3 anglers holding fish
Anglers are urging fishery managers to protect more big stripers from harvest, so that likely means stricter size limits in Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic Coast. (Photo by Chris D. Dollar)

Those folks immersed into the business of fishery policy often describe the process of crafting new regulations as a marathon. The five-plus hour discussion by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) striper board was more like an ultra-marathon, a grueling task to try and figure out the best next steps of the coastal striped bass management plan. 

My temples throbbed. And I was only in listen-only mode. One veteran participant of these proceedings described it to me as “brutal.” Hopefully, ASMFC staffers passed around an industrial sized bottle of Tylenol.

For anglers who just want the box score, the upshot of the Aug. 1 meeting was two-fold: The ASMFC punted until October to vote on sending draft Addendum II to the striper management plan out for public comment, and extended the 31-inch maximum recreational size limit.

Taking a bit of a deeper dive, I’ll take the second part first. The emergency action, initially adopted by the Board at its May 2023 meeting, will now run from Oct. 28, 2023 through Oct. 28, 2024,  or until the implementation of Addendum II, whichever comes first. This is in effect across the entire recreational fishery in Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coast. 

Maryland’s spring “trophy” season – which in my view is really borne out of a marketing concept developed after the moratorium was lifted in 1990 than based on a historical fishery, but that’s a tale for another time – is exempt from this action. However, managers can decide to modify this two-week season through the addendum process, and if they do, there may be different season and size limits for May 2024. So stay tuned. 

While extending the emergency regs is necessary and laudable, will it be enough to set rockfish on the fastest path to recovery? Hard to say. My guess is that the average angler will likely see the delayed action on Addendum II as kicking the can down the road. Again. Another postponement is simply hitting the pause button on what many of us feel is required and inevitable: More sustained cuts to seasons, bag and size limits to reduce fishing mortality and protect breeding sized rockfish, which biologists say are overfished. The longer it takes to put a stronger conservation plan in place, the riskier it becomes to try and meet the 2029 rebuilding deadline.

So, if you’re curious as to why it went down this way, scroll back to the beginning. Fishery management is always a marathon, and sometimes an ultra long one at that. Collaboration is at core of the parliamentary structure that defines the ASMFC process, which has been in place since 1942. And sometimes that means things move at a jellyfish pace. Addendum II is a very complex and complicated document with many – too many, some say – choices on the menu. Attempts to cull out and simplify the language so the Board could approve it and send it out for public comment fell short. Barring any additional hiccups, Addendum II should be approved at the ASMFC’s October meeting with public hearings being held in late 2023. The draft addendum will then come back to the ASMFC for final approval at the January meeting. 

Meanwhile, sport anglers’ frustrations continue because some leaders are not being proactive enough to conserve more rockfish overall, and inequities continue with things like Conservation Equivalency, especially in Chesapeake. 

Amid all of this, I also see a silver lining. There is a real opportunity for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources to show determined leadership and reverse several years of tepid conservation efforts and an aggravating lack of transparency. One relatively straight-forward fix in Maryland waters would be to level the playing field by making the bag limit to one rockfish for everyone. No doubt that would stir up a hornet’s nest. But good leaders make hard, and sometimes unpopular decisions. Ball’s in your court, DNR.

Sept. 21: Don’t Miss Episode 3 of Chesapeake Perspective!

CCA and its partners are hosting Season Two of Chesapeake Perspective with three thought-provoking seminars sure to spark innovative and move forward solutions to some of the most pressing issues confronting Chesapeake recreational anglers. 

Moderated by FishTalk’s Lenny Rudow, Episode 3 – the final show of the 2023 series – airs at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21. Registration is free. Entitled “Habitat Preservation and Restoration,” this episode should offer lively discussion by our expert panel, each a leader from the Chesapeake and Atlantic region. You can have a chance to ask questions during the live stream via Facebook on YouTube.