Bluefish Catch Restrictions Threaten Charter Business

OUTDOORS

Bay Requires A Separate Set Of Standards

September 16, 1990|By CAPT. Bob Spore

And from the "you can't always believe what you read in the papers" category, I did not say that the proposed bluefish creel limit of 10 a day only applied to recreational fishermen.

That quote came from a commentary in a local outdoor writer's column printed last Thursday, a column that was supposedly based on the Department of Natural Resources meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the draft bluefish, weakfish and spotted sea trout management plans.

That writer was not present at the meeting, and whoever was taking notes for him missed this one by a mile.

I did, however, say quite a lot at that meeting.

The proposed bluefish plan is part of an Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission plan for the East Coast, not something DNR biologists dreamed up.

And as I pointed out to Nancy Butowski, the part-time DNR biologist who was leading the bluefish discussion, the DNR must have a more dynamic plan for the Chesapeake Bay than the ASMFC has for the coast.

Managing bluefish along the coast should not be a problem. They start at the south and migrate to the north -- here they come, there they go. The Chesapeake is different and must have different regulations. We do not know what is going to migrate into the bay.

We had a load of 10-to 18-pounders migrate past the Chesapeake this year, and only a handful came into the bay. Therefore, the Maryland DNR must be able to set creel limits based on the size of fish available for harvest and not based on some rigid plan that is not appropriate for our waters.

With regard to daily creel limits I said that the size of the fish should determine the creel limit. If we had 3-to 5-pound bluefish to harvest, a creel limit of 10 fish is more than adequate, if we must have a creel limit. If the fish are smaller than that we need a larger creel limit.

The problem is the "perceived catch" on charter boats. If a possible charter customer thinks his maximum catch can be carried home in a five-gallon bucket, he is not going to pay the $300 to $400 for a charter.

Often the difference between the perceived catch and the actual catch is staggering. Not because we do not catch fish, but because we push conservation.

For example, when a new party gets on board I tell them that all fish leave the boat with them and ask them how many bluefish they want to take home. You are not going to get an answer the first time, but after a couple more shots the fellow who booked the trip usually asks the individuals how many fish they want and you come up with a total number. After you reach that number you catch and release.

It's important to establish this figure early, because when the fish are jumping into the boat it is so easy to fill the box with fish that will not hold the same value a few hours later. I suspect the average catch (number of fish we kill) for average (3-to 5-pound) summer bluefish is 30 to 35. That fills my Igloo 155-quart cooler a little more than halfway.

When you start looking at the average recreational bluefish catch cited in the plan, you have to wonder why the biologists went to the trouble to come up with a management plan.

As stated in the management plan, the average bluefish catch per angler per trip is fewer than two fish! Another way of stating the same data is that 93 percent of the anglers catch fewer than 10 bluefish per trip. This data, by the way, includes charter boat catches.

Fishery managers admit that the plan really is designed to stop waste and not because the bluefish is in any particular trouble. However, if they push this management plan into a regulation, which is the plan for 1991, it very likely could cause the demise of charter fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. And not because the bluefish needs protecting, but because of bureaucracy! Capt. Bruce Scheible and myself were the only charter captains with enough guts to stand up and fight the DNR Tuesday evening. The elected officers of the Maryland Charter Boat Association offered lip service, but at no time stated that the association was opposed to the management plan.

If you want your views known on this subject, write Pete Jensen, Director of Fisheries, Department of Natural Resources, Tawes State Office Building, Annapolis 21403.

As I told the DNR representatives Tuesday, I will be happy to work with or fight the DNR on this matter.

Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.

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