Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 24
June 15-21, 2000
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How to Keep Chesapeake Bay Full of Rockfish

I just finished consuming my month’s worth of waterfowl, conservation and fishing publications, most of which did an outstanding job of laying out the challenges that confront us if we are to restore stocks of ducks, finfish and ocean pelages — just a few of the embattled natural resources. Yet after devouring information to the point of saturation, I became a bit confused about the status of Chesapeake rockfish stocks — particularly after one regional outdoor expert expressed his chagrin at failing to land a keeper rockfish, even with this year’s more liberal creel limits.

Many fishing publications point out that, overall, the striper fishery has been very good since the moratorium was lifted 10 years ago, perhaps the best it’s been in decades. And many anglers, myself included, can attest to days where the action has been excellent. But we can also recall times when the boat smelled of skunk. After all, it is called fishing — not catching.

The essays, including one by a well-respected conservation group of which I am a member, pointed out the problems in the striped bass fishery and made excellent points about the need to monitor and speak out in support of measures to improve rockfish populations in the Bay.

The heart of the concerns seem to be that the Bay striper fishery is inundated with year-class fish from the mid-’90s, while larger, older fish that measure in the mid to upper 20-inch range are becoming scarce. Recent anecdotal evidence supports this trend. But it is the scientific data — from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, other coastal states and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission — that should be the real barometer.

Essentially, these groups have documented that the fishing-mortality rate of fish eight years and older has bumped up against the overfishing threshold set for last year. As a corrective measure, also supported by several regional conservation groups and fisheries management agencies, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission cut back on the take of those fish by 14 percent. Thus the new slot limits that are currently in place in Maryland.

There are those who believe that rockfishing would be better restricted to recreational anglers only. Perhaps that is the path all Bay fisheries are headed down in the next 50 years. But commercial watermen and fishing villages depend on income earned from harvesting the Bay’s resources. Restaurants thrive because they serve local seafood. Eliminating those important cultural and economic elements of rockfishing might be too steep a price to pay.

Are we not trying to protect and restore the Bay for the benefit of all its citizens? Or is it only for a segment of the population that meets certain criteria? Is it wrong to catch a fish and sell it to support yourself and your family — but acceptable to pursue that fish with every available technological advantage money can buy under the auspices of game fishing? Is it not possible to accommodate both the recreational and commercial interests, to find middle ground? I wonder.

The last bone I have to pick with some of these conservation articles and newsletters that purport to speak for the fish is that they failed to address two issues fundamental to any fisheries restoration and management plan: improving water quality and restoring habitat. You can legislate the recreational and commercial fisheries to the ends of the earth, raise awful amounts of money to pay lobbyists to argue your viewpoint before the state legislature and log impressive charts representing the take by commercial and recreational interests. But without controlling sprawl and without increasing oyster bars, underwater grass beds and wetlands, these efforts may be for naught.

Fish are Biting

You get a rod and I’ll get a pole, honey. You get a rod and I’ll get a pole, dear. You get a rod and I’ll get a pole, we’ll both go down to the fishing hole, honey, my darling girl.

There are plenty of fish. Find croaker and flounder in the Patuxent, Eastern Bay, Tangier Sound. Find rockfish at the Diamonds and off Love Point. Find white perch at Thomas and Tolley Point.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly