What is a rockfish/game fish bill, and why is it so important?
The poor beleaguered rockfish has been the source of many battles in and out of legislatures and commissions all along the East Coast. I've been politically involved with the rockfish for only 15 years, and I have several file cabinet drawers full of proposals, counter-proposals, blasts and counter-blasts.
The opponents have remained the same -- the recreational fishermen on one side, the commercial fishermen on the other and the charter captains sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other and sometimes in the middle.
The recreational fishermen are represented by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, the commercial fishermen by the Maryland Watermen's Association and most of the charter captains by the Maryland Charter Boat Association.
Two years ago, the MSSA championed a piece of legislation that would have categorized the rockfish as a game fish and made the sale of rockfish illegal. Those two features would have put the commercial fishermen out of business. The bill died a rapid death in committee.
Last year, the wordcame down that it was an election year, and lawmakers weren't going to entertain any game fish nonsense. In any event, certain senior officials wanted to catch rockfish in the first open season since 1984.
That brings us to 1991 and another rockfish/game fish bill, SenateBill 575. Like the bill two years ago, this is a very complex piece of legislation, running some 15 pages. Senate Bill 575 will get its first hearing next month. The bill would:
* Declare the striped bass, or rockfish, a game fish.
* Apply to all striped bass caught inthe tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay, its tidal tributaries and that portion of the Atlantic within Maryland's boundaries.
* Requireparticipants to hold a Chesapeake Bay Sport Fishing License and a Striped Bass Game Fish Stamp to catch and keep rockfish.
* Make it illegal to catch by any means rockfish for commercial sale.
* Prohibit the sale of striped bass except those raised in commercial aquaculture operations.
* Establish a Watermen's Conservation Corps and Watermen's Economic Revitalization Fund administered by the state Depart
ment of Natural Resources.
The money in the watermen's fund would be used to benefit all commercial watermen, except charter boat captains, until July 1, 1996.
The watermen's fund would pay for state-approved bay restoration projects and courses in conservation professions, help watermen find jobs in related marine professions, provide grants and loans to watermen to enter aquaculture operations, and compensate at fair market value for equipment used in commercial fishing and an individual's expected catch through July 1, 1996.
To beeligible for benefits, a fisherman must have held a commercial striped bass license during September 1983 and December 1984, submitted catch reports to the DNR, and renewed the license for 1984-1985. The requirements also say the waterman must have a commercial license for the 1990-1991 season, have submitted an intent to participate in the 1990-1991 season, and have filled out catch reports for the period. (These restrictions will significantly limit the number of watermen whocould receive benefits from the bill.)
The bill would double the cost of a Chesapeake Bay sport fishing license to $10, with half of the money earmarked for the watermen's fund. It would also require fishermen to buy a rockfish stamp: $10 for an individual, $25 for a special boat license and $100 for a charter boat. Revenue from stamp sales would go to the watermen's kitty.
In my opinion, SB 575 paints the MSSA as greedy in light of today's excellent striped bass management by the DNR.
The MSSA and the commercial fishermen have been given equal parts of the striped bass pot. Now, MSSA says it must have it all.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday.