August 9th, 2019

Yesterday, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission(ASMFC) Striped Bass Management Board advanced Addendum VI to end the overfishing of striped bass for the 2020 fishing season.

Yesterday reminded me yet again that fisheries management is a difficult task for managers and even more confusing for anglers. It is also obvious that management never moves quick enough for some, and that’s why I frequently remind people that amongst the confusion, they can always be leaders in conservation by making the personal choice to direct their attention elsewhere, and respectfully urge their friends to do the same.

During yesterday’s meeting there was a bit of discussion about probability of success and rebuilding timelines to return the biomass back to target levels.  The plan calls for a return to the target in 10 years, and the addendum that was approved includes options to reduce harvest in a way that is designed to start the recovery process.  It was made clear that some board members want to explicitly define the plan to rebuild, and others feel that they are already working towards that point.   The discussion surrounding rebuilding probabilities seemed to fall short of soothing some concerns, and I’ll be working to help get some technical folks to join in on a podcast to better describe why the 50/50 probability standard exists, and is used for management action.

Another debate that played out yesterday was whether to officially start an amendment to the fisheries management plan, or to wait.  There were many reasons why board members would like to start an amendment, but that discussion was postponed until the spring 2020 meeting, an action that some opposed, but ultimately was approved largely due to limitations in the ability to complete work on both and addendum and amendment at the same time.

What are the next steps? ASMFC staff will publish the final approved addendum VI document and begin to work with states to set public meetings to allow stakeholders to share their thoughts on items contained in the document prior to the October ASFMC meeting.

At the October meeting, the Board will reconvene and review public input and decide on the next steps in their corrective actions.  Some option between status quo and what is included in the document will likely be approved, and then states can work on their state specific measures using Conservation Equivalency(CE)

CE was discussed at length during yesterday’s meeting, and some board members raised the question of whether this tool should be allowed to states as they work to manage striped bass stocks while the stock is overfished and overfishing is occurring.  A motion to remove this option failed by a large margin.

The Conservation Equivalency Guidance Document is what ASMFC uses to define and utilize this tool.   CE is defined as:

“Actions taken by a state which differ from the specific requirements of the FMP, but which achieve the same quantified level of conservation for the resource under management. One example can be, various combinations of size limits, gear restrictions, and season length can be demonstrated to achieve the same targeted level of fishing mortality. The appropriate Management Board/Section will determine conservation equivalency.”  

Rather than removing the CE option, many board members shared a desire to ensure that CE proposals are heavily scrutinized before they are approved for management, and made it clear that only measures that can be quantified in a measurable way will past the technical review which is required prior to being used for management.   Others expressed an interest in adding more “teeth” to CE proposals in future actions.

What does this mean for Maryland?   We can assume at this point that an ~18-20% reduction will be required for 2020.  The addendum VI document will allow for a couple of ways to achieve this reduction, and we will provide specific details on this document once it is published. 

Maryland DNR’s managers have already been floating numerous ideas with stakeholders that use CE tools like limiting days on the water, slot limits, and gear restrictions.   

They have also discussed partial day closures, and limiting winter access to the fishery, but it seems like the technical folks will have a hard time allowing measures like that to make the final approval because they are difficult to quantify scientifically, and in my view, are generally political measures to appease some stakeholders.  The bottom line is you can only gain a reduction in harvest or mortality when harvest and mortality is proven to exist.  Winter time catch and release fisheries have very little effort, and very little mortality, so they present very little to gain when trying to get to the 18-20% number.  

DNR leaders have also expressed an interest in holding the commercial sector harmless, so this means that the recreational sector would take a larger than 18% reduction to make up for no changes on the commercial side.  In other words, the 18% is across the board coast wide, so if the commercial sector doesn’t take a reduction, the number of fish that accounts for their 18% would be placed on the recreational side to reduce 

It is up to Maryland DNR to present the details of any proposals to stakeholders.  This mean’s the ball is now in their court, and coming up with a combination of options that recreational anglers can live with, and will turn around the decline is the task at hand.  

One other piece to note is that no existing regulation is guaranteed to stay in place, so while circle hooks helped lead to a 19″ fish and reduced discards for Maryland for the last two seasons, they will only continue to be mandated if the state decides to do so moving forward. 

Tight Lines,

David Sikorski
Executive Director
CCA Maryland

ps:  One board member did request that table that includes recreational remvoals broken down over the last many years amongst the states will be included in the published addendum document, and this will help anglers understand how we rank amongst the other states, and what numbers or fish we are looking at reducing by, rather than just percentages.