ASMFC PRELIMINARY SB STOCK ASSESSMENT

In a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC) held on Wed. 2//6/19 the striped bass management board was presented with a preliminary benchmark stock assessment that said the striped bass spawning stock biomass had slipped to well below the target level.  This puts the stock into the formally overfished category.  It was also found that overfishing was still taking place.  Overfished and overfishing, while they don’t sound it, are somewhat technical terms.  But they essentially mean that the size of the fish stock in question is less than the acceptable level that the managers have set, and that the current mortality through fishing is too high for the stocks to recover.

I looked back through old SF records and saw that 2006 was first of some formal recognition by the ASMFC that the spawning stock biomass was beginning to shrink.  Never ones to act to quickly to reduce fishing effort the ASMFC continually kicked this can down the road until 2014 when it was noted that a 50% reduction in fishing mortality was really what was required to get the stock back on track.  I remember listening to the ASMFC meeting when Paul Diodati of Massachusetts made a motion to put an immediate 40% cut in place for the 2014 season.  No one else was ready to swallow that bitter pill, and in 2015 measures went into effect to cut mortality back by 25%, and a little less than that in Chesapeake Bay.  Predictably it wasn’t nearly enough.

Our annual fishing survey has turned out to be a very accurate gauge of how many fish are really out there, and while there was a small uptick for a couple of years in the number of small fish anglers were seeing, the numbers of large – breeding sized – striped bass has been sliding every year for a long time.  You can see it clearly in arenas like the MA commercial fishery, where over the last few years the commercial fishermen couldn’t find any number of large bass in one area of the state after another.  All the catches were coming from one or two large schools, and finally those fish ran out too.  In 2018, in spite of allowing fishing until into October when the migration had ended in MA, the landings for the season were about 754,000 pounds against a quota of 847,000 pounds.  By comparison in 2014 1,139,000 pounds were landed before the end of August.  And you can bet everyone tried hard to catch those fish because the flesh of the bass was selling for a lot of money per pound.

The recent assessment was accepted by the ASMFC managers in spite of some clear reluctance by some of the commercial fishing jurisdictions, but nothing was done to set in motion conservation measures for the 2019 fishing season.  The earliest that any adjustments could now be made is for the fall fishery, and no one is willing to bet how that debate will come out.  It is within the authority of the ASMFC to simply reduce the acceptable stock size “lower the bar” and continue on with the current regulations.  We certainly hope that won’t be the case, and without a doubt the largely recreational and game fish states will be pushing hard for some serious reductions.  Stripers Forever will be at the forefront of that advocacy.

There was one bit of good news coming from the meeting, and that was an essentially unanimous vote to write a letter from the ASMFC to NOAA requesting that the boundary lines of the EEZ not be changed in the area around Block Island which would have allowed recreational fishing for striped bass, and therefore a cover for black market commercial bass fishing too.

The only silver lining in all of this is that we may be presented with a return of the opportunity that we missed in 1988 to designate striped bass as game fish in all the coastal states.  Had that happened, we are confident that the decline we have all witnessed in the last 10 or 15 years would not have taken place.

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MDMF PROPOSES NEW SB REGULATIONS

DAWN COMES TO MARBLEHEAD“, a memo from Massachusetts

For those that are not familiar with the expression “Dawn comes to Marblehead” it literally refers to the easternmost town in Massachusetts that is the first to “see the light” from the rising sun. It also refers to a person or in this case people who are slow to grasp the facts but finally understand.

Background: Massachusetts is the number one destination for striped bass fishermen. More striped bass are killed in Massachusetts both purposefully (commercially) and inadvertently (catch and release – C&R – mortality) than any other state along the east coast. After many years of putting pressure (read Stripers Forever plus many others) on the MA Division of Marine Fisheries (MDMF) to take conservation measures to reduce released striper mortality the Division itself is finally proposing new striped bass regulations to address the wasteful loss to C&R. Having the Division making the proposals themselves is a major game changer and their proposals are the exact changes that we have been seeking, pleading for, for more than 10 years…. the sun has risen over Marblehead – finally!

MDMF is proposing that the use of gaffs to remove or attempt to remove striped bass from the water be prohibited. It is impossible to accurately measure a fish while it is still swimming on the end of a line. A high proportion of the striped bass caught in MA will be under the legal keeper size of 28 inches and will have to be released hopefully alive. Using a gaff is deadly and wastes a valuable resource that is already in trouble.

Also, it is proposing to mandate the use of inline circle hooks beginning in 2020 by anglers fishing for striped bass with whole or cut natural baits. The circle hook mandate would not apply to artificial lures designed to be trolled, casted and retrieved, or vertically jigged with a natural bait attached. Using in-line circle hooks will dramatically reduce the number of fish that are gut hooked and unnecessarily die after being returned to the water.

These proposed regulations will be heard at two public hearings. WE URGE YOU TO ATTEND and express your support of both proposals! The public hearings scheduled to take comments on these and other proposals are at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, at Admiral’s Hall at the Mass. Maritime Academy, located at 101 Academy Drive in Buzzards Bay; and at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at DMF’s Annisquam River Station, located at 30 Emerson Avenue in Gloucester. Mark the dates.

The Division of Marine Fisheries will also accept public comment through 5 p.m. on Friday, March 1. Please address all written comments to Director Pierce and submit to DMF by e-mail at marine.fish@state.ma.us or by post to 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114. Please do this as soon as you finish reading this memo. Thanks!

You have an opportunity to have a direct impact on the outcome of these hearings and thus potentially save the lives of many thousands of striped bass. Please don’t let these fish be killed because we were too lazy to make a small effort to save them. There are times when, as members of Stripers Forever, we are handed a wonderful opportunity to make a difference. This time is now.

This is not a lecture although it sure reads like one. No, the fact is that you will make a difference whether you act or not. If each of us is proactive and show up in numbers and send enough emails we will convince the nine-person oversight board (MA Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission) to implement the proposals. However, if we (you) choose to do nothing then the commercial folks will once again rule the day and the Board will vote the proposals down. Your choice, to take action or to do nothing will, as I said, make a difference – one way or another.

Sorry, I guess this actually is a lecture! However, the outcome really is up to you and what you choose to do about it. Yes, you have heard us ask for your help before but this time, because these proposals now come from the Division itself and not us or from “the outside” as before, this time we have a real chance to be successful. A ton of work has been invested in trying to change the rules in order to protect more fish from wonton waste. Let’s make it happen. With your help – PLEASE – this time it has a real chance of becoming a true conservation reality…… and, it sure would be nice to win one for a change! Please mark your calendars and send that email. Thanks.

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ON THE WATER STRIPER CUP 2019- NOW NO-KILL NECESSARY TOURNAMENT

Kudos to the folks at On The Water magazine and T.V. show for their forward-thinking decision to make their 2019 Striper Cup Tournament a 100% no kill necessary event! “The mission statement of the Striper Cup has always been “to celebrate fishing for the beloved striped bass. ”That remains unchanged, and I think most striper fishermen would agree that there’s no better way to celebrate catching a big striper than to watch it swim away.” OTW This will have a marked and positive impact on the fishery as the Striper Cup is the largest striper tournament on the east coast. We take our hats off in praise of On The Water for their sincere and well thought out efforts to conserve these valuable fish for the future. Will the Martha’s Vineyard derby now follow suit? The increased acceptance of C&R is more reason for you to support the no gaff and mandatory circle hook proposals today.

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2018 ANNUAL ANGLER SURVEY RESULTS

The results of the Stripers Forever 2018 Annual Fishing Survey are finalized, and you can view all of the results below. For 2018 we received 450 responses to our annual survey. The survey has again produced a good representative sampling of sentiments from fishers all along the striper’s migratory range, and as usual MA and NJ vied for the greatest contributions with 114 and 112 completed surveys respectively. NY had 56, RI 44, and ME 46. 85% of our respondents had more than 10 years of experience fishing for striped bass.

2018 saw the reversal of what had been a tiny uptick in angler catch statistics. In 2015 and 2016 the percentage of anglers who said that they caught fewer or many fewer stripers per hour declined a little each year. Overall, angler sentiment was still quite negative, but it was improving. In 2017 that improvement stopped, and in 2018 anglers reported catching less striped bass for the time they put in fishing.

In all but one year of the last 7 anglers reported catching smaller striped bass. This seems to be a long term trend and certainly suggests to us that current regulations put too much pressure on large striped bass.

Answers to questions about the need for a slot limit allowing smaller-sized stripers show that our members continue to believe we should not be harvesting large, breeding stripers, and that they want to set aside a high percentage of the current commercial catch for conservation – and not harvest it themselves. Because of the need to fit a large, commercial quota into the overall striped bass plan regulators must suppress angler harvest. Regulators do that by adopting a high recreational minimum size like 28 inches so that most anglers will seldom be able to catch a keeper. The smaller stripers that the recreational anglers are prohibited from keeping, though, are instead gill-netted by commercial fishermen.

82% of our members – up slightly from 77% in 2016 – said that they are willing to buy a stamp to finance the buyout of the commercial fishery.

We had survey results from only 47 guides 2018. This is a very valuable industry. About 94% of the guide responses were that catching a lot of striped bass was either somewhat or very important to their clients. The guides know how to fish their areas, and can usually produce the best results possible from their home waters. If you are thinking about a guided trip please check out the guides and tackle shops listed on the Stripers Forever website. If you don’t see your favorite guide listed on our website just send us an e-mail at stripers@stripersforever.org. and let us know about it. The listing is free.

We will send this information to the press and fishery policy makers everywhere. We hope that you will use this information personally to help us advocate for the goal of coast-wide striped bass game fish. Please share the results with your local fishing club, home town newspaper, and elected officials that you may know.

FULL SURVEY RESULTS

If you have any questions about the survey please don’t hesitate to email us at stripers@stripersforever.org

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CONTACT INFO

Stripers Forever
209 Winn Road
Falmouth, ME 04105
stripers@stripersforever.org

ABOUT US

Welcome to the official web site for Stripers Forever, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to making the striped bass a gamefish. By eliminating commercial exploitation of the #1 recreational saltwater fishery on the east coast, over 3,000,000 recreational anglers will enjoy the social and financial benefits that will come from an improved striped bass population.

MISSION STATEMENT

Stripers Forever advocates for the conservation and responsible stewardship of wild striped bass along the Atlantic Coast.

Stripers Forever, a non-profit, internet-based conservation organization, seeks game fish status for wild striped bass on the Atlantic Coast in order to significantly reduce striper mortality, to provide optimum and sustainable public fishing opportunities for anglers from Maine to North Carolina, and to secure the greatest socio-economic value possible from the fishery.

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