Thanks to the Department of Natural Resources, the spring trophy striped bass or rockfish is all but a memory.

To understand where we are, you must understand the outside forces working against those whowant to catch rockfish. Actually, a large contingent of people know in their heart that it is wrong to catch rockfish. They have little experience on the Chesapeake and seldom catch fish of any type, but they just knew that a spring season would kill thousands of spawning rockfish.

These people are sincere in their beliefs; many telephone or write the DNR to express their views.

Political animals, of which the upper two-thirds of any bureaucracy is composed, hate telephone callsand letters from the righteous. They will use almost any means to keep the status quo happy, the boat from rocking or the natives from becoming restless -- even to the point of separating thousands of Maryland fishermen from the rockfish.

Thus we get to the spring tro

phy rockfish season.

Capt. Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland Charter Boat Association and representative for all charter boat captains on the Striped Bass Advisory Board (SBAB), is responsible for the spring trophy rockfish season. The first SBAB meeting on the 1991 rockfish program had just gotten under way when O'Brien pointed out that a spring rockfish season was essential for the life of the charter boat industry, especially in light of the lack of bluefish in 1989 and 1990. The majority of the meeting was spent on this topic. So was the majority of the next

three meetings.

The board finally agreed and began planning. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which controls striped bass harvesting on the East Coast, already had approved a May trophy season for Maryland with a 45-inch minimum size limit. The DNR's proposal to the board was a season from about May 15 to the end of May with a 36-inch minimum. The board's counterproposal was a two-part season running from May 1-10 with a45-inch minimum and from May 11 to the end of May or first week of June with a 32- to 36-inch limit. The board wanted a 32-inch size limit, but deferred to the DNR to set the minimum size.

The DNR eventually settled on a 36-inch limit and a season running from May 11-27.

It is important here to understand the rockfish migration pattern.The spring trophy season targets fish that migrate into the Chesapeake to spawn, entering the Chesapeake in March and

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leaving in April or May. Major spawning in the lower Maryland tributaries (Choptank and Potomac Rivers) runs from around Easter to April 10, a week or so laterin the upper bay.

The larger fish spawn first and return to the ocean. By May 1, most of the big fish have left the bay; by the 11th, or when the DNR opened the season, almost all large fish have departed.

To further protect themselves and the rockfish, the DNR selected an unreasonable size limit of 36 inches. You might catch an occasional 33- or 34-incher that has not yet migrated from the bay to the ocean, but trying to find a 36-incher, as you well know if you have been fishing, is almost im


The DNR was happy with its spring season. Earlier this week, the total harvest was something like 110 trophy fish caught between May 11 and May 27. I don't know how many thousand fishing trips were required to produce this insignificantcatch, but it was a bunch.

The DNR has proven to its critics thatit can run a fishing season without killing thousands of tons of mama rockfish; now they need to prove to the fishermen they can run a season that is worthwhile. Otherwise, I suggest that our DNR get out ofthe game and let the fishermen deal directly with the ASMFC guidelines of one fish per angler per day.

Charter boat captains were unhappy with the spring season. A recreational fisherman may spend thousands of dollars

on his boat and tackle, but he loves chasing fish for pure sport. A patron on a charter boat has paid for a service. That service includes the opportunity to catch fish. In most cases, thatservice also includes the opportunity to take a few of those fish home with him.

My parties were understanding. I explained about mamarockfish, and the timing of the season and the size limit and the critics, and they understood. But at the end of the day, when they handed me a check and picked up their empty coolers, I felt that these people had been cheated. I believe the DNR, in its panic to dodge criticism, has cheated Maryland residents out of the opportunity of takinghome a few nice big rockfish. If the DNR can't stand the heat and doit right, then they should get out of the kitchen.

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