Overfishing and four straight sub-par spawning seasons prompt governing body to increase restrictions on prized angling species along the Atlantic coast through October 2023.
It’s the bad news that’s been spreading through fish towns all along the Eastern Seaboard. At its May 2, 2023, meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) took the rare step of introducing emergency measures to protect striped bass (aka rockfish) spawning stocks.
“This action responds to the unprecedented magnitude of 2022 recreational harvest, which is nearly double that of 2021,” reads the ASMFC announcement. As a result, commissioners recognized the chances of rebuilding the stock by its target year of 2029 were diminishing. The last year of a “well above average” striped bass spawn was 2015, and the fish hatched that year are now approximately 31 to 32 inches long. To protect this strong year-class of mature breeding fish, the emergency measure institutes a 31-inch maximum size – and that’s coastwide, regardless of state. The emergency measures are in effect through October 28, 2023.
These emergency measures require all jurisdictions to implement new rules as soon as possible and no later than July 2, 2023. Previous maximum size for coastal striped bass slot limits varied by state, with most enforcing a 28- to 35-inch slot for harvestable fish.
“Controlling coastwide fishing mortality is the key to rebuilding striped bass abundance to levels the public expects and deserves,” says David Sikorski, executive director of CCA Maryland and Maryland’s legislative appointee to the striped bass management board. “It’s also important to recognize, however, that striper recruitment issues related to successive poor spawns, coupled with an expanding blue catfish population in Chesapeake Bay, will continue to complicate the longer-term trajectory of this iconic fishery.”
The emergency measure was taken with the future stock in mind.
ASMFC is an interstate agency consisting of the coastal Atlantic states, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The agency was formed by compact in 1942 to manage species that are migratory and thus don’t respect state boundaries. Striped bass is one of the most contentious fish to manage because it’s both an important commercially harvested fish and the No. 1 recreational sportfish chased along the Mid- and North-Atlantic coast.
Further actions could be taken to address the striped bass situation at the ASMFC Summer Meeting beginning July 31.