Editor’s Log: Too Little, Too Late - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Too Little, Too Late

New Jersey’s back bay striper fishery reopens on March 1, which means targeting and possibly keeping a striped bass from our salty rivers and bays is allowed.  Regulation wise, the striper song remains the same this year with a one fish bag at 28 to 31 inches in length.  New Jersey’s Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) is also set to return thanks to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and its striped bass management board approving New Jersey’s use of the commercial striper quota for the bonus tag program.

That motion, which passed without objection, allows New Jersey to “continue with its status quo tag administration and size limit of 24 to less than 28 inches” through use of a tag system utilizing a portion of a 200,798-pound unused commercial quota in New Jersey.  According to the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, 12,408 anglers and 159 for-hire vessels participated in the SBBP in 2023, resulting in in 8,327 tag returns totaling 52,877 pounds of striped bass; that’s roughly 24% of the total quota, which is quite the conservation surplus if you ask me!

It became clear to me while sitting through the 5-1/2-hour striped bass hearing on January 24 that in terms of striped bass management, recreational fishermen are under attack by many commercial fishing interests, provoked it would seem even from within our own ranks by ideologues throwing bricks through windows and toppling statues.  On top of these ENGO-funded elites riding atop their high and mighty horses, the federal government seems fairly disconnected from our angler management issues as well.  A case in point moment came at 3:09 p.m. during that hearing when I received a NOAA Fisheries press release via email that touted their “collaborative work of the state-regional-federal partnership that develops, improves, and implements a national network of recreational fishing surveys.”

Talk about bad timing; at the very moment that NOAA Fisheries email arrived in my inbox, commercial interests were using those same recreational fishing surveys to successfully argue down their own cuts to help meet the rebuilding goals for striped bass in the ASMFC hearing.  Rather than the 14% reduction that was on the table, the comms managed their striper reduction down to just 7%, and they did so, in part, by using NOAA’s recreational fishing survey data to show how we anglers are the problem.  The commercial sector even attempted to push back their reductions until 2025; mercifully, that motion failed in a 7-7 tie, no thanks to NOAA Fisheries or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, two voting entities who both abstained from casting a vote against commercial interests (the cowards!)

In a nutshell, the reason for last year’s emergency decision on striped bass and the ever-tightening noose of restrictions on critically important recreational species is NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) which shows that high angler effort is upsetting the management apple cart.  Last summer, the federal government admitted that the fishing effort survey component of MRIP is likely overestimating angler effort by as much as 40%, with NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology going so far as to use the phrase “reporting errors and illogical responses” to describe the ongoing survey problems.

After officially acknowledging that their angler effort surveys were a gross exaggeration of reality, NOAA’s science office explained in their January 24th press release how they plan on conducting a follow-up pilot study over the full course of 2024 to run side-by-side against the current one.  Our good friends at NOAA are hoping these new studies will lead to “lowering the reporting error rate (which) should ultimately produce more accurate data and resulting estimates of effort.” The operative words there being “should” and “ultimately” I guess, which in terms of our fluke, sea bass, porgies and striped bass regulations in 2024, it’s simply too little, and too late.

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