The 3.1-percenters - The Fisherman

The 3.1-percenters

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will meet from August 6-8 at the Westin Crystal City Hotel in Arlington, VA. The long-awaited discussion about striped bass will take place on Thursday starting at 8:30 a.m. when the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board is expected to initiate an amendment “to address the needed consideration for change on the issues of fishery goals and objectives, empirical/biological/spatial reference points, management triggers, rebuilding biomass, and area-specific management.”

In our April edition, Tom Fote, the governor’s appointee to ASFMC from New Jersey wrote up a brief synopsis of the striped bass situation and itemized a few options that could be on the table, including new size limits (higher minimums or a potential slot), seasonal closures (during the spawn or when the highest hook and release mortality takes place), or education on use of alternative gear (mandatory circle hook requirements for example when using bait).

Striped bass is overfished, and overfishing is occurring; thus, ASMFC has to take action for new regulations as of 2020. And next week’s vote should begin a process by which public hearings to present various options (or a suite of options) will be scheduled with a whole lot of discussion, debate and finger-pointing to commence. In fact, a good friend of mine from out of state recently chastised me a bit for New Jersey’s ability to turn gamefish status into a three-fish bag limit for stripers. Yes, New Jersey adopted a two-fish bag limit back in 2015 when nearly every other coastal state went to one at 28 inches. But the third fish actually comes from the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) which is a little different.

As you may recall, in 2014 the ASFMC required states to comply with a 25 percent reduction in striper harvest for 2015; after analysis by fisheries managers, it was determined that by going to a one fish at 28 to less than 43 inches and one fish equal to or greater than 43 inches, that New Jersey would meet the 25 percent harvest reduction. You can pretty much guarantee that the two-fish bag limit will not be on the table for 2020!

But as I explained to my buddy, that third striped bass in the equation is only available for those who possess a tag issued by the state. Also, it’s only one striped bass from 24 to less than 28 inches, and only from September 1 through the end of the year. Since New Jersey has “gamefish” protection on striped bass, the SBBP fish comes directly from the “unused” commercial quota. Now for a few facts regarding that bonus. In 2018, a total of 5,018 individuals and 142 party/charter boats were enrolled in the program. Based on tag returns to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division), the total bonus harvest last year was 6,786 pounds based on 1,101 fish kept. That represents just 3.1 percent of the entire 215,912-pound quota that would’ve otherwise gone to the commercial sector.

In other words, 438,752 pounds of striped bass, which would’ve been dragged up and sold on the open market were protected under gamefish protection laws in the Garden State. That 3.1 percent bonus harvest amounted to 1,609 pounds of striped bass from individual anglers, and 5,274 pounds from the party/charter boats that participated. There’s room for improvement on our part however. Of the 5,018 individuals issued a bonus tag and logbook for record-keeping, only 1,704 logbooks were returned; out of 142 participating party/charter boats, just 94 logbooks were submitted back to the Division for analysis. This information on catch and effort is critical from a management perspective, and will help significantly in future efforts to conserve striped bass.

It’s going to be tumultuous few months as this striped bass situation gets sorted out. If you’re applying for the SBBP for 2019, remember to do your part and keep accurate logs.

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