The striped bass is the Middle Class’s saltwater fish. It is highly accessible to anyone, they come in close to shore, they readily take inexpensive lures and bait, and they are distributed across a diverse swath of habitat from North Carolina to Maine. Anyone with even a little access to the coast can take part in enjoying this amazing natural resource. And “stripers” get really big! The allure of catching a fish the size of a small human—with your feet planted firmly on terra firma—is something that gets under your skin. For the vast majority of anglers, it is also the easiest way to step into this unique and rewarding outdoor pursuit of saltwater fishing.
For many, fishing for stripers is also a chance to escape the burdens of the work week and reconnect with family and friends. Whole generations have enjoyed fishing for striped bass together, and many life-long friends are met in the pursuit of this wonderful fish. Family vacations, guys’ night out, and even business meetings are examples of the social connections that are built around fishing for stripers. It is a species that binds us together, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, sex, education or a plethora of other factors.
Yet, the striper is currently in trouble. According to the latest scientific assessment conducted by the agency tasked with managing striped bass, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the species is now both “overfished” and “overfishing is occurring”. The reasons for the current decline are diverse and debatable, but certainly mismanagement and greed have played a substantial role. Now in many places you need to invest many hours or days on the shore to even catch a few small fish. In some areas where stripers used to be bountiful, they have all but disappeared. For someone with a full-time job, or several jobs and a family, it is becoming too hard to catch even a modest number of stripers, and many are already giving up and moving on to other angling pursuits.
This has ramifications for coastal communities. The resulting loss in revenue for all the associated Middle Class business owners are already being felt, from bait and tackle shop owners to local restaurants, and so many others. They depend on fishermen who start showing up in April and will be patrons of their businesses deep into the fall, long before and after all the tourists arrive for the summer and leave again. Without these fish, there are no fishermen, and more Middle Class Americans suffer.
Some may be reading this and thinking, “then just go buy a boat!” While it is true that striped bass are more available to the boat angler, it is getting tougher there too. However, regardless of this fact, a saltwater boat is an unattainable expense for many Americans. Further, hiring a guide can also ensure a greater chance of catching a striper for a casual angler, but this is also cost prohibitive for many families. Even if they can afford a guide, it is typically only a single time per year. As such, catching stripers becomes a luxury item, not something that can be enjoyed on a weekly basis. And as the fishery dries up, guides also begin to suffer as clients lose interest. These hardworking men and women are firmly in the Middle Class and rely on bountiful fish populations; no fish = no clients = no work.
And so, we are approaching an era where a typical Middle Class parent who works a 9-to-5 job can no longer afford to catch stripers. He or she does not have the time or money to fish every night in the hopes of catching a couple small fish from shore, and can also not afford a boat or the cost of hiring a guide. As a result, they lose out on something they love deeply; an opportunity that should exist for all. They are prevented from taking equal part in something they have a right as an American to enjoy, simply because they cannot afford to do it. And perhaps what’s worse is the next generation, the children of these anglers, loses out. They do not have the opportunity to learn about fishing the surf, and all the associated life skills that come with it; patience, determination, and concentration, to name just a few. They miss out on something that should be passed down through families and generations.
But, it is not too late to help. The ASFMC will be making critical decisions on striped bass management in its up-coming meetings. Right now, proposed management measures are available for public comment (refer to last week’s editor’s log as well as www.TheFisherman,.com for details.) Make your voice heard. Contact the ASFMC and tell them you are in support of measures that ensure an abundance of striped bass, that they should do what it takes to build the population back up to healthy levels as quickly as possible and with the greatest chance of success. Tell your friends, your fellow anglers, and share this idea on Social Media. So many movements have started, and succeeded, through these simple measures.
I urge you to act as the time to act is upon us; speak up for the fish, the Middle Class angler, and future generations.