Guest Blog: Maryland Seeks To Slow Striped Bass Recovery

(Adapted from Charles Witek’s personal blog, “One Angler’s Voyage.”

Most of our striped bass are spawned in Chesapeake Bay, and most of those come from the waters of Maryland.  For that reason, Maryland’s striped bass young-of-the-year index has generally been the best future predictor of the future health of the stock.

Thus, folks who care about the striper’s future have been rightly concerned by the fact that the index has been coming in below average for most of the years in the past decade, with the 2012 index the lowest in more than fifty years.

The one bit of good news came in 2011, when a dominant year class was produced.

You would think that the folks who manage bass down in Maryland would be doing whatever they can to help those 2011s live long enough to recruit into the spawning stock, something that should happen in 2017 or so.

But if you thought that, you would have been wrong.

Maryland has a long history of killing immature bass (back before the collapse in the 1980s, a legal “pan rock” was just 12 inches long), and it doesn’t look like they’re planning to reform any time soon.

Right now, they’ve got the 2011s fixed dead in their sights.commercial striped bass

It started last fall when, despite the steady decline if the spawning stock biomass, the state declared its intention to increase the harvest by 14% in 2014.  I suppose that went over well with the folks who make their money off the heads of dead fish, but folks capable of thinking about the long term—which, in this case, is anything past the current season—figured out that beating up on the only solid year class in the last decade was probably a dumb idea.

Coastal Conservation Association Maryland made a really solid effort to prevent such foolishness from going forward but, in the end, the chance of plucking more dollars from the heads of dead bass proved far too attractive for the state to change course.

So this year, the Maryland folks are killing more bass, even though a peer-reviewed stock assessment that was presented to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last October and updated in December made it clear that, although the stock was not yet overfished, the target fishing mortality levels had been exceeded and the spawning stock biomass had been below target levels since 2006.

Amendment 6 to ASMFC’s striped bass management plan says that “If the Management Board determines that the fishing mortality target is exceeded in two consecutive years and the female spawning stock biomass falls below the target in either of those years, the Management Board must adjust the striped bass management program to reduce the fishing mortality to a rate that is at or below the target within one year.“

That seems pretty clear, but not if you’re Thomas O’Connell, the marine fisheries director for the State of Maryland.

Instead of making meaningful changes to reduce fishing mortality to the target level, O’Connell decided that he’d rather make changes to Amendment 6, and allow harvest reductions to be phased in over three full years, instead the one year currently required.

As too often happens at ASMFC, it was a matter of elevating short-term economic gains over the need to conserve and rebuild the stock.  At the May Striped Bass Management Board meeting, O’Connell said

“I think it really comes down to a cost-benefit analysis and trying to weigh the impacts versus the likely benefits of our action today…I think we don’t have a stock situation that is in dire need of protection…”

Not everyone on the Management Board shared that view. Paul Diodati, the state fisheries director from Massachusetts, eloquently opposed O’Connell’s approach, correctly noting that

“We’re actually working off the tenets of Amendment 6, which are pretty clear about what this board is supposed to do.  We’re not supposed to wait until we fall down well below the levels that [Thomas O’Connell is] suggesting.  We’re supposed to take an action now.

“It is always difficult when we have to make a cut, especially when our fisheries aren’t completely falling apart, but with striped bass we took a very deliberate approach to how we were going to react to and address changes in stock condition.  This is the change that we identified many years ago as a point in time when we’ll take a serious action to reduce fishing mortality.  We’ve reached that.  In fact, in my belief we have gone well beyond the time that we allowed ourselves to take this action.

“I think that any further delays is going to hurt the credibility of the commission.  It is going to completely tarnish the integrity of the Striped Bass Management Plan, which I think we’ve worked really hard to maintain as a top-notch managed program.  I don’t think that’s our intent, but I’m afraid that would be the result of delaying action on this…”

Pat Augustine, proxy for New York’s legislative appointee, also raised the issue of ASMFC’s credibility, pointing out that

“I think at the end of the day if we just decide we’re not going to follow through on what our commitment was last year to be well on our way to recovery and implementation January of 2015 and come up with anything that is going to dilute the direction we’re going, I think we will totally lose the credibility of the public…There is a lot of emotion out there; and to do anything other than what we committed to do, we’re going to have mud all over our face and we’re going to embarrass ourselves…”

However, Tom Fote, governor’s appointee from New Jersey, was quick to jump on the O’Connell bandwagon, trying to discredit Augustine with the argument that

“The credibility is that we’re basically trying to accommodate fishermen … this is a compact of all the states that we try to accommodate our fishermen whatever they need …I have no problem and our credibility always stands as it is…”

Although, in the end, the facts spoke for themselves, and Diodati was clearly correct.  When ASMFC adopted Amendment 6, it made a covenant with the public to take management action when a trigger was tripped.  Should the Striped Bass Management Board ultimately approve a three-year phase-in of the reduction, it will have violated the public trust, and demonstrated that its word is not to be trusted.

There’s no doubt that Maryland is going to work hard to make that happen, and in the end, it’s easy to understand why. The 2011 year class won’t recruit into the coastal fishery until 2017.  Until then, Maryland and the other Chesapeake fisheries will have them to themselves.

So why does Maryland want to kill so many striped bass?

As O’Connell said, for “socio-economic” reasons. Which is the nice way of saying that it’s all about the almighty buck, and someone trying to squeeze a little more blood from the stone before casting it aside.

Maryland’s commercial sector killed 2,524,181 pounds of stripers in 2012 (compared to the 1,445,187 pounds landed by its anglers), and it has a big charter fleet that puts dead bass high on its list of priorities, killing  46% of the entire recreational harvest. O’Connell is trying to put a little more money in their pockets today, rather than trying to restore the stock—and so putting more money in their pockets tomorrow.

Maryland’s staunchest allies on the Management Board, Tom Fote of New Jersey and Rick Bellavance of Rhode Island (who said “…from the folks that I speak to in our neck of the woods, we don’t see a problem”), don’t seem to have much constituent support.

So it looks as if Maryland officials have taken a position that is not supported by the public at large, by Amendment 6 to the management plan nor by the stock assessment.

Yet they continue to oppose needed conservation measures.

Which just shows, once again, that so long as there is money to be made, there will always be someone trying to do the wrong thing at ASMFC.

30 on “Guest Blog: Maryland Seeks To Slow Striped Bass Recovery

  1. Joe Fisherman

    We, the Citizens, deserve the right, and we should unite, and sue these individuals personally, and the group as a whole.

    It’s is obvious to us, (and it must be obvious to them, the experts) that the striped bass stock is in serious trouble. Just ask the rec. anglers on LI and the fishing boat captains. Most of them have switched fishing for other species this year.

    1. JM

      When I was living near Annapolis in the 2010 2011 years poachers in the Chesapeak had netted
      something like 20 tons of stripers on 2 to 3 diff occasions. They abandoned there nets and were never caught. There were so many fish that the huge boat with the giant crane could Not even lift the net out of the water they needed additional equipment (another boat but bigger) It was kept fairly quiet all that stock, tens of thousands gone. Now this! Heads up there ^$$

  2. Kevin Kay

    When Paul Diodati admits that there are problems and that action should be taken, you can be sure that the bass is in trouble.
    There must be some legal means to stop Maryland from killing off the 2011 year class. Incredible how short sighted these selfish bastards are!

  3. arlan

    Obviously never heard of the saying save for a rainy day. And once the damage is done could take decades to recover and that’s an if. Its hard to comprehend the authorities are allowing this . Ban commercial fishing , you’d be surprised how many more recreational fishermen will appear if they know they can catch some and they spend in locales. Its much better economics and doesn’t destroy the fishery , its worked in Australia , the government bought out the professional fishing licenses and banned commercial fishing in many lakes and rivers and the recreational fishing has boomed.

  4. Capt Paul Eidman

    Our future without striped bass is meaningless. How these supposed leaders at the ASMFC are prioritizing commerce over conservation is beyond me. All of these guys have lived thru the moratorium, yet still cannot see the train coming at us thru the tunnel. WTF

  5. Brian

    Once again…an example of politicians ignoring scientific evidence about fish populations. Politicians probably will not be forced to do something about striped bass unless the population nears collapse. Just look at what happened with cod…. Better commercial fishing technology was one of the major factors that drove the collapse of the cod industry and it’ll do the same to other fish species. I suspect we’ll be having a similar discussion about tuna in the near future….

  6. PaulI

    Once again I see a moratorium coming. I lived through one in the late 80s and early 90s. The stocks recovered but are again on that slippery slope to oblivion. I find it disturbing that the management people in Maryland don’t understand what is happening to our beloved stripers.

  7. Mooncusser

    It amazes me that we can’t learn from our past mistakes and successes. The Striped bass fishery in the early 80’s was non-existent. It recovered because science won over politics. Now we are right there again, staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, or an empty northwest Atlantic…depending on your perspective.
    The striped bass needs to given the designation of gamefish. The success of the redfish in Florida is the model that must be used if we want to preserve the recreational fishery that brings millions of dollars to the Cape, Long Island, the Chesapeake and many other northeast coastal communities. MAKE IT A GAME FISH!

  8. Jim

    We need to Unite! Hold the lame brains accountable! We cannot let this happen! We worked hard, and made sacrifices through the years to enjoy this fishery! Let’s not let it slip away guys! For some of us, it’s the only reason we are still sane and healthy! Can’t we get other politicians to combat these morons, on our behalf? After all, we put them in office!

  9. Craig McLaughlin

    What a shame, sad really…without a doubt effecting the fishery in New England!

  10. Chuck W

    What about the large breeders that normally would return to the Chesapeake to spawn but are taken year after year from the New England states?

    Don’t get me wrong, MD and VA have plenty of problems when it comes to fisheries management. I’m just saying you should look in the mirror before pointing fingers.

  11. Dennis Dunstable

    Mass Department of Marine Fisheries: “We, the official recreational and commercial fisheries council, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, hereby ORDER the Maryland Marine Fisheries Department to enforce the mandatory regulation requirements – and make the necessary quota cuts – to ensure the future of our rich striped bass fishery for generations to come!”

    Maryland Marine Fisheries Department: “How are the current commercial and recreational (cough cough) Gulf of Marine cod + ground fish recovery regulations and measures going up there?”

    (Chirping crickets in the background…)

  12. Bill

    Mr. Bellavance of Rhode Island has heard many opinions and annecdotes that suggest the striped bass population is in trouble and a reduction in numbers and/or an increase in size is warranted. I believe the quote listed above is related to the charter boats who target a max boat limit of breeder cow bass every day for huge sums of money. They go where the fish are and load up. It’s the same reason the commercial guys haven’t experienced a decline. They go where the fish are and load up. The guys restricted the the shore or near-shore are the ones experiencing a decline because we wait for the fish to come to us. We are the ones in RI (and likely, everywhere else) who support immediate action because we have been seeing a decline for years. We are not profiting through cash-in-pocket by a healthy striped bass fishery. I’m not in favor of putting the entire charter fishery out of business. However, if the fishery can’t sustain the current limits, then it MUST change to a maximum level which is sustainable plus additional reductions to allow the stock to recover immediately.

  13. chip bourget

    No where are the breeding conditions mentioned.
    The breeding conditions are the overriding problem with recruitment. For the managers not to mention this as a factor shows a complete lack of competency at the ASFMC and the MASS DMF.
    Political considerations and a failure to once again correct the breeding environmental condition make the striped bass fishery terminal. Look at it this way>> The climate change deniers(Flat earthers) are the same cut of DNA as the fishery mangers. Both the earth / humanity and the striped bass doomed!!

  14. chip bourget

    Also I would also add that the ulterior motive of the “fi$hery manager$” is to keep the various users groups at each others throats.
    In that way , as with striped bass, they do not have to address the demise of the menhaden fishery, key to the bass fishery in the Chesapeake Bay areas and Ne areas as well… The bass now have lesions and are forced to munge around on crabs, snails and other non nutritious food types. Like eating cotton candy. The American eel has been decimated as well as the alewife herring.

    The salinity and run off pollution were the primary aspects of the initial recovery starting in the late sixtys and forward. Empirical evidence (lack of recruitment) indicates the balance with natures prescription for recruitment has once again been violated.
    Do not get smoozed by Mr. Diadoti the striped bass and the fisherman are not being considered in a logical manner. Its all smoke and mirrors, forty years of experience taught me that is a fact!!

    1. scott lee

      Great insight… i appreciate how you speak of how other aspects that impact the ecosystem need to be considered as part of the bigger problem. This same dynamic is really true with the collapse of the cod fishery in the gulf of Maine.
      Really sad that we have to see a fishery devastated before we can actually make effective changes.

  15. Eddy Petch

    In your comments above (and other OTW articles) you all have taught me the seriousness of fisheries management. Ty.

    Now consider this: what tangible and IMMEDIATE consequences do Maryland commercial fisherman (as well as their policy makers) face from overfishing?

    Do they face a tarnished reputation? Lol. Are they fined? Can they be sued as suggested above?

    I respect all of you. I am a Western Mass recreational fisherman who spends many $100s each year to catch an average of 1 keeper Striper.

    I urge you all to stop restating the problem and FOCUS ON FIGURING OUT WHAT CONSEQUENCES ARE POSSIBLE. For example, does Maryland export anything we might ban?

  16. ct duchunter

    It’s amazing to me the lack of common sense with in government on all levels. We all have noticed the decline of Striped Bass numbers in the last 10 years. Not only are large bass in decline but school bass have been non existent in my area. In the 35 years I have fished for bass I have never seen numbers so low. Regulations need to be put in place now. If local government can’t come up with common sense regulations then maybe it’s time the federal government steps in to do so. Commercial fishing and Charter boat fishing is hard work and I hate to limit anyone’s means to support their family. But both are doing a number on bass numbers and needs to cease before it’s too late. We need to change regulations. 2 fish at 28 inches is too much. 1 fish over 38 inches seems to make more sense,charter boats can operate and their clients can keep one trophy. I hope everyone takes 10 minutes to email your local and federal government officials. Let them know your concerns about the striped bass fishery. Let them know something needs to be done soon before it’s too late. Your email may fall on deaf ears, hopefully it doesn’t and something is done soon.

    1. kyle

      You people have to understand that if you stricken the laws in some states others will not follow.
      Take your arms from around that tree and put them on your rod.
      Theirs plenty of fish to be caught if you know what your doing.
      Everyone is very sorry stripers arent as easy to catch as sunfish.
      To make a long story short its america a dog eat dog world you think americans care about the future fishery lol lol

  17. scott lee

    Focus on this guy and his crooked cronies… Thomas O’Connell, the marine fisheries director for the State of Maryland.

    Instead of making meaningful changes to reduce fishing mortality to the target level, O’Connell decided that he’d rather make changes to Amendment 6, and allow harvest reductions to be phased in over three full years, instead the one year currently required………….. This really says it all… like many others have stated above…. how do we get this crooked snake out of office and support people that have better moral and ethical standards. and like others have said above… I hope everyone takes 10 minutes to email your local and federal government officials. Let them know your concerns about the striped bass fishery. Let them know something needs to be done soon before it’s too late. Your email may fall on deaf ears, hopefully it doesn’t and something is done soon….. this is one of the most powerful tool the public has

  18. Don Yeakle

    I fish the Chesapeake April – November nearly every week. The demise of the menhaden in our bay has created serious problems. These fish are a food source for the bass and a filter fish for the bay. When these menhaden are permitted to flourish in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay so to will the striped bass.
    I know that this is only one of the problems that the bay faces however I believe that it is one of the most critical.

  19. Pete steinbach

    Everybody could do their part,despite poor management in the primary spawning state. Mass could shut down the commercial fishery and limit recreational take to one fish. The entire range of these fish should be managed as a whole not as a whim. Slot limits would be the best way to protect the most viable spawners. Every time the stock crashes,people point fingers. I’m tired of the rhetoric. If all of us pulled our heads from our asses and gave these fish a break once in awhile, they would do fine.

  20. Mike “The Fish Hound”

    Do yourself and the fish a favor: Throw them ALL back.

    They are all too dangerously high in PCB’s, dioxins and mercury. In fact, there is an advisory here in Maine for adults (not children or pregnant women) to limit consumption to 3-4 whole meals of bass a year!

    As for commercial status, the same rule applies, that being no harvest. Down the whole eastern seaboard, give the striper game fish status and the problem is eliminated forever.

    Oh, and I like the idea of slot limits. When it comes to proper management (for the most part), every state along the western Atlantic coast should emulate Florida’s fishery management programs.

  21. Joe G

    There are a lot of considered thoughts above me here and I tend to agree that the Management lacks any managing skills save for grabbing the money! We DO need to get back to the urgent actions we took in the eighties to restore the then, nearly non-existent stripers. That the Menhaden stock is being decimated is now a well known story; you can’t grow fish without food! Feeding the menhaden to cats and cattle is just plain stupid and short sited. But That does seem to be the human condition, and certainly the politicians views, short sited and stupid. We really need to get a handle on WHO is on the fisheries commissions!
    We ought to throw Mr. O’Connell to the fishes! The sharks probably would’nt touch something that foul! Keep fighting them we WILL eventually get them to listen.

  22. Old Pete

    Ecosystems are multifaceted, linked and often fragile, but not necessarily hard to figure out once the facts are present. When ecosystems and the species in them are attacked at several fronts simultaneously the outcomes are generally poor. (As a society, when will we be able to file this under “Obvious”? No time soon, I’m afraid.)
    In no particular order:
    -critically unhealthy Chesapeake Bay and other traditional spawning/growing/feeding habitats
    -primary prey (menhaden & river herring) severely reduced all along the Eastern Seaboard (see unhealthy habitats and mid-water trawler by-catch)
    -nonsensical/too lenient recreational limits in most states
    -commercial striped bass fishery still in existence and overly generous
    -mid-water trawler by-catch, including by-catch and discard of thousands of striped bass annually (this happens and be skeptical if you’re told it doesn’t)

    Much work needs to be done to return the recreational striper fishery to good health. Get involved as much as you can. A lot is great but even a little helps.

  23. JohnNoth

    I feel fortunate to have fished back in the 1990’s through the mid 2000’s and experienced that kind of striped bass fishing we had. It’s gone down hill and our elected officials and departments aren’t doing enough if anything at all. As I age I can only hope I will see one more rebound and be able to enjoy once again the thrill that Striper fishing is. There are hard decisions to be made, individuals and industries will have to sacrifice if not suffer. It’s the only way.

  24. Joe G

    It seems as obvious as the nose on your face that the ASMFC or at least most of the commission is firmly in the pockets of the Commercial fishing lobby. Suing them personally is a good start. Perhaps a good tar and feathering would’t hurt either!
    Maybe someone should look into Mr. McConnells banking situation because someone that dumb and shortsighted is likely to have left a trail of the bribes he may have taken to SO Screw the stripers. … Just a thought Tight Lines j

  25. chris

    Any Striped Bass fisherman recreational or commercial that says they have not seen a major decline in the Striped Bass fishery over the past few years is either delusional or really good at telling fish stories…we need to act soon before the damage becomes to great to repair…

  26. Tom

    How can they support bag numbers that include sexually immature bass regardless of biomass? The ocean is clearly not teeming with stripers so what’s wrong with letting a few great years of offspring develop? There will be more for all that way.

  27. ОООВалок_Игнат

    RE:Guest Blog: Maryland Seeks To Slow Striped Bass Recovery – On The Water НПП Валок Ролики печей цемзаводов

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