The Price of Striped Bass

July 26, 2011
The price of striped bass

After years of holding up striped bass as the model of how humans can save a species from extinction, fisheries managers are finding out that the glue holding the model together is beginning to weaken.

Disease and pollution are taking their toll. Poachers steal at will. Government is unwilling to pay for scientific and enforcement muscle. Regulators posture instead of acting boldly.

It is human nature to continue to bask in a singular success long after everyone else has moved on. Ballplayers, actors and politicians extend their careers by reliving “the big one” and finding folks willing to pay for the honor of listening.

Right now, state fisheries managers are proposing a sweeping set of reforms to get a handle on a commercial striped bass fishing industry that the public doesn’t trust. Weeks of headlines and photos of illegal nets filled with tons of fish will do that to your image.

But both the watermen and the recreational community are asking the same question: Who will pay the bill?

The answer — coming in the next week or so — could doom the entire effort. Meanwhile, the state keeps plugging away at a plan to get the Maryland striped bass fishery in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast certified by an independent auditor as sustainable.

The difference between what the watermen pay in permits and fees ($451,000) and what it costs to monitor and enforce the industry ($1.2 million) is out of whack. The watermen say they can’t afford to pay for the measures that would go a long way to restoring public trust.

The recreational anglers say they won’t. And more importantly, they are not buying the old line that what’s good for the commercial industry is ultimately good for them.

As all this plays out, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be meeting Aug. 1 to yak some more about striped bass, vamping until a new population assessment comes out this fall that will tell all of us whether we’re being good stewards or just running our mouths. It will be interesting to listen to the commissioners from all Eastern Seaboard states try to position themselves for both good news or bad news. No doubt the “I told you so” choir will be warming up backstage.

Speaking of choirs, the auditor from Moody Marine Ltd. will be in town Aug. 9, setting up shop in Calvary United Methodist Church next to the Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Annapolis to hear from the masses. You may testify beginning at 6 p.m.

Moody will decide whether Maryland’s striped bass fishery is up to sustainability standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council. If we make the grade, those in the commercial fishing industry will be able to buy the rights to use the MSC seal on their products.

But here’s what worries me. Even if Moody gives Maryland a thumbs up, who’s going to believe it?

We’ve had three consecutive years of below average striped bass production. The state still cautions people, especially women of child-bearing years and children, not to eat too much striped bass because of lingering cancer-causing PCBs. The Chesapeake Bay dead zone will consume a larger area this year. And a decade after conservationists issued their warning, the ASMFC is still trying to decide what to do about the commercial harvest of menhaden, a small fish that feeds stripers but appears to be on the decline in the bay.

Maybe the MSC seal can be strategically positioned over rockfish sores to make them more attractive to the marketplace.
Posted by Candus Thomson at 6:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)