Striped bass. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Regional fisheries regulators are limiting recreational fishers from catching larger striped bass after unexpectedly heavy recreational catches in 2022 raised alarms about whether the struggling Atlantic Coast population could rebound as hoped by the end of the decade.
The new limit, which went into effect May 3 and will last through Oct. 28, forbids recreational fishers in the Chesapeake Bay and along the coast from taking any striped bass more than 31 inches long, in an attempt to protect a robust population of the species born in 2015. It was imposed by the Striped Bass Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the body that oversees all fishing in state waters along the East Coast.
“Based on concern for the stock and the long-term interests of its stakeholders, the Board acted decisively to protect one of the few remaining strong year classes,” said board chair Marty Gary, who also serves on the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.
Besides the emergency limits, the board also voted to begin considering whether changes should be made to current catch restrictions and season closures in both the recreational and commercial fisheries in order to help rebuild the Atlantic population.
“Recreational fishing pressure on striped bass is increasing just as the population is struggling to recover,” said Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in a statement. “Fish that are caught and released can die, especially if released in the summer when water temperatures are high and oxygen levels are low.”
ASMFC boards are allowed to take emergency actions like this week’s new restrictions when public health and fisheries conservation goals have “been placed substantially at risk by unanticipated changes in the ecosystem, the stock, or the fishery.”
The striped bass board had found that if death rates remained as high as they were during 2022, the probability that the spawning population could reach the 2029 targets set by regulators fell from 97% likelihood to 15%.
Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, said the striped bass declines have led to a situation of “either pay me now, or pay me more later.”
“I always prefer the now option,” he said in an email. “This fishery has been in decline for years, and it is time that they took bold action to save it.”
Recent research by William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science found that 2022 was “another average year” for the hatching of striped bass in Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
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