With the regulatory clock ticking toward midnight, Maryland fisheries officials are scrambling to get recreational anglers and commercial watermen to agree on new rules to cover yellow perch fishing.
Department of Natural Resources officials will meet July 28 with recreational anglers to find out what they would like to see for rules covering season length, size and daily creel limit, said Tom O'Connell, fisheries service director.
The agency met with commercial netters this month.
Once both sides have been polled, O'Connell said his staff will develop a management plan that satisfies a bill passed by the General Assembly last year to protect yellow perch while giving recreational anglers a bigger share of the catch.
Yellow perch, once abundant in Chesapeake Bay tributaries, hit hard times in the 1970s, victims of overfishing and pollution. By the late 1980s, DNR closed several rivers to all yellow perch fishing.
But in 2006, DNR's Fisheries Service set off howls of protest from conservation and recreational fishing groups when it suggested lifting an 18-year moratorium on commercial fishing of yellow perch in the Choptank and the Nanticoke rivers on the Eastern Shore. Watermen - about 40 by state estimates - sell most of their catch to wholesalers in the Midwest, where commercial yellow perch fishing has been prohibited in many states.
Recreational anglers complained that regulations limited them to five fish daily while giving netters an unlimited take. The agency backed off its plan, but anglers took their concerns to state lawmakers, who demanded a better management plan.
Those concerns remain, said Robert Glenn, executive director of Coastal Conservation Maryland.
"There's two issues: allocation of existing fish and restoring the fishery," Glenn said. "It's not worth taking your kid yellow perch fishing because it's not worth your time to stand there and catch nothing."
As part of emergency regulations adopted this year, fisheries managers slashed the commercial yellow perch fishery by more than half to save spawning fish.
But those regulations expire before the season starts next spring. O'Connell said he hopes to have a proposal ready for comment in September so that public hearings and legislative review can occur before the end of the year.