New Management Plan Delayed Until at Least January
Recreational anglers in Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic Coast must continue to release all striped bass longer than 31 inches after fisheries managers extended an emergency regulation that was set to expire on Oct. 28. The extension’s new expiration date is Oct. 28, 2024, which gives the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) more than a full year to grapple with a complex management plan intended to rebuild the coastwide striper population by 2029.
The emergency measure was first implemented in May, after estimates showed recreational harvest nearly doubled in 2022 over 2021’s figures. At the time, projections plummeted from a 97 percent chance the stock would be rebuilt by 2029 to just a 15 percent.
Striped bass reproduction has been down due to numerous factors since 2015. That 2015 age class was strong, and those fish are now the larger fish in the population that contribute most to reproduction. The emergency measure was implemented to protect the larger breeding fish. Scientists also said catch-and-release fishing in summer’s warm, oxygen-depleted waters contributes to the problem because of post-release mortality.
The Chesapeake Bay “Trophy” season, which has historically been an important fishery for bay anglers, is exempt from this emergency regulation. The short early May season in Maryland has allowed anglers to keep one fish longer than 35 inches per person when large breeding fish move into the bay ahead of the spawn. A press release from ASMFC warned anglers that regulations for this season might change once the emergency measure is replaced by a management plan that is supposed to come from ASMFC’s Addendum II of the Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan.
Addendum II is a complex document with a range of management options intended to rebuild the striped bass stock by the end of the decade. It was hoped Addendum II would be ready for public hearings in August and September and implementation in October. After five hours of back and forth at an August commission meeting, the decision was made to delay action to the October meeting. Now, because of requirements for public hearings, the earliest a new management plan can be implemented is January 2024.
“Moving the emergency action forward was an important stop-gap measure to balance fishing mortality in the recreational fishery,” said David Sikorski, a Maryland delegate to the ASMFC. “Unfortunately, the delay in advancing draft Addendum II leaves uncertainty in our ability to meet our rebuilding goals and reduce overall fishing mortality ahead of the 2024 fishing year. Between now and the October 2023 meeting, draft Addendum II will be updated and provided to the board and posted online.”
The 31-inch maximum emergency rule will remain in place until Oct. 28, 2024, or until it is replaced by restrictions in Addendum II.
For more information, go to http://www.asmfc.org/