Anglers group opposes increase in striped bass catch

With a bumper crop of striped bass spawned in 2011 about to reach legal size, Maryland has raised the allowable catch quota for next year - a move questioned by a recreational anglers group. (Elizabeth Malby, 2005 / December 10, 2013)

A recreational fishing group is taking issue with Maryland's plan to increase the allowable catch of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay next year, calling it "imprudent" in light of troubling trends in the coastwide population of the highly prized migratory fish.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland has written Natural Resources Secretary Joseph P. Gill urging him to rescind his agency's decision to raise the annual harvest quota for striped bass, or rockfish, by 14 percent in 2014.

DNR announced last month that Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission had decided that recreational and commercial fishermen could safely harvest nearly 8.7 million pounds of striped bass from the bay next year, the first increase in allowable catch in many years.  Officials said the increase from this year's limit of 7.6 million pounds was deemed to be warranted because many of the fish that spawned in near-record numbers in 2011 will have grown large enough next year to be legally kept if caught.

While striped bass are a popular recreational catch as well as a restaurant staple, the Annapolis-based angler's group urged the state to hold off. It noted that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering ordering catch reductions coastwide in 2015.  Although the striped bass population is not now overfished, scientists have warned it's likely to be in the next year or two, as the number of spawning-age females has been declining.

"These projections are particularly troubling in light of the fact that we have recorded only one good spawning year out of the last six," Tony Friedrich, the association's executive director, said in a news release. The bumper crop of fish that spawned in 2011 are "the future of striped bass fishing and must be protected," he said. Maryland instead ought to take the lead in conserving the fish ahead of looming future catch reductions, he argued.

Michael Luisi, DNR's director of estuarine and marine fisheries, acknowledged that the state probably will have to cut the allowable catch a year from now, if the Atlantic States commission orders an easing of fishing pressure in the bay as well as along the coast.

Luisi said the "timing is terrible" for an increases in harvest, given the looming prospect of future cuts. But with the wave of nearly 3-year-old fish reaching catchable size in the coming year, he said scientists have advised taking some more won't have any significant impact on the stock of spawning-age females.

"Of course any fish saved is going to be another fish that gets another year older and becomes part of the adult population," he said.  But he added that state officials consider the increase conservative and no real risk to the future abundance of striped bass.