The Department of Natural Resources has delivered on its promise to closely protect rockfish in the Chesapeake by shutting down the recreational season early. After 10 days of intensive fishing, anglers quickly approached the collective limit of 318,750 pounds. Not every sportsman was lucky enough to land a prize; not everyone was satisfied.
The DNR, however, will do the state a service if it continues to micro-manage the fishery -- even if this means eliminating two-thirds of a fishing season. What we are witnessing is the development of a long-term program for preserving rockfish which, before a long and steady decline, swam all over the bay in bountiful numbers.
Unfortunately, that has not in recent years been the case. Demographic pressures have preyed heavily on the ecological balance so necessary to maintain healthy fish stocks.
What happens next will depend on the coordinated efforts of DNR agents responsible for up-to-date counts on the amount of fish in the bay. If the numbers hold, there is little doubt that DNR will prematurely end the rockfish season originally allotted to charter boat captains. Should the current counts continue, there is also reason to believe the season planned for commercial fishermen next year could be curtailed as well. Such decisions could lead to renewed legislative pressure to stop these practices.
Fishery managers, however, are determined that if they err it will be on the conservative side. They are right. They set plateau figures for 30- or 35-day rockfishing seasons based on the fish count. Though the 1989 spawn was the highest in 20 years, anglers can hardly afford to blow their boat horns up and down the Chesapeake in salute of the return of rockfish.
Nor should DNR change its low limits to appease anxious individuals, groups and commercial crews. Those who fish bay waters should cooperate rather than carp over getting less. The politics of fishing for rockfish is secondary to restocking and keeping the species alive and abundant in local waters.