“So, how many saltwater anglers are there in the United States?”
If you ask the folks from NOAA Fisheries they’ll say there are approximately 9 million recreational saltwater anglers nationwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the other hand last pegged that number at 8 million. Meanwhile, Jeff Angers, a lobbyist who works on behalf of the recreational fishing industry on Capitol Hill, often uses the figure of 11 million saltwater anglers when providing soundbites. So what’s the real answer? Your guess is probably as good as anyone else’s.
A lot of folks have also been “guessing” as to the cause of the downturn in striped bass spawning stock (breeding class fish). In fact, I’ve had numerous discussions by phone, in person, and by way of dreaded social media as to the usual suspects typically blamed for the current striped bass status.
“It’s the commercial guys!”
The Marine Recreational Information Program, or MRIP, is the survey used to determine the number of U.S. saltwater anglers and the numbers of fish we catch in any given season. In the most recent Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) review of the Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic striped bass, MRIP numbers showed that anglers harvested 1.1 million striped bass in 2017. The commercial sector harvested 592,576 fish, roughly 50% less.
“Then it must be all that dead bycatch by the commercial guys!”
Based on a 10-year average between ’07 and ’16, commercial fishermen in 2017 were responsible for 535,377 dead stripers due to bycatch mortality. That same year, recreational fishermen caught and released an estimated 12 million striped bass, with dead discards based on 9% mortality rate amounting to 1.08 million dead stripers, roughly twice that of commercials.
“The party boats, they’re the problem.”
Actually, MRIP numbers indicate that only about 10% of the total recreational harvest (less than 240,000 striped bass in 2018) can be attributed to the for-hire fleet, the other 90% coming from private anglers.
“Well, I’m strictly a catch and release guy anyway!”
Again, a dead fish is a dead fish; according to MRIP, we keep 1.1 million stripers a year, yet we kill another 1.08 million through catch and release mortality. And according to ASMFC data, the numbers of striped bass that die from catch and release are generally highest in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Then there’s my favorite from across the border, “It’s all you New Jersey guys doing the damage.”
Again, according to MRIP, Maryland’s recreational anglers actually led the way in 2017 harvest with 3.54 million pounds of striped bass, followed by Massachusetts at 2.32 million pounds, New York with 2.25 million pounds, and New Jersey coming in fourth at about 1.72 million pounds.
There’s going to be a lot more finger pointing at the Westin Hotel in Arlington, VA later this month when ASMFC reconvenes to discuss striped bass. We should probably try to get all of us saltwater anglers together in front of the hotel lobby mirror for a group photo.