The Blame Game - The Fisherman

The Blame Game

From April 29 through May 2, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will convene for their annual Spring Meeting in Arlington, Virginia. As a result of the government shutdown that took place over the winter, the 2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment of Atlantic striped bass could not be finalized by the February meeting and is expected to be approved at this meeting. Also resulting from the February meeting, the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board was tasked with presenting some possible courses of action for reductions needed to achieve fishing mortality reference points. Suffice to say, the results of this meeting have the potential to further solidify the divide between anglers of different sectors of the fishery.

Striped bass regulations and the status of the stock was the subject of many a conversation at the fishing and boating shows over the winter, and while no one wanted to take much of the blame, plenty of people were willing to point fingers as to how and why we ended up where we are today. In no particular order, and not to say that I agree or disagree in any way shape or form with any of these factors, below are just a few of the more common arguments presented to me. Some might be accurate, some blown out of proportion and others little more than misdirected paranoia. Please note that I purposely omitted directed commercial and recreational angling as I touched upon that subject in April, and Jim Hutchinson, Jr. did a great job on his Editor’s Log last week on a similar subject.

The Black Market: There is no official hard figure here (how could there be?), but know that it’s likely much larger than we could possibly imagine. With unscrupulous anglers claiming to be both commercial and recreational (to me the moment you cross the line and sell illegally you lose the ability to be recreational or commercial as your fish are no longer counted), this is the largest unknown in any fishery. Insufficient funding for enforcement combined with a nominal fine for those who do receive prosecution has resulted in it being of little deterrent to would-be offenders. The old adage of it simply being, “a cost of doing business” holds true here.

Forage Fish: Depleted numbers of traditional large forage species such as menhaden and river herring (blueback and alewife) mean that striped bass must feed on other, possibly less-nutritious prey. Many of these fish also help to keep our waters clean (see the next listing) and their benefit to the ecosystem goes far beyond providing food for larger predators.

Pollution: From PCBs to mercury to trash to raw sewage to whatever else we dump into our oceans, pollution accounts for some of the fish mortality seen across all species. Compounding this problem is the depleted numbers of species such as menhaden, oysters, mussels and other filter feeders in certain areas, which would otherwise aid in cleaning and supporting a healthy ecosystem.

Seals: Nature’s eating machine, perhaps only rivaled by the cormorant, gray seals are the largest seal common to our waters. Males can reach weights of more than 800 pounds and 10 feet in length, and on average they consume between 4 and 6 percent of their body weight per day according to NOAA. This amounts to around 50 pounds per day for an adult male, and its diet includes fish, crustaceans, squid, octopus and seabirds. Many anglers in the Northeast have hooked into a good fish in recent years only to have it attacked by and lost to a seal.

Sharks: From makos to browns, sharks seem to be far more common on the inshore fishing grounds in recent years than at any time in recent memory. While their impact is likely rather small, even great whites have been documented on many occasions feeding on striped bass hooked by anglers to the point where several videos documenting predations on charter boat catches went viral in the summer of 2018.

Related

Editor’s Log: The Silence Of The Gulls

Editor’s Log: Wave Of The Future?

Editor’s Log: Economic Impacts On Fishing