the dismal Maryland juvenile survey results, so get ready to fight for this iconic fish.

Cover picture courtesy of Kyle Schaefer / Soul Fly Outfitters.

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