You may have heard that, in their most recent striped bass stock assessment, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) found that overfishing is no longer occurring for the first time since 2018. This is not a declaration of recovery, so don’t get too overheated about any aspect of that. They are also saying that the stock is still overfished and – taking current conservation measures into account – they feel that there is a nearly 80% chance to rebuild the spawning stock biomass (SSB) to the target number by 2029, a milestone they set for themselves when the slot limit was implemented in 2020.
Like every bit of information we digest these days, various outlets have adorned these findings with so much political spin that it might make you dizzy just looking at it. I don’t want to get too deep into dissecting the political slants that are being hung out there for anyone with even a slight lean to latch onto or bust open like a piñata, but for me, the facts are encouraging. I’ve seen noticeable improvements to the striped bass fishing in the areas I frequent since the slot was put into effect. I have seen more and larger fish, especially during the fall run, which had just not been as good over the last decade; but from 2020 through 2022, I’ve seen much greater numbers of 18- to 30-pound stripers making their autumn run back to the south.
The odd part of the whole thing is that many other conservation-minded striper addicts seem disappointed or even enraged by this declaration that should be seen as a victory for conservationists and striped bass anglers on the whole. It’s almost like many of us have become predisposed to resist satisfaction because admitting that you’re satisfied (or even encouraged) by the way things are going means you have nothing left to fight for… I guess? It’s really kind of odd to push for something, get what you want, see the positive change and, instead of being happy or proud, you cross your arms and shift your focus to an even more extreme outcome. I don’t get it.
I would argue that there is still very much to fight for. Perhaps the greatest goal a conservation-minded angler could push for, is to lower the mortality rate of caught and released striped bass. As it stands right now, the ASMFC assumes that about 9% of the stripers we catch and release die as a result; that means 9 of every 100. It would be naïve to think that any one of us is perfect, especially in this day and age where every fish has to be photographed for social media—I believe that if your fish takes more than 30 to 40 seconds to revive, you’ve had them out of the water too long and their likelihood of survival is low.
There are two ways that we can police ourselves to ensure the best possible chances of survival. The first is an easy one, be ready at all times to shoot your photo and if you don’t think you can pull it off in 30 seconds, have the gumption to pass on the pic. It’s not that important. Your followers will survive.
The second is to take steps to limit unnecessary injury to the fish, I boil this down to simply reducing the number of hook points on your plugs and other lures. Nearly every plug that I fish for striped bass now has only one treble hook on the belly and a thru-wired weight in place of the tail hook for balance purposes. In the few examples of plugs that I feel still require two hooks, I’m using inline single hooks. My results speak for themselves in that I have not noticed a drop-off in hookups, but I have noticed an undeniable drop-off in foul-hooked, gut-hooked and eye-hooked stripers—in fact it almost never happens.
If, by some miracle, we all did these two things and pledged to always take the proper time and care to release each fish, regardless of size and combining these practices with the slot limit and circle hook laws which we are already following, the mortality rate for released striped bass would definitely come down. The onus is now on you, will you take responsibility for your 9%?