Natural Resources police say there has been good compliance so far with state limits on catching rockfish, even though they wrote 85 tickets for fishing and boating violations during last weekend's crowded debut of the rockfishing season.
Lt. Col. W.B. "Woody" Willing, chief of field operations, said DNR police cited an unusually high number of fishing infractions during the long Columbus Day holiday weekend. They also issued 64 warnings, either for boating violations or for fishing without a license, he said.
But Willing declared that overall there was "excellent" compliance with state rules limiting the catch of striped bass, or rockfish, given the number of anglers who flocked to Chesapeake Bay since the state's nearly 6-year-old rockfishing moratorium was relaxed Friday morning.
"We had thousands and thousands of people out there," Willing said. "We had as many boats as we have in the bay any weekend."
There was one death associated with the weekend fishing flurry. Willing said DNR police pulled three people from the bay near Hackett's Point over the weekend after their boat capsized. One of the three, whose identity has not been released, died of unknown causes, Willing said. DNR police also responded to another boat sinking, but there were no injuries in that case, he said.
DNR police checked about 8,000 boats and more than 15,000 fishermen over the weekend, Willing said. About 2,600 rockfish caught were measured to ensure they were between 18 inches and 36 inches long -- the legal limits, he added.
There were 46 tickets for fishing without a license, 26 for undersize fish and eight for fishing either before 5 a.m. or after 8 p.m., the legal time limits, Willing said.
Only one fisherman was cited for having more than the legal catch limit of two fish per day or five per day for charter-boat customers. Willing said one ticket was issued for an unlicensed fishing guide and for three boating violations.
Willing declared the rockfishing season debut "very successful" from a law enforcement standpoint.
"We had a lot of small fish being caught and being released," he said. "People were generally compliant at this time. We hope it lasts throughout the season."
W. Peter Jensen, DNR's fisheries director, said that state officials were reviewing reports from the state's 80-person monitoring force around the bay to see if the five-week fishing season would need to be shut down early.
Based on preliminary reports from the weekend, Jensen said, it appeared that fishermen were not finding that many rockfish big enough to keep in much of the bay.
That fits with projections DNR officials made last week. DNR officials countered dire predictions from critics of lifting the rockfish moratorium, who had warned that so many fishermen would crowd the bay that recreational anglers and charter boat customers would quickly catch their state-imposed quota of 430,000 pounds of rockfish.
A fishing moratorium was imposed, meanwhile, on catching striped bass in offshore Atlantic Ocean waters controlled by the federal government. That move was intended to close a loophole in states' fishing regulations and to ensure that catch restrictions were effective, officials say.