DMF reduces recreational striped bass bag limit to one fish

Massachusetts fishermen will be allowed one fish daily a minimum of 28 inches long. For many, it is a welcome change.

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Justin Pribanic holds up a striped bass he caught and released while fly fishing off Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) announced Friday it had reduced the daily bag limit for recreational fishermen from two fish at 28 inches to one fish at 28 inches.

The Massachusetts commercial quota has also been reduced by 25 percent. The 2014 Massachusetts commercial striped bass fishing quota was 1,155,100 pounds. The season closed following a reported harvest of 1,128,337 pounds.

The reduction was not unexpected. Martha’s Vineyard fishermen have expressed concerns for several years over a steady decline in the abundance and size of one of New England’s most sought-after gamefish. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a 15-member body responsible for managing fish species and implementing management plans along the East Coast, in October announced its approval of Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Striped Bass.

The changes required a 25 percent reduction in the Massachusetts commercial quota and a reduction in the recreational bag limit from two fish per day at 28 inches to one fish at 28 inches, or a similar plan that would result in a 25 percent reduction in the recreational harvest.

According to the ASMFC, the changes in the management plan that has governed striped bass for decades respond to results of the 2013 Atlantic striped bass benchmark assessment, which indicated fishing mortality was above target in 2012, and that female spawning stock biomass “has been steadily declining below the target level since 2006.”

The ASMFC said that while “the stock is not overfished, and overfishing is not occurring,” the number of spawning fish is expected to continue to fall below the set target.

DMF said it collected public comment this past winter on several options to comply with Addendum IV. DMF said it decided on one fish at 28 inches because “this change has the best chance of achieving a 25 percent harvest reduction, is easiest to understand, encourages compliance, and simplifies enforcement.”

New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have also adopted a rule of one fish at a 28-inch minimum.

Commenting on the ASMFC vote last October, Kib Bramhall of West Tisbury, a dean of the Island’s recreational fishing fraternity and a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby hall of fame, said he has seen striper numbers decline and rebound, only to decline again.

“I believe that striped bass are in serious trouble again,” Mr. Bramhall said. “The overall recreational catch is down something like 60 percent in the past several years, and the Derby weighed in 40 percent fewer stripers than last year. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.”

Mr. Bramhall applauded the ASMFC decision to implement a 25 percent reduction, but said the Chesapeake, where the reduction was set at 20 percent, should face a similar cutback.

Darren Saletta of Chatham, president of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association, which represents the interests of more than 130 commercial bass fishermen, told The Times in October his organization supports the science the ASMFC has applied to managing striped bass and the goal of sustainability. However, Mr. Saletta, a charter captain as well as a commercial fisherman, said he did not agree with a 25 percent cut across the board.

Mr. Saletta said he thought the commercial fishery should be subject to a more modest reduction. In comments last October, Mr. Saletta said the reduction in the recreational bag limit from two to one would not affect the recreational economy. Fishermen will still fish, he said. “Do we need to take 25 percent from a fishery that is a fraction of the recreational fishery?” he asked. “That’s a huge hit. That’s a lot of money.”

For more information, refer to mass.gov/marinefisheries.