DNR knows it can't please all of...


DNR knows it can't please all of the rockfish fishermen all of 0) the time

ANNAPOLIS -- On Monday night, the public was asked to speak out about proposals for the 1991-92 fall fisheries for rockfish at a hearing held by the Department of Natural Resources.

Twenty-five people showed up, and about half of them were members of the news media or directly involved in deciding who will be allowed to catch how many fish and when.

Does this mean that the hue and cry of sportfishermen last year has been reduced to meek acceptance of whatever plans

fisheries managers devise?


Sportfishermen still want a larger daily creel limit, upper-bay fishermen want a shot at the rockfish that is equal to that afforded fishermen down the bay, and the controversy over different creel limits for charter-boat customers and individual fishermen continues to rankle people.

The following is a look at the issues as expressed Monday night, and an explanation of why fisheries managers made the decisions they did make.

The tag system

In the fall season, the proposed regulations would set an 18-inch minimum length and a 36-inch maximum length on striped bass caught in Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay. People angling for these fish will be required to have a Chesapeake Bay sportfishing license as well as a free rockfish permit and a maximum of two tags with which to mark their catch.

The tags will allow fisheries managers to measure the fishing effort (number of fishermen participating) as well as to calculate the catch (poundage) and determine whether the season should be extended or curtailed.

"The idea of the tag system is not to catch and return a number of fish while trying to get at the largest fish you can," said Steve Early of the DNR's Tidewater Administration. "But if you catch a legal fish, you tag that legal fish."

Charter-boat captains are responsible for distributing tags to their customers, keeping daily logs and reporting their catch weekly. Commercial and recreational fishermen are responsible for daily counts.

The tag system is intended to spread the catch throughout Maryland waters. Last year, the southern areas of the bay were shut out because the fishery was closed 10 days into a projected five-week season.

"We are in the lower part of a learning curve about how we can manage striped bass, given a limited number of fish and a relatively large number of fishermen," Early said.

"We probably could not work a tag system if we were going to do it in July and August [because the fishing effort would be so high].

"But it is a system that we think has a lot of promise. . . . This way we have a relatively prolonged period when you can come in and get your tags and permits and be pretty much assured you will have a chance to fish."

The recreational season

The recreational season, which has been allocated 456,747 pounds, is projected in two parts. The first would run from Oct. 9-26 with a limit of two fish per person per season, with tags required. The second portion would start no later than Nov. 9, have a daily creel limit of two fish per day and run until the quota of fish is caught. No tags would be required.

"We have waited six years to catch two fish a year," said one citizen from the upper bay area. "That stinks."

Certainly others agree. There may be, however, an even greater problem facing the fishermen of the upper bay -- the timing of the fall season.

Fishermen from the upper bay said it has been their experience that in November there is a good chance that the rockfish will be gone from their area of the bay, and perhaps the season could be opened earlier.

"We tried to come up with a plan that would distribute the chance to fish to all the people in the state," said William Goldsborough, chairman of the Striped Bass Advisory Board, which represents commercial, recreational and charter-boat interests and advises the DNR. "Last year [during the 10-day season], it was primarily an opportunity in the upper bay. For the people in Southern Maryland, by the time the fish got down there, the season was closed.

"This year, the second season -- and I am very confident there will be a second season -- hopefully will change the patterns we had last year, and allow the people in the southern part to have a season, too."

The charter-boat season

The charter-boat season, which has been allocated 161,206 pounds, is projected to run from Oct. 9 to Nov. 11, with no provision for an extended season. The daily creel limit would be two fish per person per day, with captains and mates excluded from fishing. Charter boats would be limited to two trips per day.

xTC Some recreational fishermen feel they are being discriminated against because charter customers get to catch two fish for every trip they choose to make rather than two per season until Oct. 26.

The length of the season was based, Early said, on the expected number of fishing trips and expected catch rates.

Goldsborough said the creel limit was based on similar calculations and an understanding that, within reason, the group could do as it pleased so long as it did not exceed its allocation.

"There was a definite minority opinion on the [advisory] board that there should be no difference in creel limit," Goldsborough said, "and the board discussed [creel limits] at length. But we ended up accepting that we are working under a quota system and there is some flexibility as to how each group fashions the use of its quota.

"The way the quota broke down to the charter fishery, it worked out at two fish per day and still kept them within their quota."

The future of the fishery

The striped-bass fishery was closed from January 1985 until last October. As a result, said Early, the number of rockfish in the bay has risen, the nature of the fishery has changed, and barring natural calamity, the outlook is bright.

"Historically the Chesapeake Bay fishery for striped bass was made up of just a couple of year-classes of fish," Early said. "Basically we fished on 2-, 3-, 4-year-old fish. . . . But there are significant numbers now of 6-, 7-, and 8-year-old fish in the harvestable population."

Last year during the fall fishery, the average weight of the fish was nearly 7 pounds and the average length was nearly 25 inches.

"We are on the building curve of the striped-bass population, the part of it that we can allow to be harvested," Early said. "As that grows, and as we find and demonstrate to ourselves, and to the other groups that are interested in how we manage striped bass, that we can control effort and control catch, we can allow a season that better fits everybody's hopes.

"But right now we are still at the bottom part of that learning curve."

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