Maryland natural resources officials have announced one of the lowest counts of young striped bass in years.
They nevertheless reaffirmed earlier indications that adults should be plentiful when a 5-year-old ban on harvesting striped bass in Chesapeake Bay is partially lifted next month.
In its annual young-of-the-year survey, the Department of Natural Resources counted an average of 2.1 year-old striped bass, or rockfish, in net hauls at four bay locations. The so-called 2.1 juvenile index is the lowest since a moratorium on striped bass fishing was initiated in 1985 and the fifth lowest since data on young fish populations were first compiled in 1954.
DNR Secretary Torrey C. Brown said yesterday that the 1990 index and similar fish surveys during the next two years will be key factors in deciding whether commercial and sports fishermen will be allowed to catch rockfish in 1993.
The fishing season for rockfish this year begins Oct. 5 for charter and recreational fishermen and Nov. 12 for commercial fishermen. It was announced last year by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and coincided with an unusually high DNR index of 25.2 young striped bass.
DNR officials, noting that even marine biologists do not understand all the subtleties of nature, were at a loss to explain how the index dropped so sharply in a single year.
"That's what we wish wouldn't happen, but it's normal," said Brown.
JTC Brown said state fisheries workers also counted large numbers of year-old rockfish in the bay. That was a good sign, he said, because it means last year's young are thriving.
It also suggests a reason why there are fewer juveniles this year: "Last year's [fish] ate this year's," Brown suggested. "That's one of the possibilities."
Next month, state fishermen will be permitted to harvest up to 750,000 pounds of rockfish between 18 and 36 inches in length. The commercial industry is limited to catching 112,500 pounds, with the remainder divided between recreational fishermen and the charter boats.
Brown said the fishing season will be closed early if the quota is reached before the end of five weeks.
Lt. Col. Frank Wood, of the DNR police, said officers will use an airplane and two helicopters to monitor the fishing. He said police have been instructed to arrest those who violate fishing regulations.
In extreme cases, Wood said, equipment and boats belonging to scofflaws will be confiscated.