Are Maryland recreational anglers about to lose a portion of their allotment of the total striped bass catch to commercial interests? It’s a distinct possibility – this is a hair-on-fire moment, people.

big striper caught by angler
With new regulations coming, should Maryland recreational anglers have to give some of their catch over to commercial interests? Wait, what!?

By now we’ve all heard that the ASMFC’s stock assessment indicated striped bass are overfished. And we all know that changes in the striper regs are coming for Chesapeake anglers. In fact, the vast majority of the recreational fishing community supports instituting whatever additional measures are necessary to protect the fishery, whether that means larger size limits, shorter seasons, slot limits, or some other regulatory measure.

The recreational angling community in Maryland is whole-heartedly on board with this, as it should be. What we most certainly should not allow, however, is for commercial and governmental entities to take advantage of this situation to shift a proportion of the striper allocated to Maryland away from recreational anglers and give it to commercial interests.

Wait a sec – what do the new (and as of yet undetermined) catch regulations have to do with how the total catch is allocated between recreational and commercial interests? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But the powers that be have decided not to let a good crisis go to waste. In a smash-and-grab style maneuver they are coming for our fish.

Exhibit A is the mere existence of “Option 3” in the Draft Addendum to Amendment six.

  • Option 1 is more or less irrelevant, as it makes no changes and thus obviously does not meet the necessary reduction in harvest levels. Clearly, nobody who’s in the least bit reasonable wants that.
  • Option 2 calls for more or less equal reductions between recreational and commercial interests. Recreational anglers must remove at least 18-percent fewer fish from the water, though the different regulation options allow for up to a 21-percent reduction. Commercial fishermen must remove 18-percent fewer fish from the water.
  • Option 3: commercial takes a 1.8-percent reduction while the recreational community takes a reduction between 20- and 29-percent depending on the regulation method chosen.

Does Option 3 seem a mite unfair? Damn straight.

Here’s the stated rationale for Option 3: “The commercial fishery is managed via a static quota system which keeps effort and removals relatively constant from year to year, while the recreational management program does not have a harvest limit. This has allowed recreational effort, and therefore, removals to increase with resource availability and other social and economic factors.”

Q: How would Option 3 address and solve this issue of changing recreational harvest levels?

A: It wouldn’t.

Q: Do the regulation changes brought about by Option 2 in fact act as a limit of recreational harvest?

A: Ummm… isn’t that the whole point?

Q: Do commercial interests see an opportunity to use these proposed changes to snatch a larger portion of the total fish being harvested?

A: Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner.

Never mind the fact that the “best available science” the ASMFC uses to calculate how many fish we’re killing when we release them (nine percent) is based on a study performed in a saltwater pond in Massachusetts that specifically states it should not be used to calculate coastwide mortality. (Yes, you read that right – here’s the link to Diodati and Richards, 1996. Read the final paragraph).

We all know dang well that there’s a serious problem with the state of the overall fishery, and we’re willing to take our lumps. But there’s no reason on Earth why the recs should take 20 to 29 punches, while the commercial sector takes 1.8.

Now, here’s what you can do about it: voice your opinion. Yeah, we know, usually the regulators seem to listen intently to the recreational community’s concerns, then do whatever they had intended in the first place. But significant public engagement does make a difference. If you live anywhere near Annapolis, you can make your voice heard at the public meeting at Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday September 25. Anglers living on the Eastern Shore get their public meeting on October 3, at 6:00 p.m., at the American Legion Post 91, 601 Radiance Drive, in Cambridge, MD

You can also send respectfully-written comments to [email protected] (coast-wise) and [email protected] (Maryland DNR in specific). We need the DNR, especially, to know what our citizens think because even if Option 2 passes a conservation equivalency plan could allow the DNR to place more burden on the recreational sector, without even considering the economic impacts. You’ll be told that recreational anglers are to blame for all of the dead floating fish being seen, but they also come from nets (so what's being done to address the wasted fish from commercial gear?) And ask yourself how many keeper-sized and larger floaters you saw this year – do you really think all those fish were caught and released by live-liners and chummers (who rarely release legal-sized fish), or are bigger problems involving water quality, food availability, and other issues related to why we see so many floaters? Did anyone gather these dead fish and do necropsy studies on them to see just how many had evidence of hook damage? And if not, why not? Is it simply easier to blame the recreational community and move on?

Make your voices heard. Here’s the link to the Draft Addendum, if you want to read the entire document.