Rock­fish sea­son hold­ing strong

Record Observer - - News - By DO­RIAN MITCHELL dmitchell@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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.

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