Back in mid-September, the following notice from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) made the rounds. By the time you are reading this, the public hearing will have come and gone (Hopefully you were able to submit your comments already.) but the issue still remains that as of the time of the notice, commercial anglers were unable to catch (report) their annual quota of striped bass as quickly as they had in recent years. Was this due to low success on commercial days? Too low of a biomass to support the quota? Lower angler participation? Movement of the biomass to other waters? Some other factor or combination of factors? It’s difficult to say exactly, but as expected there is a lot of speculation and conjecture about what led us to this point and who is to blame.
ADJUSTMENTS TO COMMERCIAL STRIPED BASS OPEN FISHING DAYS AND PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD
Current quota monitoring data demonstrates that just under 250,000 pounds – approximately 30% – of the commercial striped bass quota remains. In recent weeks, daily harvest levels have averaged about 20,000 – 25,000 pounds. If current conditions persist, we do not project closing the fishery until October. Moreover, current weather projections and typical fall weather may constrain fishing activity reducing our ability to utilize the available quota.
To ensure that the 2018 commercial quota is taken, the Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries is taking public comment on increasing the number of open commercial fishing days. DMF is proposing to increase the number of commercial fishing days for striped bass for the remainder of the 2018 season. This would adjust the number of open fishing days per week from two days (Mondays and Thursdays) to three or four days per week, by adding Tuesdays, Wednesdays or both.
The Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MFAC) will review DMF’s recommendation and vote on whether or not to authorize the Director to take this action at its September 13, 2018 business meeting. Additional notification will be sent out this Friday – September 14, 2018 – to inform the public of the MFAC’s decision on this matter. If approved, these new fishing days will go into effect for fishing week beginning on September 17, 2018.
DMF will accept public comment on this proposal through 5PM on Tuesday, September 25, 2018. Any comment received will be provided to the MFAC and DMF may recommend further revisions to the 2018 commercial striped bass limits based on these comments.
Contrary to what you might expect, I am not going to take a stance and point fingers here today at anyone in particular. While the easy position to take is that the “bad commercial fishermen” are the ones doing all the damage and killing too many fish, the numbers tell a different story. If you look at the data (and accept the numbers as accurate) then you’ll see that the annual commercial quota is far below the annual recreational harvest of striped bass, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). According to their data, “In 2015, recreational anglers harvested an estimated 18.2 million pounds… Of those coastwide recreational landings, Maryland landed the largest percent in numbers of fish (30%), followed by New Jersey (21%), New York (20%), Massachusetts (13%) and Virginia (7%). Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware accounted for the remaining harvest (9%).” Taking this and looking at Massachusetts alone (because that is where this discussion began) we see that the recreational fishery harvested about 2.36 million pounds of fish in 2015 (13% of the coast-wide 18.2 million pounds), and the commercial quota in 2015 was set at 896,813 pounds in Massachusetts. The commercial quota has actually gone down a little bit since that time, with the current quota set at 847,585 pounds for 2018 in Massachusetts.
Not too long after the above notice from DMF was distributed, cries of, “End commercial fishing for striped bass,” and “Make it a gamefish!” rang out across social media outlets. From there it became a battle of com. vs rec. with each side blaming the other for the lack of available fish (a statement in and of itself from which one can infer that there is an admitted problem), but few if any were willing to accept that they themselves might have in some way been a part of the problem.
But alas, as I have written about many times before, very few anglers are willing to accept a hit today in order to benefit the health of the species tomorrow when they can just as easily take away from the guy on the other side of the argument. So long as we keep this kind of divisive mentality, we are all doomed. Unfortunately the one who pays the ultimate price in the end is our beloved friend, the one who has zero say in the matter, Morone saxatilis.