A STRIPER REVOLUTION - The Fisherman

A STRIPER REVOLUTION

This month marks 33 years since I caught my first “targeted” keeper bass along the beach in Ship Bottom.  I’d just graduated from college and was back to treading clams that summer of 1990, just as stripers were making a solid comeback, with spawning stock biomass (SSB) that year roughly twice what it had been only 5 years prior.

It was July 17th – my 23rd birthday – and I blew off clamming for a half-dozen live eels to soak in the surf at 27th Street.  For years I paid more attention to bluefish, fluke and weakfish, but under advice from Pat Hoagland at Bruce & Pat’s (now Surf City Bait & Tackle) I had started tail-rigging eels to liveline via fishfinder rig on the open beaches near groins using an old PENN 710Z fished free spool.  Late that afternoon, I proudly carried a 32-1/4-incher across the Boulevard to the sound of whoops and hollers from folks slinking along in the summer traffic; I don’t know if I could ever be more proud of an 11-1/2-pound striper.

A Polaroid photo of that catch hung on the wall at Bruce & Pat’s all season; later at Christmas, the Hoaglands mailed the picture to me as a holiday card.  One thing that’s quite noticeable as I look at that old Polaroid is how my personal disinterest in hair length and overall tidiness hasn’t changed much over the years, even if that bright red has almost completely grayed over.

 

In graph form, the upward trajectory of striped bass in the 90s looked a lot like Jersey Shore home prices, skyrocketing to a peak of around 225 million pounds of SSB before dipping a bit below the current threshold in the late 90s, only to shoot back up again to a historic 2005 mark above 250 million pounds.  It’s odd when you consider that first 32-1/4-incher I ever brought home came during the young-of-the-year recruitment class season of 1990 which was actually lower than the 2016-2020 classes that now have folks wringing their hands in fear.

This edition goes to print on June 25th, five days after the emergency meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council to decide on whether or not to follow the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) mandate to ratchet down the high end of the striper slot to just 31 inches.  On the one hand, defying the powers that be and calling for a regulatory revolution is the very thing we celebrate this month (Thomas Paine, Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, etc.)  On the other hand, we don’t have much of a “standing army” to back us in any fight for state rights and due process; I certainly can’t picture Governor Murphy in a powdered wig and high atop a white horse, leading us proudly into battle.

To avoid a catastrophic finding of non-compliance and federally-enforced striper moratorium in New Jersey, the council voted 5-2 to conform to the 3-inch slot limit mandate.  Sometime on or before July 2, New Jersey’s recreational striped bass limit will one fish within the 28- to 31-inch slot range.  That’s not to say this battle is over; I’ve heard of “lawsuit” talk with for-hire captains from New England states who are incensed at how this emergency declaration went down.

Thinking back a few decades to that stretch of LBI beachfront, I doubt that red-headed kid with his first striper could’ve ever realized how good things were about to get with striped bass fishing at the Jersey Shore, or how emotionally charged this fishery would eventually become.

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