Fisheries director lands a big one

The Baltimore Sun

One evening back when there was still a chill in the air, Howard King, Maryland's fisheries director, told a gathering of anglers and guides that he thought he could get them a two-week spring striped bass season on Susquehanna Flats.

"Did you hear that?" Capt. Mike Benjamin said afterward, a grin on his face. "I hope Howard's right, but I don't know if he can convince those guys."

"Those guys," the members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, have been a tough audience for Maryland to win over on matters of striped bass. Because the state's portion of the Chesapeake Bay is the spawning grounds and nursery for at least 75 percent of the Eastern Seaboard's stock, the regulatory panel has been particularly prickly whenever Maryland asked for changes in fishing policy and regulations.

Indeed, in May a subcommittee of the commission rejected King's request for a spring season for the Flats, saying he had not followed protocol. The rejection came despite a favorable review by a technical committee of fisheries experts.

Undeterred, King put his plan on the table again Thursday, and this time his hard work behind the scenes paid off. His request was approved, 15-0.

The season is a victory for upper Chesapeake Bay recreational anglers, tackle shops and guides who have been shut out of fishing for the state fish from early May until June 1 because of concerns about harming fish that use the tributaries as spawning grounds as they migrate up the East Coast each year.

"It's a ray of good news," said Marty Gary, a fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, about the new season. "We don't have to wait until the dead of winter to get approval. People can start planning."

But it's also a testament to the value of King, a classy man who never gives his word unless he thinks he can deliver, a cool dude who remains unruffled at ASMFC meetings when commission members and lobbyists take cheap shots for the press back home.

After consulting with upper bay anglers, Natural Resources police officers who patrol the area and DNR staff, King made a promise to do what he could to give local anglers an opportunity to catch and keep striped bass. The Flats, a bowl-shaped area of shallow water at the very northern end of the bay, has been restricted to a catch-and-release fishery in the spring since the statewide striped bass moratorium ended in 1990.

The season, from May 16-31, will limit anglers to a daily limit of one fish between 18 and 26 inches. The regulations are geared to target resident fish, not the large spawning fish.

Gary said DNR would monitor the season and the take would count toward the baywide quota for resident striped bass, which is set each year by ASMFC.

Bearing up

Do you want to know which day of the week and hour of the day have proven most successful for black bear hunters? How about a map of where each bear was killed over the last three seasons?

DNR's black bear management team has plotted all that and more and put it up on the agency's Web site at the same place where you register for this season's hunting permit lottery.

This year's split season is set for Oct. 22-27 and Dec. 3-8 in Garrett and Allegany counties. If, as in previous seasons, the wildlife managers' target (about 40 bears in each of the last two seasons) is reached early, the second split will be canceled.

The online lottery application period ends at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1. The phone application period runs from Aug. 27-31. Numbers will be picked by computer on Sept. 6.

Bridging the reef

If all goes well and the weather holds Thursday, the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative will be showing off its newest site, an area off Solomons known as Cedar Point.

In less than a year, MARI's first project at Point No Point off St. Mary's County has become a well-established home for fish, crabs and oysters. Workers used more than 13,000 tons of construction material from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement project to cover an area the size of a football field.

Gary said the Cedar Point location has a harder bottom than Point No Point, meaning it won't take as much construction material to begin making a difference.

"At Point No Point, when the bridge slabs went down, we didn't see an immediate difference in the contours. At Cedar Point, as soon as we put those first slabs down, a small load of 1,100 tons, we could see it. It exceeded our expectations," Gary said.

'Diamond' no gem

Who wouldn't like to see the state's "Diamond Jim" fishing tournament hit the jackpot?

It's a good idea. The rules keep getting more user-friendly. The prizes are great.

But it's not a good sign when the only two people to catch tagged striped bass so far admit they never heard of the three-year-old contest and had no idea what the tag meant when they first saw it.

It didn't help when former Orioles great Boog Powell wasn't available to throw out the first fish in June, as he did last year.

But seeing a news photo out of Russia gave me an idea: Why not invite Vladimir Putin to help out?

The Russian president's obviously a studly hunk, who looks good with a rod in his hand and a filet knife on his hip. He's well known. He has tons of money, so he wouldn't need a personal appearance fee. And, with all his visits to Washington, he knows the area.

One more thing, as a former KGB honcho, one might say he's already a Bass Assassin.

Just a thought.

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