Don’t let the temporary presence of those winter striped bass we were treated to last year fool you. Sometimes big numbers of big fish overwinter in the Bay, and sometimes they don’t. There’s just no telling. And don’t let the school of fish located in the Patapsco through most of the warmer months of the season fool you, either. Years ago there were multiple major schools spread throughout the Bay, instead of a single major school in one location. And that’s not even the worrisome thing.

striped bass survey for maryland in 2023
The 2023 Young of Year striped bass survey in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay was scary. Downright scary.

What scares the heck out of me, and I hope you, too, is the fact that the countless schools of 10” to 16” fish we see chewing on bay anchovies and peanut bunker every fall are completely MIA in the middle Bay. This entire fall I have seen them exactly zero times. Remember running from one flock of working birds to the next, trying to get away from the dinks? Five years ago it happened virtually every fall trip. Today those fish simply don’t exist, a reality that would seem to lend credence to the DNR’s young-of-year index — which has been abysmal for five years running. So, what’s in store for 2024? It shouldn’t surprise anyone that more cuts to the catch are coming.

Before we get to the possible changes in regulations, I want to point out that I personally do not believe fishing is the main reason for the current lack of fish. Yes, we take our share, both on a recreational and a commercial basis, and it does have an effect on the population. But when there aren’t any babies in the pipeline it’s impossible to maintain a healthy population whether anyone is catching fish, or not. That said, fisheries managers don’t have the ability to control water quality, the weather, the explosion of invasive blue catfish, and a myriad of other factors that add up to a rather scary lack of baby fish. So, they do the one thing they can do — cut harvest.

In this case, after all the meetings, addendums, and discussions, that boils down to doing what the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Striped Bass Plan Development Team believes will result in a reduction of between 10 and 20 percent in 2024. We’re about to be presented with a number of options, all of which include a tighter slot limit ranging from 19” to 23” to 19” to 26”, with the season remaining essentially the same. The Sport Fish Advisory Committee has recommended that Maryland eliminate the trophy season entirely, but the state has not yet publicly acted on this.

It’s imperative that everyone pay careful attention to the options that are presented. A few key factors to look for:

  • A 14.5 percent cut in the commercial harvest is currently on the table. This won’t reduce the catch as compared to 2022 because last year commercial harvesters fell short, but it caps their take more or less where they landed last year.
  • Options for discontinuing “sector separation” (recreational anglers on private boats get one fish while anglers on for-hire charter boats get two) are on the table.
  • Options for continuing sector separation are also on the table.

I personally plan to give feedback opting for the cut in commercial harvest limits, discontinuing sector separation, and the widest slot possible (as I’m afraid that tighter slots will lead to recreational anglers being “blamed” for outrageously high numbers of dead discards). I’m not about to tell anyone else which specific measure(s) to opt for, since this is a personal and contentious debate. I will say, however, that it’s absolutely critical that we all read through the options carefully, make measured judgements, and give polite and well-reasoned feedback so the powers that be know exactly where the recreational fishing community stands.

Visit the ASMFC Public Comment webpage to see where and when there are public hearings, and to see the snailmail address and email link to submit comments.