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Stepping Up for Rockfish

New regional recommendations help ensure legal harvests

It’s good news for the Chesapeake Bay, which provides 75 percent of striped bass stocks that reside in the Atlantic. New recommendations by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission tackle the very real threat that commercial poaching poses to the fish’s sustainability.

Past as ­Prologue
    In 1985, the striped bass, or rockfish, population had collapsed due to over-fishing and environmental degradation. That led to a five-year moratorium on all harvesting of the fish emposed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.


  The May worm hatches are finally done with the last full moon, and rockfish are hungry again. Anglers at Podickery, Hacketts, Tolley, Thomas Point and south have been getting fast limits of nice fish up to 34 inches by chumming and fishing cut bait. Good-sized rockfish are also being found off the Eastern Shore at the Hill and the Diamonds. Live-lining is very slow as the spot are not showing up in any numbers as yet and stripers remain few and far between, holding around the Bay Bridge structures.
  The bluefish reported earlier have suddenly become scarce, and the anticipated early rush of big croaker never developed. It looks like it may be a while before either is available in any numbers.
  White perch action is the good news of the week. Good-sized fish are moving up into the rivers, creeks and along Bay shoreline structure in numbers. Many reports of coolers full of 10-inch-plus whities are becoming more and more common.
  At Breezy Point, trollers are taking nice 32- to 40-inch fish around the radar towers. Way south at Crisfield, there are reports of spotted seatrout, redfish and croaker being taken in shallow water around the islands. The flounder are mysteriously absent as yet.
  Crabbing is still sputtering on the Western Shore with irregular runs of barely legal Jimmies, but Eastern Shore reports are of big fat crabs and lots of them.

    Coupled with strict regulations and oversight by both the Commission and state natural resource departments, the moratorium worked. The striped bass population gradually returned to health. In 1990, both recreational and commercial harvests were reinstated.
    By 1993, federal and state officials began investigating illegal commercial fishing on Chesapeake Bay. The inquiry lasted several years, resulting in $1.66 million in fines, 19 arrests (15 went to jail) and the indictment of three wholesale seafood corporations. They were charged with illegally dealing in a million pounds of striped bass, worth an estimated $7 million.
    Illegal commercial gill net operations were rumored for years before Maryland Natural Resources Police last year uncovered more than 12 tons of poached, netted  stripers.
    This year, DNR determined that commercial watermen had been systematically under-reporting the weight of the legal stripers they were harvesting, allowing them to secure additional commercial fish tags (quotas are established by gross weight not individual fish) and use them to exceed their allocations. Data analysis suggested the practice was both widespread and longtime.

What’s Proposed
    New Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recommendations include proposals for —

•    mandatory, uniform commercial tags and tagging procedures for commercial watermen across all states;
•    overall compliance and accountability of wholesale seafood distribution systems that in the past have been complicit in the illegal operations;
•    revocation of commercial licenses for offenders.

    Maryland has already passed laws adopting many of these practices. However, this Addendum would mandate them uniformly across all states, making the reduction of illegal commercial harvest and control of their activities much more likely.
    See the Draft Addendum III to Amendment 6 detailing the recommendations to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan at >>> Public Input.
    Comments are welcome until 5pm July 13: [email protected]; or by mail to ASMFC, 1050 N. Highland St., Arlington, VA 22201.
    The Fisheries Commission Board will review the comments and give final approval of the recommended options within 30 days. The provisions will be implemented in September in time for the 2013 fishing season.
    Public support for these measures is critical for their passage; commercial interests will be lobbying hard against them.