A couple weeks ago, videos began circulating on social media of large striped bass and gizzard shad contained in commercial fishing net. The amount of fish enclosed in the net, which was also tied up to a skiff for safe keeping (presumably), made for a crowded, unhealthy environment for these breeding-class stripers. During these late winter months, striped bass stage in parts of the Chesapeake Bay and other spawning estuaries before migrating far up into tributaries to spawn.
Considering where we are with striped bass–overfished, subject to overfishing, more than 25-year low, and almost done with Amendment 7–this video angered a ton of concerned striped bass anglers. The public comment period for Draft Amendment 7 is now open until April 15th–check out the American Saltwater Guides Association for more info and get engaged to protect these resource. It’s worth highlighting that commercial fishing comprises roughly ten percent of total removals, but killing or harming large, egg-laden stripers before they can spawn is more salt in the wound. Keep reading for the account from the kayak anglers (Brennan Thompson and Chris McIntee) who saw this unfold in real time.
Quick overview of what is going on in the videos…some of this may be sensitive and posting it may be risky. I found a lot of this information out after I originally posted the videos, and it is quite shocking and concerning.
A friend and I were kayak fishing in the Chesapeake for 3 days. We were looking for the pre-spawn striped bass that have entered the Chesapeake Bay to prepare to spawn in the spring. I had some really excellent catch and release fishing one day the week prior, so when we returned to fish for 3 days we were pretty optimistic.
Day 1 of our 3 days we saw tons of life. There were endless amounts of bait and a good number of large bass. At some point around mid-day, we noticed a large commercial boat and 3 skiffs had moved into the back of this bay. At first, we thought they were just doing some kind of shoreline construction work and really thought nothing of it. We later realized they were seine netting for Mud Shad. This was disappointing knowing that large pre-spawn stripers are in the area, but we assumed and hoped they were most likely professionals and would be responsible with any accidentally caught bass.
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At this point they were pretty far in the back of the bay and it seemed pretty normal. Over the next couple of days, they continued to come in and out with multiple boats all throughout each day and began moving their nets out more into the main areas of the bay. They started netting the main areas with all of the concentrations of fish. At this point, the fishing went off a cliff and the bass and bait appeared to be disappearing. We started to get suspicious of how they were behaving, and the fact that they kept leaving and coming back all throughout the day seemed a little bit off.
On the morning of our last day fishing, (at this point the fishing was completely dead) we decided to go over where they had been netting out of curiosity. To our surprise, we found a net still in the water with an unknown amount of large breeder-sized stripers stuck in the net, amongst Shad and other fish. I would say there was anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen bass in the net. Most of which were in the 30-40lb range (all pre-spawn females).
The net was opened up pretty widely and the fish seemed to be alright. We assumed they’re probably going to come back and release the bass and finish landing their shad. As we left and fished we noticed they came back around 10 am but left fairly soon after.
Around 3:30 pm we decided to go see if they had taken the net out or released the bass. This is when the videos were taken. The net had been drawn together and left hanging on a boat. The bass and other fish in the net were all beginning to die, some were already dead. The bass were bloodied from trying to get out of the net and many of their tails were mangled from the nets. At this point, we realized these bass had been in the net since the day before and it was now nearing 4 pm the following day.
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We were now really suspicious these guys had been poaching striped bass. This was one net of what we believe was many more and only one day. They had been doing this for days, and we had not checked any of the other nets those days. We thought if they are trying to poach these bass they were just being really irresponsible in how they were netting and dealing with their bycatch.
We tried contacting Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources which was bizarre. They seemed very unwilling to help us, they were rude and seemed irritated we would call them. Kept giving us the run around “call this number”. We’d call that number and be told “oh no you need to call this number”. Within about 15 minutes of calling DNR all of a sudden these guys whipped back in and began working very fast to dump the bass which were now almost all certain to die or already dead. An officer finally reached out to us and said they would come to investigate but it would take over an hour to get there.
Now DNR has commented that there are NO RULES around having to get accidentally caught breeder striped bass out of commercial fishing nets within any set time frame. This is unacceptable and put a big damper on our trip.