On August 8, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASFMC) set forth a suite of striped bass options to be discussed at upcoming state public hearings – for late-breaking meeting info make sure you’re signed up for email alerts from TheFisherman.com! Anglers will be looking at a few different management options for 2020, like one fish at 35 or 36 inches, along with various “slot” fish possibilities to keep harvest directed at fish from 28 inches to as high as 40 inches (see Changing Regulations: Talking Circles on page XX).
I sat through the 3-hour ASMFC session doing my best to keep an open mind; as you attend these upcoming meetings, I’d advise the same. I don’t see much wiggle room for alternate proposals not already calculated by ASFMC technical folks who’ve run their scenarios against scientific models designed to meet an 18-20% reduction. That 2% variance comes by way of a soon to commence commercial vs. recreational debate, as one plan evenly splits the reduction by 18% for both comms and recs, a second option has anglers taking a larger 20% cut. And that’s why participation in these upcoming hearings is vital!
States will be gathering public input to help devise specific implementation plans to be sent back to the ASFMC by November 31 for board review and approval; it should all be finalized by February. My guess is that by the March 1 opening of the back bay striper season in New Jersey we’ll be fishing under a new set of regulations. And while commercial and recreational fishermen will forever be divided by gear and allocation arguments, what’s most important for our angling community right now is unity. Several activists who’ve been leading a conservation charge on striped bass in recent months have asked others to sign form letters containing a rather troubling sentence – “The striped bass should be regulated so the stock can be enjoyed by all – commercial, for-hire, and recreational communities.” There are only two recognized fishing communities, commercial and recreational. Commercial fishermen of course sell their catch; recreationals do not. As defined by the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) and memorialized by the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Commerce, the recreational fishing sector is defined as “non-commercial activities of fishermen who fish for sport or pleasure, as set out in the MSA definition of recreational fishing, whether retaining (e.g., consuming, sharing) or releasing their catches, as well as the businesses and industries (e.g., the for-hire fleets, bait and tackle businesses, tournaments) which support them.”
Sure, it’s a subtle dig; the letter’s authors would probably say it was unintended. However, I’ve watched a few of these gadflies closely over the past 10 years and see nothing at all subtle in their writings. In the Gulf of Mexico environmental activists successfully divided the recreational sector into two separate components, private anglers and for-hire boats. This so-called “sector separation” threw red snapper into such turmoil that commercial folks who actually own shares of the snapper fishery started chartering “dude trips” where “dudes” like us work deck like ranch hands catching fish for fun that the captains ultimately sell at the dock for cash. It’s similar to how Tom Sawyer got his fence white-washed! It doesn’t help that Congress recently passed a linguistically challenged piece of legislation called the Modern Fish Act which unwisely divides mixed-use fisheries into three fishing components, recreational, charter and commercial.
Added conservation of striped bass is essential at this point as ASMFC deals with an overfished stock. Members of the recreational community – private anglers, marinas, tackle shops, for-hire captains and manufacturers alike – are all in this together; there’s no place for finger-pointing and division in the ranks. Just keep an open mind to what’s being discussed at the hearings, and one eye open for the wolf in sheep’s clothing carrying around the bucket of paint and a Wall Street shareholders strategy for striped bass.