Striped bass are managed from Maine to North Carolina by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission(ASMFC) under the guidance of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act and Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Management Act.
The Striped Bass Management Board of ASMFC has representatives from each state and federal jurisdictions. The data which is used for management is captured throughout the year, and throughout the coast, to develop a stock assessment, and ultimately guide the management of the fishery with what is called a Fishery Management Plan(FMP).
An FMP is frequently updated, and each state enacts regulatory measures consistent with this plan for each year. Not all of the states have the same rules as the next, but all of the rules in each state are approved by the Board, to ensure consistency with the FMP.
Scientists and managers have been working to develop a benchmark stock assessment for striped bass throughout the last many months, and the Striped Bass Management Board at ASMFC will be considering the use of the information provided in this benchmark stock assessment to guide management decisions into the future.
Below are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding the stock assessment process.
What information does the stock assessment provide fisheries managers?
A stock assessment provides information on the status of the stock. It estimates fishing mortality (F), Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) abundance or other similar measures and compares these values to reference points that are established by the ASMFC management board. When the measured value for fishing mortality exceeds its reference point value overfishing of the stock is occurring. When the measured biomass falls below its reference point, the stock is overfished.
How often does the ASMFC conduct a stock assessment?
Benchmark stock assessments are generally conducted every 3-4 years. Benchmark assessments use updated models and configurations not previously employed. During the in-between years, the same model is used and the new year’s data is simply added to that model. This update to a stock assessment is often referred to as a “turn of the crank”, to reflect the new data added to the existing model.
The last benchmark assessment for striped bass was completed in December 2013 and used data through 2012. This latest benchmark uses data through 2017
What are reference points, targets, and thresholds?
In the simplest terms, and for the striped bass fishery, the reference points are set to determine where the fishing mortality(F) and SSB biomass of striped bass is in relation to the place that managers would like it to be.
Fishing Mortality(F): A target level of F (Ftarget) is where the managers would like it to be, and a threshold F (Fthreshold) is where managers do not want it to go above.
SSB Biomass: The target is where the SSB biomass should be maintained, and the threshold is a level that the SSB biomass should not go below.
What information have we already received about the stock assessment (in November 2018)?
We now know that the assessment shows that the stock is overfished, meaning SSB has declined below the SSB threshold. Also the stock is undergoing overfishing, meaning the current estimate of fishing mortality(F) is greater than the Fthreshold. That being said, SSB has been declining since the mid 2000’s due to a period of low recruitment, so the Board has seen signs of trouble. Neither being overfished, or undergoing overfishing is good for striped bass abundance.
This is the first time that striped bass have been considered overfished since the stock was determined to be rebuilt(1995).
It is important to remember the striped bass SSB threshold is not a constant number, nor is it estimated from the stock assessment output as it is in many other assessments. The management board decided the stock was recovered in 1995, so the amount of SSB estimated in 1995 is the SSB threshold. Thus each new stock assessment has generated a new estimate of the amount of SSB present in 1995, and that becomes the new SSB threshold estimate, which is confusing to some.
What information do we expect to receive in February at the ASMFC Winter Meeting
The amount of information presented to the Board in February has been affected by the current federal government shutdown. The shutdown prevented the finalization of the stock assessment peer review report prior to the winter meeting. Nevertheless, the Board will be presented with the results of the 2018 benchmark assessment and at least a draft report from the peer review team.
Before each ASMFC meeting, staff provides meeting materials to Striped Bass Board members, and the general public. The meeting materials for the Feb 6th SB Board meeting are available for review here by clicking here
Page 26 of PDF starts with a Preliminary ASMFC Summary of the “2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment for Atlantic striped Bass” . The page also includes the following disclaimer:
“Disclaimer: Due to a partial lapse in federal appropriations, as of January 22, 2019, the final Stock Assessment and Peer Review Report for Atlantic striped bass has not been released by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. This summary report reflects the results of the model that is likely to be recommended for management use by the Stock Assessment Review Committee(SARC) based on conversations that occurred at the 66th Stock Assessment Workshop in November 2018. However, it is not an official finding of NOAA or ASMFC, and should be considered preliminary. This document is for informational purposes only. It should not be cited and will not be used to make management decisions.”
Will the ASMFC be making any management choices when they meet in February?
No, that would be premature. They will likely ask their Technical Committee to develop management options that would end overfishing and stop the decline in SSB. The Board, however, can initiate an addendum or an amendment to the Striped bass Management plan at any time. However, we suspect that they would delay such action until the completed and final peer review report is in hand and their TC has advised them on appropriate management options
What comes next?
The SB Board will likely seek the development management options for ending overfishing and restoring SSB, and implement them through the ASMFC’s Fishery Management Plan process, likely a FMP Amendment. This will give the angling public two different public comment periods to speak to the options presented at subsequent meetings.
It is important to remember that because striped bass are not managed under the Magnuson Stevens Act, there is no requirement to end overfishing or rebuild the stock in a time certain.