Rockfish season holding strong
CHESTERTOWN — A month in, this summer’s rockfish season in the Chesapeake Bay appears to be on an upward trend, showing heavy growth among the species.
The season for rockfish, also known as striped bass, started June 1. According to the Maryland Fishing Guide website, two fish are allowed to be caught recreationally per day, with a minimum size of 20 inches. The minimum size requirement for commercial fishing is 18 inches.
Harry Hornick, head of the Department of Natural Resources’ striped bass program, said the season has been solid.
“A lot of the action has been in the Upper Bay,” he said. “So it’s been pretty good so far.”
Hornick said positive factors for the rockfish population have been cooler weather and better access to the species’ food supply, which includes bait fish like bay anchovies and, occasionally, blue crabs.
Kent County Waterman’s Association President Chuckie White said rockfish are more plentiful than he has ever seen. He said watermen are catching an abundance of fish off the Magothy River and Sandy Point in Anne Arundel County.
“We think they’ve had better hatches than reported,” he said.
White said a contributing factor is a higher growth of underwater grasses in the Bay, which rockfish and their food sources use for habitats.
Each year, the DNR conducts an adult spawning stock survey on rockfish in the spring, gauging the various aspects of those fish that are of spawning age.
Hornick said this year’s survey had positive results and showed the fish that hatched in 2011 have reached maturity.
“There are large numbers out there, so we’ve had the luck of the draw,” he said.
According to the DNR’s website, a preliminary total of 1,446 rockfish in the Upper Bay were sampled during this year’s spawning stock survey.
White disagreed with the DNR’s survey results. He said it does not take into consideration weather conditions and is not consistent in choosing a test location.
“We dispute the numbers that the DNR has given in the past . ... The mature rockfish are not all from 2011, some are from 2010 and further back,” he said.
Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert T. Brown said though there seems to be an abundance of rockfish, most appear to still be immature.
“What I’m hearing is that there is a good amount of fish in the Bay overall, but not many are legal size,” he said. “Basically, when they reach 18-and-a-half inches, they usually migrate farther out of the Bay.”
Greg Jetton, owner of Gunsmoke Charters Group, said he has seen a mix of undersized fish and rockfish that measure from 20 to 26 inches in the Upper Bay.
“Right now, it’s 50-50,” he said. “It depends where you are . ... As the summer goes on, we’ll see more and more little fish, until they almost become a nuisance.”
Jetton said the improved water quality in the Bay has helped the rockfish population grow, especially in the Upper Bay.
“Right now, I’m the busiest I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’ll probably be a record year for me if this pace continues the way it is.”
Hornick said so far, all signs point to this rockfish season continuing to go well.
“I’d say the season will continue to be very successful,” Jetton said. “The whole thing is as the water becomes hotter, they’ll be harder to catch. But for now, we’re in good shape.”
The summer and fall rockfish season ends Dec. 21. After that, catch and release fishing will be allowed in the Bay until Dec. 31.
In this picture from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, several young rockfish are seen inside a drift gill net during this spring’s spawning stock survey.
In this picture from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, fisheries biologist Beth Versak holds up a rockfish from this spring’s spawning stock survey.