Striped bass are overfished, the stock is declining, and if regulations aren’t changed, the decline is expected to continue. Those are the preliminary findings from the 2018 Benchmark Striped Bass Stock Assessment, which was discussed last week at a meeting of the Striped Bass Management Board. (Due to the partial government shutdown, the final assessment was not available for the meeting, however the results are not expected to change with the release of the final assessment.)
Following review, the Board discussed the need for management measures to end overfishing and increase female spawning stock biomass. The Board decided to wait to take management action until it can formally review and approve the final assessment. In the interim, they tasked the Striped Bass Technical Committee to provide additional information on the extent of necessary action and to provide an example recreational bag and size limit combination that would achieve management goals.
The Technical Committee will report back to the Board in May. Changes to striper regulations would most likely be enacted for the 2020 season.
In 2015, managers predicted that stricter striped bass regulations would reverse the decline in the stock. However, it now appears that those regulation changes did not achieve the necessary decrease in striper mortality. In fact, they may have contributed to an increase in catch and release mortality (fish that recreational fishermen release which do not survive). Data provided to the board showed that the number of fish that died after being released by recreational anglers in 2017 exceeded the number they actually kept. Massachusetts is already addressing this issue and will be holding public hearings on regulations to reduce striper mortality, such as requiring circle hooks when bait fishing for striped bass.
We’ve also posted a summary of the striped bass stock assessment, which explains what it means when managers say the stock is overfished, and how many striped bass are kept by commercial fishermen versus recreational fishermen.