The warning lights have been flashing for several seasons, far too many some would argue. And now, at the risk of torturing this metaphor even more, smoke is billowing from the engine box.
Clearly the striper fishery is overheating from intensive pressure. Which explains the unanimous (7-0) vote by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to enact an emergency closure for its recreational striped bass trophy season.
That season was set to open May 1 in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay, along its coast and in the Potomac. And while it doesnâ€™t yield as many rock as the fall season does, the urgency of the action is illustrative of just how dire the situation is that confronts those charged with managing stripers.
Overall, the science is about as clear as it can get at the moment â€” not perfect but clear: Stripers are in deep trouble. The stock has been below the sustainable threshold for the past six years and over-fishing has been occurring for nearly a decade. Pressure from all sides has arguably been more intense than at any other time in the history of this iconic gamefish.
Some might take issue, or at least raise an eyebrow, to the pronouncement by VMRCâ€™s Steve Bowman that â€śVirginia has always been a conservation leaderâ€¦â€ť given that stateâ€™s overall tolerance for the industrialized pillaging of menhaden in the Bay. (I know, I know â€” Virginiaâ€™s fishery people (VMRC) have no control over menhaden. The state legislature does. Thatâ€™s another column altogether.)
But Bowman is absolutely right when he states â€śthis is a time to step upâ€¦ There has to be a starting point for conservation. However, we cannot act alone. We also need swift and lasting conservation measures enacted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).â€ť
When asked for their take on necessary next steps, Marylandâ€™s Department of Natural Resources issued this statement: â€śMaryland expects to have a better long-term picture of the fishery after the ASMFC meeting. Following that process, with input from our stakeholders and our team of biologists, we will continue working to preserve, protect and restore the striped bass fishery.â€ť
Many blame much of the decline of big Chesapeake Bay rockfish on the gill net fishery, particularly in Virginiaâ€™s winter season. It is worth noting that fishery switched from a tag-based system to a poundage system, and observers note that a tag was worth more on a big fish. Today, smaller rock are targeted, though some watermen do zero in on larger breeders using larger mesh size.
When the coastal fishery management board begins its week-long spring meeting tomorrow they could decide an across-the-board cut in the overall catch is required. If they do, and letâ€™s say they make it a 20 percent reduction, commercial netters in Virginia would likely see their individual quotas cut. If they simply adjust mesh size, then the savings probably wonâ€™t be as impactful.
The ASMFCâ€™s options to cut the recreational rockfish harvest are more numerous. Cap the minimum size, or institute a total coast-wide moratorium on rockfish longer than 36 inches for both commercial and recreational sectors. Curb the seasons. Require tags for all trophy stripers. Mandate circle hooks for bait. And so on and so on.
The coastal recreational fishing community will expect action, and rightly so. The ASMFC could go â€śrapid responseâ€ť in which an addendum to the current plan is needed. Many of us want a more determined path toward long-term solutions, a sea change in comprehensive fishery management across the board â€” one in which an ecosystem-based approach puts abundance over harvest. The board could do both. Itâ€™s their choice.
However it plays out, expect some fairly drastic measures. Hopefully, just in the nick of time.
Through May 15: Marylandâ€™s Spring Trophy Rockfish Season. through May 15. Anglers may catch one striper per day, minimum size of 35 inches, from Brewerton Channel to the Virginia line.
Through May 23: Spring Turkey Season. Only bearded turkeys, bag limit is 1 turkey per day and 2 bearded turkeys for the season. Daily shooting hours April 18-May 9 are one-half hour before sunrise to noon; May 10-May 23 hours one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Through May 5: Annapolis Anglers Club/EVAN Foundation Spring Rockfish Tournament, which benefits research and patient support for neuroblastoma, a rare and deadly pediatric cancer. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 24: Free State Fly Fishersâ€™ Beer Tie, Killarney House Irish Pub, 584 W Central Ave, Davidsonville, MD at 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Contact Luis Santiago (209) 485-5315 www.fs-ff.com
May 11: Kayak Fishing course offered by Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold campus. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Cost is $59. Mark Bange and John Veil, instructors. Register at aacc.edu or (410) 777-2345.
May 13: Pasadena Sportfishing Group meeting. Capt. Mark Galasso of Tuna the Tide Charters. Doors open at 6 p.m., meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Earleigh Heights VFC, 161 Ritchie Hwy (Route 2), Severna Park.
May 26: South River Open Water Swim, 8 a.m. at Sylvan Shores, Riva. Proceeds benefit South River Keeper efforts. Register or sponsorship opportunities at swimthesouthriver.com.
June 8: Kids Fishing Derby 2019, hosted by the Pasadena Sportfishing Group and Lake Shore-Severna Park Rotary Club for children with special needs. Downs Park Fernwood Pavilion from 7:30 a.m. to Noon. Open to the first 75 applicants. Deadline to register is May 30th. Ages 4 to 16 with parent or chaperone 21 years of age or older.
Chris Dollar writes about the outdoors for Capital Gazette. Email news, photos and calendar listings to: email@example.com.