Striped bass caught in Massachusetts waters returned to fish market shelves this week. Lovers of the most highly sought sport fish along the New England coast who do not have angling skills may want to take advantage of what is expected to be a short commercial season.
The commercial striped bass season opened Sunday. It will remain open until the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) estimates that the state’s quota is about to be reached. Depending on fishing success, that date could be sometime in August.
Striped bass is a highly managed species. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responsible for managing migratory species, including striped bass, and implementing management plans and quotas along the East Coast.
In 2012, the state’s commercial quota was 1,057,783 pounds. Fishermen caught 1,218,426 pounds, about a 15 percent overage. As a result, in 2013 the quota was set at 997,869 pounds to make up the difference.
Only licensed fishermen and dealers may sell striped bass, subject to strict reporting requirements. Restaurants may buy bass only from licensed dealers.
In an effort to spread out the season and avoid early season gluts, DMF allows fishermen to take five fish on Sundays and 30 fish on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, until the quota is filled.
Commercial fish must be a minimum of 34 inches in length. Recreational fishermen are limited to two fish per day which must be at least 28 inches long.
Commercial possession limits apply to any vessel regardless of the number of commercial permit holders on board. During commercial trips, it is unlawful for commercial fishermen to possess or land a recreational bag limit in addition to their commercial catch or to retain any catch at the recreational minimum size of 28 inches, DMF said.
The 2011 ASMFC stock assessment indicated that the coastwide striped bass population is declining, although it is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring, DMF said. The decline is attributed to poor to below average production of new young in Chesapeake Bay between 2004 and 2010. Further declines in harvest are anticipated until the large 2011 year-class grows and becomes eligible for fishing, DMF said.
Females reach significantly greater sizes than do males; most stripers more than 30 pounds are female. According to DMF, the number of eggs produced by a female striped bass is directly related to the size of its body; a 12-pound female may produce about 850,000 eggs, and a 55-pound female about 4,200,000 eggs.
Although males reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age, no females mature before the age of four, and some not until age six. The size of the females at sexual maturity has been used as a criterion for establishing minimum legal size limit regulations in recent years, DMF said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the commercial size limit is 32 inches. It is 34 inches.