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Rockfish catch limit raised by 50% in Md., other states


Recreational fishermen in Maryland and other states will be allowed to catch 50 percent more striped bass this year under a new plan approved yesterday for regulating the restored fishery.

With the once-threatened species now thriving, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission authorized states from Maine to North Carolina to expand their catch of the migratory fish, known as rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay.

Only a few states have a commercial fishery for striped bass. In Maryland, the quota will increase 15 percent, to some 1.1 million pounds.

The commission, empowered by Congress to regulate coastal catches, said striped bass are abundant enough to sustain even a larger increase in the harvest.

But the panel, citing the long and costly effort to restore the fishery, is limiting the increases through 1996, while biologists monitor the effect.

The action, taken at a meeting in Norfolk, Va., comes just two months after the commission declared striped bass fully recovered from the overfishing that forced drastic cutbacks in harvest a decade ago, including a five-year fishing moratorium in Maryland.

"We've come a long way," said Richard Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. He welcomed a chance to catch more rockfish, but praised the commission's caution in easing restrictions gradually.

Rockfishing has been severely restricted in Maryland since the moratorium was lifted in 1990, and commercial and recreational fishermen alike have chafed at the limits as the popular fish rebounded to record abundance in recent years.

Anticipating yesterday's action, the state Department of Natural Resources already has proposed expanding the fishing seasons 140 days a year, up from about 82 days last year and only 10 days when fishing was reopened in 1990.

For the Maryland waters of the bay, these are the proposed rockfishing rules for sport fishermen and charter boats:

* Starting April 28, anglers may catch one fish a day, 32 inches or longer, and a total of five, through the end of May. A striped bass fishing permit and individual fish tags are required.

* From June 1 through July 4, fishermen can keep one fish a day that is at least 26 inches long.

* Fishing would be closed from July 5 until Sept. 1.

* From Sept. 1 through Nov. 19, fishermen may catch two fish a day, which must be at least 18 inches long.

Rockfish may be caught 240 days a year along Maryland's Atlantic Ocean shoreline, but they must be at least 28 inches long.

William Goldsborough, senior staff scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, stressed that rockfish are more plentiful to catch now only because Maryland and other East Coast states heeded scientists' warnings and cooperated in limiting the catch. The successful restoration should be a model, he added, for reviving other depleted species, such as weakfish, flounder and bluefish.

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