The public has spoken, and those state-by-state, two-week striped bass closures debated during the public hearings appear to be out; so too are the proposed spawning area target restrictions. However, some sensitive new “triggers” have been incorporated into the striped bass management plan that could and most likely will result in more regular updates to coastal regulations during the next few years, more so than we’ve seen in 20-plus years of fisheries management.
At their May meeting the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) approved Amendment 7 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic striped bass, establishing new requirements for management triggers, conservation equivalency, recreational release mortality measures, and the stock rebuilding plan.
“Stakeholders clearly voiced their dedication and commitment to the conservation of this species through the thousands of comments we received,” noted striped bass management board (Board) Chair Marty Gary with the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, adding “The Board is grateful for this tremendous public participation and believe that the actions we took through Amendment 7 are reflective of the majority of stakeholders’ priorities.”
Amendment 7 establishes a new recruitment management trigger which determines when the Board must make management adjustments based on young-of-the-year results. The updated recruitment trigger is more sensitive to the lower numbers that have come out of the Chesapeake, Delaware and Hudson recruitment studies of late, and requires a specific management response to low year class strength in the future. The response requires reevaluation of the fishing mortality management triggers to account for low recruitment if one of those triggers is tripped, with the Board now required to take action.
Amendment 7 also updates the spawning stock biomass triggers by establishing a two-year deadline for implementing a rebuilding plan once a spawning stock biomass trigger is tripped. In terms of conservation equivalency, Amendment 7 does not allow such state-specific regulations to be used for most recreational striped bass fisheries when the stock is overfished. Amendment 7 also provides constraints around the use of Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) effort and harvest data for conservation equivalency proposals and defines the overall percent reduction/liberalization a proposal must achieve, including required uncertainty buffers. This effectively terminates the ability for states like New Jersey and Delaware to manage their own season, size and/or bag to meet an approved percentage harvest reduction at the state level.
The last stock assessment found striped bass overfished, with overfishing occurring; the assessment estimated the female spawning stock biomass at 151 million pounds, below the spawning stock biomass target of 252 million pounds that must be reached by 2029 to deem striped bass as no longer overfished.
Since recreational release mortality is a large component of annual fishing mortality, Amendment 7 prohibits gaffing striped bass when fishing recreationally; this new gear restriction, as with the existing circle hook requirement when fishing recreationally with bait, is intended to increase survival rates after a striped bass is released alive. Additionally, Amendment 7 requires striped bass caught on any unapproved method of take (incidental bycatch when using J-hook with bait for other species for example) must be released immediately without unnecessary injury.
For stock rebuilding, Amendment 7 addresses the upcoming 2022 stock assessment and how it will inform efforts to meet the 2029 stock rebuilding deadline. Given concerns about recent low recruitment and the possibility that recruitment continues, Amendment 7 requires the 2022 stock assessment’s rebuilding projections to use a low recruitment assumption to conservatively account for the possibility that the stock rebuilding deadline might not be met based on the number of newly spawned fish. The ASMFC vote also establishes a mechanism for the Board to respond more quickly to any 2022 assessment results – if action is needed – to achieve stock rebuilding by 2029.
Amendment 7 is available for review at www.asmfc.org/species/atlantic-striped-bass.