ASMFC says striped bass stocks are healthy
Striped bass stocks along the Atlantic coast are healthy and growing. An interstate management plan designed to protect the highly migratory striper is working and overfishing is not occurring, according to Federal regulators.
The positive assessment of the highly prized sportfish that is a mainstay of the Vineyard's recreational and charter-boat fishing industry was presented at a recent meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The 15-member body is responsible for managing species and implementing management plans along the East Coast.
According to a press release dated Feb. 5, ASMFC fishery scientists estimate that the number of fish capable of spawning is well above the target level and there have been several years of juvenile abundance (see associated charts here).
ASMFC said that 2003 was a particularly strong year for one-year-old fish. Those five-year-old fish are commonly referred to as schoolies by Island fishermen and are not as prized as older, larger fish.
In an email to The Times, Nichola Meserve, ASMFC fisheries management plan coordinator, said records show that the number of fish ages eight and older has generally increased. The catch of large striped bass, age 13 and older weighing approximately 25 pounds and up, increased from 1982 to 2006.
"Additionally, catch of age 10, 11 and 12 has increased too," Ms. Meserve wrote. "There have been less age 7 and 8 fish in the catch recently, but it is expected that this trend will reverse in the next few years as the strong 2003 year class enters those size groups."
There are fishing organizations that disagree with that rosy assessment. In a recent press release Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever, a web-based conservation group that supports sport fish status for striped bass, said that the numbers mask the real truth. He said, "As commercial and recreational removals continue at historically record levels, anglers from North Carolina to Maine are catching fewer and smaller stripers. Even through the fog created by the ASMFC's wildly vacillating stock assessment numbers, the real message is clear: by every measurement, fishing mortality on stripers is rising and the spawning stock biomass is shrinking."
Striped bass management has often been a contentious issue that divides recreational and commercial fishermen. Some recreational fishing groups, including Stripers Forever, oppose commercial fishing, contending that bass are more valuable as a recreational fish, and have pushed for gamefish status. Massachusetts commercial hook and line striped bass fishery is managed by a strict quota system.
According to the ASMFC, total striped bass harvest (commercial and recreational) in 2006 was estimated at 3.82 million fish, a 46-percent increase from 2002.
At 62 percent of the total Maryland accounted for a sizeable share of the commercial harvest.
The recreational catch, including discard losses, accounted for 79 percent of the total fishery removals in 2006, according to the ASMFC. Maryland recreational fisheries harvested 24 percent of total recreational landings in number, followed by Virginia (22 percent), New Jersey (18 percent), Massachusetts (12 percent), and New York (11 percent).
For more information on the ASMFC and fisheries stocks, go to www.asmfc.org.