The almost never-ending talk this year about impending changes to striped bass regulations for 2020 and beyond made me realize something. I first made reference to it, almost in passing, in my September 2019 Editor’s Log titled, “Sacrifice For Change” when I said the following:
There is no hard cap for the number of fish which we can harvest each year in the recreational sector, and the managers instead try to limit the number of fish we can harvest by setting minimum size limits where it is perceived to be just difficult enough for the majority of anglers to fail to catch a fish of harvestable size on an average outing. When this fails to work out as intended and harvest numbers are estimated as being higher than the stock can support, the size and bag limits are adjusted as occurred in 2014 and as will be the case in 2020.
As I watched the discussion on striped bass management unfold over the past few months it became blatantly clear to me that a lot of the individuals who made comments on which regulation measures they preferred—whether officially via written comment and at a public hearing, or unofficially on places like Facebook and the local tackle shop—did so from the viewpoint that best allowed them to harvest fish in their given waters and by their chosen methods. This was not isolated to any specific user group as I witnessed it over and over again from commercial fishermen, private boat anglers, for-hire owners, for-hire anglers, shore-bound anglers and anyone else willing to weigh-in on the subject. Sure there were some who voiced support for options they felt could actually do some good, but from my viewpoint none of the options could even be categorized as a “best bet” since they each came with just as many positives as negatives.
That is all behind us now as the October meeting has passed and the ASMFC approved, by a margin of 12 to 1, a 1-fish bag limit and a 28- to 35-inch recreational slot limit for ocean fisheries for the 2021 season, or is it? (Check out this month’s News Briefs for a full rundown of all measures that passed and what they mean to you.) As I feverishly type away on my keyboard today the next chapter in the saga is unfolding before my eyes as states and their anglers try to figure out ways in which they can make Conservation Equivalency (CE) work in their best interest. CE is defined as, “Actions taken by a state which differ from the specific requirements of the FMP, but which achieve the same quantified level of conservation for the resource under management.” While CE may work in certain scenarios, this is not one, and here is why.
When the ASMFC set forth sub-options 2-A in Draft Addendum VI, each choice (slots and minimum length options) was accompanied by an estimate for reduction in total removals relative to 2017 levels. This estimate was done coastwide as striped bass is a migratory species and therefore it is managed as one entity. By this management approach, estimates for total reduction on the different choices were not made with CE being factored in as it was impossible to predict exactly what each state might propose. This means that with each option some states would see an increase in harvest, while others a reduction, theoretically resulting in a net harvest reduction overall as noted. For example, if ‘State A’ experiences a 40% reduction in harvest while ‘State B’ experiences a 22% increase in harvest under a given option, the average of the two results in a total reduction of 18% along the coast. However, by states proposing CE to get less restrictive measures to benefit their anglers and lessen the burden in which they bare by the newly-enacted regulations, it only seems logical that the coastwide average will begin to drop from 18% and therefore put us even further behind the mandated reduction minimum as set forth in Addendum VI in the first place.
So here, today, when the goal is to rebuild the striped bass population and to decrease harvest, CE is not a win. Well, to be more accurate, it’s a win in the short-term for those who do not want to reduce their harvest today, but it has the potential to be a loss—and a big loss—in the long term.