Experts predict sizable problem with sea trout, among other things

Bill Burton

December 07, 1990|By Bill Burton

THE OTHER shoe has dropped, and another, and expect many more to hit the deck. It's almost as if the wearer of the shoes is a centipede.

Following all the rockfish woes, along came the bluefish problem, and now it's sea trout and flounder -- not to mention tuna, swordfish, marlin, sea bass, porgies -- and the list goes on and on.

As for blues, Delaware and Virginia have implemented a creel limit of 10 a day; Maryland will be next. Pete Jensen, who heads tidewater fisheries for the Department of Natural Resources, said the management plan probably will be published next month, with hearings held in March and the plan implemented by the time the blues return.

But sea trout are the object of the latest bad news, which could hardly be worse, though the Chesapeake might be a tad better off than Delaware Bay, where fishing for weakies last season was the worst since the sister bay of the Chesapeake was rejuvenated 25 years ago.

Discount rumors that trout woes have prompted cancellation of the megabucks World Championship Weakfish Tournament at Milford, Del. That show will go on, but catching big trout is something else. Last May they were scarce; next year they will be rare.

Yesterday, John Rotach, president of the sponsoring South Delaware Chamber of Commerce, said the popular tournament -- which attracts 2,000 anglers in 450 boats -- definitely will be held, but a date won't be set until it can be determined if state regulations are forthcoming to hinder fishing during the traditional last week in May opener.

"There are no large trout at all," said Charles Lesser, who heads Delaware's fisheries. "Blame it on overfishing, both sports and .. commercial. We call it fish mortality."

Scattered schools of small trout of 2 to 3 pounds showed up in late summer; there were practically no flounder. And the only thing available for Delaware Bay anglers were "enough blues to make things interesting," Lesser added.

Delaware is going into the season with a 10-inch trout minimum. It wants a 12-inch minimum, but can't get it until New Jersey on the other side of Delaware Bay implements the same. Lesser makes no attempt to conceal impatience with New Jersey, and said fishermen of his state demand something be done immediately.

Several options are being considered, including catch limits, and there have been demands for a closure during spawning time. A bumper hatch in 1978 carried over many trout that grew to giants in 1988, but now all have been caught, Lesser said.

"In addition to less than average recruitment there has been over-exploitation of the fishery," he said.

The fish arrive in Delaware Bay in April and spawn, then move up the coast and can spawn repeatedly in other areas.

Unfortunately, trout have no homing instincts, and thus do not return to where they were hatched to reproduce. Virginia and North Carolina have been fishing trout hard on the contention that they fish separate stocks, but now there is evidence the different stocks mix.

No one needs be reminded how pitiful sea trout fishing was above Tangier Sound in the Chesapeake this year -- the first bust in ages. We had been doing well, and also maintaining a 300,000-pound commercial fishery, but latest juvenile surveys aren't promising.

John C. Bryson, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council with headquarters in Dover, Del., is concerned about trout, but downright worried about flounder as foot-dragging continues on sparing small flatties from offshore trawls.

"They're grossly overfished; it's an emergency situation," said Bryson. "They can't take much more."

Meanwhile on the drawing board for Bryson are management plans for Atlantic mackerel, sea bass, porgies, tuna, swordfish, sharks and marlin, all facing big problems in the 1990s.

The Delaware Canada goose season reopens Wednesday, not Tuesday as listed in yesterday's Outdoor Journal. The snow goose season in Delaware reopens Monday, and the duck season Dec. 19. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

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