On August 2, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and its Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board voted to extend the current emergency action on striped bass through October 28, 2024, or until the implementation of Addendum II to Amendment 7 of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP).
As you know by now, back in May the ASMFC approved a 31-inch maximum size limit for the 2023 recreational fishery to reduce harvest of the strong 2015-year class. The 31-inch maximum size limit applies to all existing recreational fishery regulations where a higher (or no) maximum size applies, excluding the May Chesapeake Bay trophy fisheries which already prohibit harvest of fish less than 35 inches. All bag limits, seasons, and gear restrictions remain the same.
All Atlantic Coast states came into compliance with the new slot regulations by the July 2nd deadline, with the emergency action in place for 180 days from the time of the announcement, effectively a sunset clause set to expire on October 28, 2023. The August 2nd vote however will carry the emergency action on into the 2024 season.
According to the ASMFC press release issued following the vote, the emergency action responds to the unprecedented magnitude of 2022 recreational harvest coming out of the Marine Recreational Information Program or MRIP. This particular survey utilizes dockside sampling and a mailed questionnaire called the Fishing Effort Survey, or FES.
Acronyms of course are very popular in the government world (ASMFC, MRIP, FES, FMP, etc.) So here’s another acronym made famous in the Garden State by longtime NJ101.5 morning host, Jim Gearhart, that’s worth remembering when the September edition of The Fisherman Magazine comes out next week – BOHICA! I’ll leave you to your own Google abilities to break that down one word at a time, but as NJ101.5 describes BOHICA at their website, “its acronym stands for exactly what the majority of NJ politicians do to us on a daily basis.”
One week after the ASMFC vote to continue our striped bass emergency, NOAA Fisheries convened a series of stakeholder briefings in which they acknowledged how the FES component of their MRIP data collection effort was wrought with “reporting errors and illogical responses,” which generally led to over-reporting estimates of roughly 30 to 40%.
According to the branch chief of MRIP Program Management, the over-reporting estimates were, quote, “a little bit more pronounced for shore mode than for private boat or rental boat mode.” In other words, it would seem that the surfcasting community’s effort numbers were much higher in 2022 than originally thought, which arguably means that ASMFC’s decision to take emergency action on striped bass was not actually based on a real emergency.
ASMFC is also working on an addendum to the FMP for striped bass; specifically Draft Addendum II will consider 2024 management measures designed to reduce fishing mortality and will contain proposed options for the ocean recreational fishery, including modifications to the slot limit with harvest season closures as a secondary non-preferred option. It will also propose options for the Chesapeake Bay recreational striper fishery, as well all commercial fisheries.
A revised draft of the addendum will be considered for approval for public comment in October during the next meeting of the ASMFC. You can expect a series of public hearings on the subject throughout the fall/early winter. Of course, the “bombshell” report on MRIP and FES will also have a huge impact on our 2024 RHL (RHL is the acronym for recreational harvest limits) for fluke, sea bass and porgies in the upcoming season.
But I will tell you this, it doesn’t look good (BOHICA). I’ll have a comprehensive write-up and analysis of this entire debacle coming in the September edition of The Fisherman next week. Mind your waders, here it comes again!