At the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) 2018 Winter Meeting held February 6 – 8 in Alexandria, Virginia, a slew of different topics were discussed. While some of the more talked about species this winter included agenda items for black sea bass and fluke, Maryland submitted a Conservation Equivalency Proposal to liberalize its recreational striped bass fishery in the Chesapeake Bay. This is not the first time such actions have been proposed as last year the ASMFC sought to loosen striped bass regulations. Ultimately, the ASMFC’s Striped Bass Management Board chose not to advance the Draft Addendum.

As proposed this go-around, “Maryland anglers, particularly the charter boat sector, have expressed concerns regarding the high ratio of released fish since the size limit in the Chesapeake Bay was increased to 20 inches, which has made it difficult to attract customers.”

The major issue at hand lies in the high level of release mortality associated with this fishery as cited at the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board meeting in October, 2017. As noted by Mike Luisi, MD, proxy for D. Blazer (administrator appointee) at that meeting, the dead discards, “…has to do with water temperature. It has to do with hook location and other elements that go into everyday fishing activities. I don’t want the Board to think that this 9 percent is something that is across the board. It changes in different parts of the coast. It has a lot to do with the hooks that are used and the baits that are used. Artificial lures certainly don’t have the same mortality that live lining and chumming have.”

While the ASMFC accepts a 9% release mortality in its stock assessment, Maryland noted in its proposal that, “Reports from charter boat captains [in the Chesapeake Bay] estimate that approximately 30% of the fish they throw back will not survive. Strong perception of a significant increase in the number of dead discards as a result of management actions has also lead to criticism of management agencies by recreational anglers. The intent of this proposal is to reduce waste without increasing total removals by shifting fish from the dead discard to harvest category.”

While several proposals were submitted, ultimately Maryland only sought approval for a single option: a 19-inch minimum size limit (a decrease of 1 inch from 2017 regulations) from May 16 – December 15 with a 2-fish bag limit (with only one fish greater than 28 inches), and all anglers fishing with non-artificial bait or lures being required to use circle hooks. The idea here is that while direct harvest would increase due to the decreased minimum size limit, the number of discarded fish would decrease. Couple this in with the requirement to use circle hooks, and, as proposed, it would result in subsequently fewer total fish which eventually perish due to release mortality caused by the use of treble hooks and bait.

Only time will tell if this action has the desired results, but it potentially opens the door for other member states to submit similar proposals.