Hooking a simple answer: Too many fishermen, fish

October 13, 1990|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Why is the 1990 recreational season for striped bass ending Sunday at 8 p.m.? The basic reason, according to sources in the Department of Natural Resources and on the Striped Bass Advisory Board, is simple enough: Too many fishermen caught too many fish.

But the explanation of why so many fishermen caught so many fish in so little time is a more complicated matter -- and one that has not been fully researched by fisheries managers.

BIt seems there are three major factors that will close the fishery 10 days into a five-week season: The population of striped bass in the bay is healthy and large, the rockfish being caught are big and fishing areas in the Chesapeake and its tributaries were not restricted for this first season in more than five years.

When the 1990 season dates and creel limits for striped bass were decided, the recreational segment of the fishery was allocated 318,750 total pounds and a limit of two fish per day between 18 and 36 inches in length.

took the quota and looked at number of fishermen and the projected success rate and estimated a season and creel limit that was based on historical data," said Paul Massicot, director of policy for the DNR Tidewater Administration.

But, on Thursday, when we took a look at the number of people fishing, the average success rate and the weight of the fish being caught, it became clear that a significant percentage of the quota was caught last weekend."

Though the initial impressions of many were that not many fish were being caught in relation to the number of people fishing, Massicot said, "the amount of pounds of fish that were caught were so significant that we really had no choice but to close down the fishery."

And total poundage is the key to the closing of the fishery.

The average striped bass caught last weekend, according to Massicot and Harley Speir of the Tidewater Administration's striped-bass program, weighed between 6 and 6.5 pounds and measured 24.5 inches.

The fish are almost three times as big as they expected them to be," said Bill Hobbert, a member of the Striped Bass Advisory Board and a participant in the DNR's striped-bass monitoring program. "They set it up thinking 2.5 pounds per fish, and they are averaging 6.5."

it would seem to follow that if the fish are three times as large, then the season might figure to be a third as long.

AThe way it works out, said striped-bass expert Speir, that is not exactly the case.

is true that an 18-inch fish should weigh about 2.5 pounds," Speir said. "But there are many ranges of sizes in the bay this time of year, and it wouldn't be sensible to expect everyone fishing to catch only 18-inch fish."

the upper bay, for example, the fish are assumed to be larger than those in Maryland waters of the lower bay at this time of year, and a great deal of effort for striped bass was expended above the Bay Bridges.

Measuring the fishing effort and the success rate of the state's anglers has been a major undertaking, Massicot said, involving aerial overflights, dockside interviews by 40 monitors stationed throughout the bay region, Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association logbooks and telephone interviews with licensed fishermen.

"We set up an intensive monitoring system, the most intensive and most rapid reporting system for a large recreational season that ever has been attempted," Massicot said. "As a result, we were able to get results extremely quickly. In some cases, these reports take months to compile and evaluate.

don't have final numbers, but we have a general trend of the situation, and we are certain the recreational fishery must be closed."

he charter-boat sector of the fishery, Massicot said, "does not appear to have caught such a large percentage of their quota.

have not shut that down, but we have reduced their quota from five fish per day to two and notified the industry that it is likely they will not run a full season."

Both the recreational and charter-boat seasons were to run through Nov. 9.

suspect that, within a day or two after the recreational season ends, that the charter-boats will close, too," said Hobbert. "I think this experience really has opened some eyes."

According to Massicot and Speir, a cleareyed look at the situation may result in further restrictions for future striped-bass seasons.

I am sure this season will have an effect, in the sense that we will want to sit down after we get all the numbers in and discuss them with lots of people outside the department and just take a look at what this means," Massicot said. "It may mean there may be more interest in lower creel limits in future seasons."

lower creel limit for recreational anglers would mean one fish per day, Speir said, or it may mean two fish per day over a shorter period.

AThere also is the possibility that certain areas of the bay would be closed to fishing to reduce the catch, Speir said.

think this season will teach us a great deal," Speir said. "We never have had anything like this before. This year was a test of our systems. Whether we could monitor it. Whether the regulations we had set some time ago actually would work. Whether we would get the expected response in terms of the number of people fishing.

What this does is give us a better basis for making projections for any future seasons."

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