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ASMFC UPDATE ON FLUKE, SEA BASS & STRIPERS

An update from the latest AMSFC hearings on black sea bass, fluke and striped bass with an eye on 2019 regulations, and beyond.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  February 11, 2019
ASMFC UPDATE ON FLUKE, SEA BASS & STRIPERS
ASMFC New Hampshire Commissioners Ritchie White and Doug Grout show off a striped bass that they caught a few years back (photo courtesy of ASMFC). The ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board is slated to meet again in May where commissioners are expected to begin tackling the issue of the coastwide striped bass decline.

A Benchmark Stock Assessment for the Atlantic Striped Bass was prepared by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) during 2018 and submitted for peer review in November 2018. The ASMFC Striped Bass Board recently met on February 6 in Virginia to discuss this latest stock assessment even though the Stock Assessment Report (SAR) had not yet been approved due to the recent federal government shutdown.

The draft SAR says that the stock is in a state of decline and it will continue to decline unless something is done to reverse that trend. The ASMFC Striped Bass Board is slated to meet again in May where it’s expected that the draft Stock Assessment will be approved as final and a process to prepare a new fishery management plan addendum to get the striper stock rebuilt will officially move forward.

“The Striped Bass Management Board reviewed the preliminary results of the benchmark stock assessment and expressed significant concerns over the continued decline in spawning stock biomass,” said ASMFC executive director, Robert E. Beal. “The Board tasked the Striped Bass Technical Committee to report back on the reductions needed to end overfishing of this important stock.”

“The Board will review the Technical Committee advice and the final benchmark information at its May meeting and decide the timing and approach that will be used to end overfishing and initiate rebuilding of this resource,” Beal told The Fisherman.

The technical aspects of the results of the latest draft SAR are that the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring. On February 25, The Fisherman Magazine’s March edition will go to print with a detailed explanation of these two very different things by contributor Bob Danielson. A member of New York State’s Marine Resources Advisory Council and a hardcore striper fishermen, Danielson will break down the overfished/overfishing definitions while offer some analysis on the ASFMC’s recent findings on striped bass.

In a nutshell, Danielson said to expect options that would allow the SSB to rebuild to the target level set in the latest fishery management plan. “These options could include a reduction in season or increased minimum size limits as well as going to coastwide measures for both recreational and commercial striped bass harvest,” Danielson writes, adding “It is likely that many folks will not be happy with the reductions we will all have to accept to rebuild the stock back up to levels seen in the early 2000s.”

According to Danielson, it’s been implied by some of the ASMFC members that an increase in the coastal minimum size limit to 32 inches or greater and potential reduction in length of fishing season may be on the table for 2020 regulations.

“We know it is going to be pretty drastic,” said John Clark of the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, a member of the ASFMC Striped Bass Board. Expect changes directed at both the recreational and commercial fishing sectors.

Regarding summer flounder, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s (MAFMC) Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Advisory Panel will hold a public meeting, jointly with ASFMC's Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Advisory Panel on Friday, March 1, 2019 from 9 a.m. until noon to review and comment on recent stock assessment information for summer flounder. At this join advisory panel meeting, it also expected that members will review the reports and recommendations of the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Monitoring Committee regarding revised 2019 management measures for fluke.

The advisory panels will also be asked for recommendations on recreational measures for summer flounder in 2019 so that the MAFMC and ASMFC can consider input for 2019 recreational regulations along the Atlantic Coast. Any final action related to the 2019 fluke measures are expected to come on March 6 and 7 when the MAFMC and ASMFC’s Summer Flounder, Scup, Black Sea Bass and Bluefish Boards meet again in Virginia Beach, VA for their March meeting.

On a positive note (depending on how you see the glass, as half-empty or half-full), ASMFC’s Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board approved status quo measures for the 2019 black sea bass recreational fishery. Based on recommendations from its Technical Committee which found a low risk of status quo measures having a negative impact on the black sea bass stock, ASFMC approved recreational black sea bass measures (see table below) for 2019 while finding the black sea bass stock to be above the biomass target and not experiencing overfishing.

ASFMC also approved proposals from Virginia and North Carolina to participate in the February 2019 recreational fishery with a 12.5 inch minimum size limit and 15 fish possession limit (both Virginia and North Carolina will be responsible for adjusting their black sea bass regulations later in the season to accommodate this 28-day February season).