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Down river, there's good news for rock


If you are a rock fisherman, mark Oct. 9 down in the little black book. That's when the fall rockfish season probably will start.

And, there's more good news. The season probably will be considerably longer, quite possibly continue through its proposed Oct. 26 close in contrast to an early shutdown after 10 days of recreational fishing last fall.

And, even more good news. There is a chance that next spring's trophy fish season might include a reduction in the minimum length. Nothing definite on that at this point, but it is being considered.

Such were the highlights of last night's Striped Bass Advisory Board meeting at Matapeake. More on the spring season will be covered at a session sometime next month -- including a proposal to open the trophy season May 1. Last month, it opened May 11, prompting complaints by many that most of the trophy fish had left the Chesapeake.

Last month, the legal minimum size was 36 inches. For next spring, Capt. Buddy Harrison, a charterboat representative on the board, recommended a 28-inch minimum. Rich Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association, suggested 34 inches.

The Department of Natural Resources is going back to the drawing boards to determine the consequences of a season covering both proposals, and will report to the board next month. During the recent May trophy season, it is estimated that one in every 100 rock reeled in failed to meet the 36-inch minimum.

Harrison claimed a reduction in the size limit would get fishermen off the bay sooner, and reduce the catching and mandatory releasing of hundreds of rock. Presumably, the limit will remain one fish per angler per season.

In the fall season, during which all keeper rock would have to be between 18 and 36 inches, charterboats -- which would have an Oct. 9 to Nov. 11 season -- would be allowed two fish a person (by permit) a day. The quota would be 161,206 pounds as compared with 112,500 last fall.

All segments of the rock fishery -- recreational, commercial and charter -- would get an approximate 33 percent hike thanks to recent approval by Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission of DNR's request to boost the overall quota from 1990's 750,000 pounds to 1,100,000.

The overall quota is divided three ways; 15 percent for charter, 42.5 percent for both the recreational and commercial segments. Recreational and commercial fisheries would be allowed 456,747 pounds as comparted with 318,750 last fall.

The recreational fishery would open Oct. 9, close Oct. 26 under a permit system allowing two fish a person per season. On Oct. 20, the DNR would assess the catch, then either extend the season to allow fishermen to catch the remainder of their quota or later reopen the season no later than Nov. 9 to catch the remaining fish in the quota with no permits needed.

DNR figuring indicates that both the sports and charter fisheries will run their full course this year. Last fall, when the season got under way, the charter boat limit was five a day, later reduced to two, then closed early, and the sports creel was two a day.

With season caps of two for individual fishermen, the catch rate is expected to be significantly curtailed in the coming October. These are the final proposals, which the DNR will take to the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee under emergency regulations, and which will be aired at a public meeting, probably next month.

Other restrictions that would apply during the fall season: Daylight fishing only, no gaffs allowed, and other lesser regulations enforced last October. The earlier suggestion that eels be banned in the fall fishery was dropped.

Dropped also was the DNR alternate plan that would have lumped the charter and recreational fishery together under a tag system that would have allowed two fish an angler per season.

The commercial fishery would be about the same as last year, with some season changes for some of the different individual fisheries -- all within the 456,747-pound quota.

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