The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) is a non-profit organization that began its efforts in 1977. After noticing an extreme decline in fish populations in the Texas Gulf Coast, anglers came together and decided that they needed to take decisive action. This led to the formation of the Gulf Coast Conservation Association, which has since become the Coastal Conservation Association. The goal of these fishermen was to begin to control the excess of fish being caught through the commercial fishing industry and to conserve fishing resources along the coast. Still aligning with these values today, David Sikorski, executive director of CCA-Maryland, reiterates the association's focus on continuing to conserve the resources available throughout our waterways. In focusing on conserving available resources, the association has found it important to continue to engage in policy. The goal of the association is to “conserve, promote, and advance,” states Sikorski.
Today, the association has expanded and now has a presence throughout all three coasts. The association began its outreach in Maryland in 1995 and today, Maryland has nine chapters throughout the state: Annapolis, Baltimore, Central Region, Chestertown, Greater Washington, Kent Narrows, Lower Shore, Mid Shore, and the Patuxent River. There’s also one Northern Virginia CCA chapter. The association has proven to make a difference in the management of both state and federal fisheries. Members of the CCA have the best interest in mind for both the fisheries and the fishermen as they continue to ensure the conservation of fisheries for today’s fishermen and for the fishermen of the future. Interested individuals can become a member with a standard membership fee of $35 through visiting ccamd.org/join. When joining, individuals will receive a one-year membership, a member card, a one year subscription to TIDE magazine, a membership decal, and state fish decals. Many people also join while entering CCA-sanctioned tournaments.
One of the biggest problems we’re seeing in Maryland and Virginia waters is the steady decline of striper stocks. Sikorski was gracious enough to have a conversation with us regarding this crisis, and the outlook of the striper population throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coast.
Do we have enough science to support our understanding of the striper stocks? Could we have a better understanding with more modern methodology and scientific evidence?
“There is currently science and data to back up our understanding of the striper stocks throughout, however, there is still never enough science,” says Sikorski. He also notes that more information can help to “balance the need of the resource and users… the less we are guessing the better.” He went on to say that there are still ongoing studies today. While research and data collecting is forever ongoing, it is still important that fishermen continue to strive for more clarity in understanding the stocks.
What have states done to protect the striper population? Has the data that we have available been incorporated into these regulations?
“Some states have stepped up to require actions such as the mandatory use of circle hooks,” explains Sikorski. States such as Maryland and Massachusetts have required fishermen to use circle hooks when fishing for stripers in order to ensure the safe release of fish back into the water, ahead of the January 2021 mandate that will require the use of circle hooks on a wider scale. Other states such as Virginia have taken preemptive actions ahead of addendum six to ensure the conservation of the fish. While every state has regulations in place, “some states have taken more decisive measures,” says Sikorski. While the differences between state regulations may not always be noticeable at the surface, and when digging deeper fishermen will find that some states have taken greater precautions in order to conserve the striper population in comparison to action taken by other states.
(Editor’s note: Different states have also had different levels of effort and different levels of success in enforcing regulations in general, and circle hook regulations in specific).
Sikorski says “it’s difficult for every state to directly manage and keep an eye on their striper population due to the fact that it is impossible to tell what every angler is doing on the water.” Whether it’s paid captains cheating on the waterways to better the trip for their clients or recreational fishermen who don’t have faith in or knowledge of the regulations, each has a major impact on the waterways and it’s difficult for states to closely manage.
Circle hooks have become required throughout states as a way to conserve the striper population. Are circle hooks proving to be effective in the conservation of stripers?
“Currently, it is hard to quantify the success of circle hooks without a study” explains Sikorski. Still, he does think that they are an important aspect in the conservation of stripers throughout the region. “While there aren’t any studies to quantify the success of circle hooks, it’s still important that we educate individuals on how to properly use the hooks for the safe release of the fish. And it’s important to inform the fishermen on circle hooks and the importance they can play in the conservation of the population. I hope that we can look back some years from now and see that it was an important change to conserving the fish, without having a large effect on the anglers’ effort to catch fish.”
Menhaden are a key component in the lifecycle of stripers. How can the conservation of menhaden play a role in the recovery and conservation of the striper population?
“Menhaden and striped bass are directly linked to one another in their success and failure,” states Sikorski. “Menhaden are widely considered to be the most important fish in the sea, as they are an important food fish for many species. The excess harvest of menhaden means a loss of potential protein for stripers. The Chesapeake Bay has a lot of power and menhaden are only one piece of the puzzle, however they are an extremely important aspect of the puzzle.” Based off of current numbers, the striped bass population is nearly 30 percent lower due to current levels of menhaden. For the first time in Atlantic coast history, there will be a stock assessment model for the ecological goals of menhaden. This will allow boundaries and regulations to be set to protect the menhaden population and to account for the effect that one species of fish can have on an entire aquatic ecosystem. (Learn more about the menhaden controversy in Notes from the Cockpit: Menhaden, Bunker, and LY).
How does CCA interact with young fishermen throughout the region to instill the importance of the conservation of the aquatic ecosystem?
“The most important tool for the future conservation of stripers is people participating in the fishery,” remarks Sikorski. “Even simply buying a fishing license goes towards federal funding, which fuels the science and participation of healthy fish stocks.”
This is why CCA partakes in many initiatives and events to get kids and adults involved in the conservation of their local waterways. For example, throughout the year, the association puts on fishing derbies for children. In their continued efforts to get children and adults involved, they also go to schools and businesses to inform and involve people. They often focus on building reef balls as a part of the Living Reef Action Campaign. According to the organization, the goal of this campaign is to focus on engaging students through in-class and hands-on STEM programs that encourage environmental stewardship. Traveling to schools throughout Maryland, the mobile reef building trailer provides a hands-on experience for students to engage in the conservation of the Bay while also learning about the importance of the Bay, personal responsibility, and the importance of fishing limits.
Sikorski notes, “If we can’t create a balanced, healthy place for stripers to spawn and repopulate, then we’re never going to have fish for future anglers to catch fish.”
-By Devin Garner