A tip of the fishing hat to the folks at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who did a fine job managing our first rockfish season since the lifting of the moratorium.
The agency has released final harvest figures for the 1990 recreational and charter boat striped bass season. Both groups caught a little more than they were supposed to, but not enough to concern fishery managers.
The state computers estimated that the recreational anglers caught 160,455 pounds between Oct. 5 and 7. Since the total recreational harvest was set at 318,750 pounds, the DNR had to start considering the option to shut the season down early.
On Oct. 11, the agency sent out the word that the season would close Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. The estimated catch for the period Oct. 8 to 14 was 220,912 pounds. Total catch was 381,367 pounds, 62,617 pounds over the harvest limit.
Since the DNR couldn't be everywhere to count all the fish, and it wasn't practical to have each rockfish checked in, the agency was forced to come up with an accurate projection of the number of fish harvested and the weight. I won't go into every step of the equation, but the computation went something like this.
First, the DNR had to determine the number of fishing licenses and number of duplicates. A duplicate might be found in the case of someone who has a personal license and another for his boat. Total number of licenses sold by Oct. 6 was 194,847. Subtracting a small number for probable duplicates, the DNR figured there were 191,418 anglers out there.
Based on 1,228 telephone calls to anglers, 370, or 30 percent, of those called said they went fishing during the Oct. 5-7 period. Boat anglers comprised 77 percent of the total anglers; the remaining 23 percent fished from shore.
Multiplying the number of anglers (191,418) by the boat trip rate (0.301 times 0.77, or 0.23177) supplied the number of angler trips -- in this case, 44,365. Add to that the number of non-licensed anglers (under 16, over 64 or in a boat that was licensed) and the number of angler boat trips was 68,701.
Anglers' success or catch rate was based on exit interviews. During this period the 516 boat anglers interviewed caught 168 striped bass, a success rate of 32.6 percent. Multiplying the number of angler boat trips (68,701) by the catch rate (0.326) gives the DNR an estimated 22,396 fish caught.
Average weight of fish (6.92 pounds) was also obtained from the exit interviews. Multiply the weight by the number of fish and you get 154,984 pounds caught by boat anglers. During the same period 5,475 pounds were caught by shore fishermen.
Similar computations were made for the second week.
The charter boat harvest is much easier to compute. Charter captains are required to keep daily records and report once a week. However, a large number of people applied for Maryland fishing guide or charter boat licenses before opening day. Applicants for a guide license must already hold a Coast Guard license to carry people for hire.
The majority of these new guide license applicants are not really charter boat operators, but people who were trying to cash in on the rockfish for themselves or their friends. Instead of having about 300 charter boats, as the DNR expected, the number was more than 400.
Marine police know the commercial charter boat fishing ports and most of the captains, making us easy to monitor. These new guide license holders were harder to locate.
Charter boats caught 33,842 pounds the first week, 50,678 pounds the second week and 30,048 the final week, for a total of 114,568 pounds.
That's only 2,068 pounds over the 112,500-pound limit.
Personally, I think the DNR should be congratulated for setting up the rockfish season regulations and sticking to them. None of us charter captains thought we would ever reach our allocation; neither did I think the DNR people could monitor the recreational catch as well as they did.
The only complaint I've heard is that the season was too short and that the fishermen reached the limits when the season was only a few days old.
DNR officials learned much during this year's season. I'm certain they will put that knowledge to good use next year.
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.