WHERE ARE THE ROCKFISH?

Vir­ginia looks tighten striped bass guide­lines

Daily Press - - Front Page - By Lee Tol­liver Staff writer

Af­ter years of chat­ter about the de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion of striped bass in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, the state is look­ing at tight­en­ing its reg­u­la­tions for up­com­ing sea­sons.

At Wed­nes­day’s Fin­fish Man­age­ment Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, it was an­nounced that the sec­re­tary of nat­u­ral re­sources has sug­gested look­ing at al­ter­na­tives to current length and bag lim­its for one of the state’s most pop­u­lar game­fish.

Dur­ing the re­cent Ch­e­sa­peake Bay fall sea­son, an­glers could keep two fish a day be­tween 20 and 28 inches, al­though one fish could be longer than 28. Dozens of fish longer than 40 inches, con­sid­ered prime breed­ing stock by bi­ol­o­gists, were har­vested last

fall — far fewer than pre­vi­ous sea­sons.

The At­lantic States Marine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion “striped bass com­mit­tee will look at the stock as­sess­ment and con­sider any changes to reg­u­la­tion when it meets in Fe­bru­ary, but those changes wouldn’t come into play un­til 2020,” said Sec­re­tary of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Matthew J. Strickler, a recre­ational an­gler with a master’s de­gree in marine sci­ence from the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Marine Sci­ence.

“We think we should be more proac­tive and get some­thing in place that will help this tremen­dous fish­ery re­cover.”

The com­mis­sion’s pre­lim­i­nary stock as­sess­ment for a fish­ery that ex­tends well up the north­east­ern coast isn’t good. It ap­pears the species is be­ing over­fished by com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­er­men. So the agency likely would im­ple­ment tighter re­stric­tions. A cou­ple decades ago, the fish­ery had been de­pleted to the point where the agency is­sued a mora­to­rium on fish­ing for striped bass.

At Wed­nes­day’s ad­vi­sory meet­ing, there ap­peared to be some mis­un­der­stand­ing as to what the sec­re­tary was ask­ing for, and so­cial me­dia blew up with talk that he had or­dered the Vir­ginia Marine Re­sources Com­mis­sion to make changes.

“That is to­tally in­cor­rect,” said Steve Bow­man, com­mis­sioner of the VMRC. “The sec­re­tary and I have talked about striped bass be­cause, ob­vi­ously from what we’re see­ing and hear­ing, the pop­u­la­tion isn’t what it should be.

“Has he or­dered a di­rec­tive? Ab­so­lutely not.”

A ma­jor point of con­cern for Vir­ginia’s an­glers would be to have the state work with Mary­land fish­eries man­agers so that reg­u­la­tions are equal be­tween the states that share the bay’s rockfish pop­u­la­tion. Bow­man gave as­sur­ances that the con­ver­sa­tion would be­gin soon. In the mean­time, the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee was tasked with com­ing up with the best pos­si­ble so­lu­tion pleas­ing the most an­glers while still meet­ing the call for changes.

One idea be­ing sup­ported by an­glers on Face­book is to adopt size and bag lim­its sim­i­lar to those that pre­vent the tak­ing of big red drum. Since new rules were en­acted a cou­ple decades ago, the species has made a re­mark­able come­back and the pop­u­la­tion of big tro­phy fish eas­ily could serve as a bench­mark for reg­u­la­tory suc­cess.

An­glers in Vir­ginia can keep three drum a day be­tween 18 and 26 inches. All oth­ers must be re­leased. An­glers can earn an award in Vir­ginia for re­leased fish mea­sur­ing longer than 46 inches. Last year, Vir­ginia wa­ters pro­duced 864 reds that met that stan­dard. In con­trast, state wa­ters pro­duced only 192 striped bass that met a 40-pound keeper min­i­mum last year.

The last re­ally good striper sea­son was in 2012, when 906 fish of 40 pounds or more were caught, and 425 mea­sur­ing at least 44 inches were re­leased.

“We want our pros and the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee to give us some ideas so that we can present them to the an­gling pub­lic to help this fish­ery,” Bow­man said. “We want to be proac­tive and pro­tect this very im­por­tant fish.”

VIMS/HAND­OUT

VIMS/HAND­OUT

Changes to reg­u­la­tions might in­volve al­ter­na­tives to ex­ist­ing length and bag lim­its for rockfish, a pop­u­lar game­fish.

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