Last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) held its winter meetings, including for the Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board, via livestreamed webinar. These meetings were open to the public so we sat in to learn what we could about what the ASMFC has in mind and what may be coming down the pike.
Our biggest take-away, after listening in for three hours? Thanks to Covid of all things, striped bass management just became more difficult. Several times, committee and board members, scientists, and regulators noted that 2020 was the first year of implementation of Addendum VI management measures (the new limits and restrictions, in plain English), but thanks to Covid-19, efforts to track just what impact those measures had are "highly uncertain." Survey data is incomplete and/or nonexistent for certain areas and timeframes, and as a result, the ASMFC may have to recalibrate and push many decisions back by a year. Some of the other pertinent items we heard about included:
- There was a lot of debate over exclusions for the use of circle hooks, related to some northern tactics and the "tube rig" fishery, which boils down to sweetening a lure with a strip of bait, and whether or not circle hooks should be mandated for this type of rigging.
- Unfortunately, despite the sparring over tube rigs and artificial/bait combos, what we've learned about circle hooks here on the Bay over the past few years - that they are no panacea, and depending on size, type, rigging, and angling method in some cases result in just as many gut-hooked fish as J-hooks - was not a real factor of consideration. Managers are still working under the assumption that they reduce mortality across the board.
- At least a couple members did point out that the circle hook regs may have been adopted a bit too quickly without sufficient study, and noted the need for more science in that regard.
- Managers are still working under the nine-percent mortality assumption, based on the "best available science," even though everyone pretty much understands that this MRIP-generated figure is accepted only because we don't have any modern, science-based studies that differentiate between tactics, gear, water temperature, and all the other variables affecting release mortality. This is a shameful cop-out because we do have the tech to perform such a study in the Chesapeake Bay (piecemeal studies are being performed at this very moment, in some other states), just not the political will to make it happen. See The Future of the Striper Fishery: Demand Action on Striper Science Now for a complete run-down on the issue.
So, where do we end up as we look forward to the future of striped bass? After all the debate, the waters remain cloudy. And thanks to the data-stream interruption caused by Covid it's now harder than ever to predict what will come next, much less what should come next. The best way to keep up with the latest is to sign up for the ASMFC Constant Contact email list, or join CCA, which sends out reminders and emails as these meetings and news pop up.