Fisheries Management & Legislative Report

by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association Septempber 2019 Newsletter)


Striped Bass & Draft Addendum VI Update

Draft Addendum VI is going to public hearings in the states that will be impacted. The dates and times in NJ are in another article in the newspaper. The addendum gives options from staying at status quo or doing another reduction of the striped bass catch. There are several options listed for the recreational fishery. There will also be options for the commercial side. The addendum does not go into detail about the impact of the last round of regulation changes put in place for the last few years. There has also been a drop in the number of recreational trips in the last few years. We have the numbers for 2018 which showed over a 25% reduction in fish harvested by the recreational sector. There was a further drop in recreational trips in 2018. In 2018 the drop in recreational trips did not result in a comparative drop in hook and release mortality.

Some states proposed doing nothing on the commercial side and they stated they didn’t think the commercial fishery was causing the problem. What I found ironic is that at the Striped Bass Board meeting a so-called NY recreational advocate, who consistently calls for reductions on recreational catch of most species including striped bass while protecting the commercial catch, said we should ignore the commercial catch and just make the reduction on the recreational side. I think he is more interested in getting reappointed to the MAFMC and collecting his paycheck than looking out for the common recreational anglers. He forgot to mention the millions of pounds of striped bass that are poached and the many court cases that prove this is happening. He never talks about the rampant poaching that occurs in New York.

One of the other so-called recreational advocates for Massachusetts, who has been pushing for reductions in the last two addendums, was railing against how we should not stop anglers from killing big fish since it would affect tournaments and the people who wanted to weigh in big bass. At the same time he was trying to protect tournament anglers to kill big striped bass, he did not mention anything that would help address the 52% of the striped bass hook and release mortality.

At the Striped Bass Board Meeting, I discussed using the proper size hooks for striped bass and other species. I pointed out that at the recent JCAA Fluke Tournament, my colleagues and I decided to use 7/0 hooks so we would not catch undersized fluke and have to throw them back. We didn’t want to increase the hook and release mortality. At the Board Meeting I also suggested we need to do the same for striped bass by using larger circle hooks to reduce the number of under-sized and gut-hooked fish. To my disappointment the only comments I received was from some charter boat captain who would not switch to 7/0 hooks because “my customers might not catch any fish and would not return for another charter.” This shows we really need an education process for all segments of the angling public.

I am still waiting for the Board to deal with recreational discards since that makes up 52% of recreational mortality on striped bass. The Board completely ignores this in this addendum. It is the catch and release anglers who are calling for reductions in the number of fish that people can take home to eat. There is great concern that any of these proposed measures will do nothing to cut down on catch & release discard. The exact opposite would happen since it will be harder to catch a fish to take home for dinner. The new addendum will have no impact on the catch and release anglers since they can continue to catch and release all the fish they want.

Catch and release fishing is a serious problem that many of these anglers simply ignore. The catch and release mortality is often higher than these statistics would suggest. Fishing in the summertime in bays and estuaries with low salinity, a higher water temperature and a higher air temperature can significantly increase the catch and release mortality up to 40 or 50%. Maryland has done studies on this and it is on their webpage. When you try to talk about this issue, the anglers generally suggest they know how to release fish safely. They fail to recognize what happens in a short time period when the stress shuts down the striped bass’s system. These are people who should know better.

When the Berkeley Striper Club first got tags in mid-August in the 80’s, one of my friends who fishes the Delaware River used his fresh water tackle to land many striped bass. He tagged and released every one of them. The water was hot, the salinity was low, the air temperature was hot. We were surprised to get all 10 tags back in less than 2 weeks. The person returning the tags asked what killed all the fish. I talked to scientists to find out what happened and that is when I became aware of the issues of catch and release in the warm summer temperatures. I was also convinced to no longer use light tackle when I am catching and releasing. I learned bringing a fish in more quickly decreases the stress on the fish. Less handling is better. I have yet to find a way to have this conversation and really convince the catch and release anglers to change their ways.

I have been working in fisheries management for a long time. I became involved in the fight to protect striped bass for the recreational community. For me, the recreational community has many facets. My job is to try to represent all recreational anglers, not a smaller sub group that is very vocal. They can afford to take time off to attend meetings. Because I grew up fishing from docks and peers in Brooklyn, I have a particular understanding of the “take a fish home to eat” anglers. My job is to work for sustainable fisheries that can accommodate all groups of anglers. I try to see each issue through everyone’s eyes. Managers should also rely on the science. I will not represent an opinion that is not based on science.

I fought hard against the current reference points for black sea bass and summer flounder when I find the science is faulty and unfairly impacts the anglers. But I will not ignore the valid science on striped bass. What we are proposing under this addendum will hurt the industry without dealing with the underlying problems that are detrimental to the striped bass population. This addendum is supposed to protect a larger spawning stock biomass so there will be more fish to reproduce. It totally ignored that the current spawning stock biomass is higher than the spawning stock biomass was when it produced the highest young of the year. The issue is not recruitment since 2011 had the fourth highest young of the year index, 2015 had the eighth highest young of the year index and we had good recruitment in 2016.

Everything I suggested in this article is based on what we can actually do at ASMFC. We continue to ignore all of the environmental issues that have a huge impact on the striped bass and other species. For now we continue to do what we can often punishing the recreational anglers. But our future must include serious discussions about the underlying issues.

I believe that we must work together to create a striped bass fishery that makes room for every type of striped bass angler. This will never happen unless we support all types of recreational fishing, not just our own.

I have also reprinted the March 2019 article on Striped Bass in the current issue of the JCAA Newspaper.

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