Editor’s Log: The Nuclear Option - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: The Nuclear Option

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) convenes from August 3-5 where you can expect striped bass management to be on the agenda.  The commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board (Board) is currently working on Draft Amendment 7 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for striped bass in an effort to end overfishing and initiate rebuilding.

“While we are not at the point we were in 1984, the downward trend of this stock is evident in the assessment,” said ASMFC chairman Patrick Keliher of Maine who explained how commissioners were no longer in a position to maintain a status quo while hoping things will revert to what they once were.  “The change is happening too fast and action needs to be taken,” Keliher added.

During the past year of meetings the ASMFC received over 3,000 submitted comments, with the Board approving the following issues for development in Draft Amendment 7: recreational release mortality, conservation equivalency, management triggers, and measures to protect the 2015 year class.  According to ASMFC, these issues were identified through public comment as critically important to rebuilding the stock.

Back in March I wrote up a summary from one meeting I attended virtually, writing how an organization called Stripers Forever was asking for a 10-year moratorium on harvesting striped bass.  My basic question was whether or not saltwater anglers could even target striped bass during a coastwide moratorium, considering the fact that there’s a 9% mortality rate on released stripers. I still can’t fathom how we’d be allowed to target a moratorium-protected stripers if some of these released fish are going to die anyway.

We received a follow-up email from Mike Spinney, a member of the Stripers Forever board of directors, who was a bit of critical of me for “speculating” (“incorrectly” so he added) on what they actually meant by moratorium.  “We’ve been clear that our call for a ten-year moratorium is on the ‘harvest’ of striped bass, which would allow the recreational fishery to continue on a catch and release basis,” Spinney said.

“While the ASMFC may ultimately disagree with us and not offer a harvest moratorium as the options it makes available for considerations later this year, during a time of public input, our position remains that a harvest moratorium is the best way to reverse the decline while allowing charters and guides to continue to take clients out on a catch-and-release basis,” Spinney said, later adding “A moratorium worked in ’85 and in all likelihood it will work again.”

Personally, I don’t think a complete ban on recreational harvest of striped bass is warranted at this point, not given Keliher’s statement that “we are not at the point we were in 1984.” And as I’ve noted before, it’s important to remember that striped bass cannot be harvested for sale in federal waters outside of 3 miles; additionally, here in New Jersey the commercial harvest and sale of striped bass has been banned for more than 30 years.

I don’t mean to disparage Stripers Forever, but that group’s stated mission “seeks game fish status for wild striped bass on the Atlantic Coast in order to significantly reduce striper mortality, to provide optimum and sustainable public fishing opportunities for anglers from Maine to North Carolina, and to secure the greatest socioeconomic value possible from the fishery.”  Arguably, striped bass is a federal gamefish, and it’s already protected against commercial pressure here in the Garden State.

Perhaps I’m biased given that New Jersey is one of only four states (including Maine, Connecticut, and South Carolina) where striped bass is officially a gamefish, but if we’re talking “sustainable public fishing” and the “greatest socioeconomic value possible” in the fishery, I just think there’s more that ASMFC can do to conserve striped bass right now without going the full nuclear option.

Go to ASMFC.org for details.

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