On Tuesday, the Striped Bass Advisory Board will hold what should be its last public meeting of the year. It is expected that recommendations for the 1991 rockfish seasons will arise from that session and be forwarded to the Department of Natural Resources.
At this point, the advisory board is in agreement that it favors a fall fishery similar to what had been expected to be a five-week season this year and the initiation of a limited spring fishery in 1991 -- if DNR figures show the stocks can support one.
"They have not made their final recommendation, but they have come to a number of preliminary conclusions," said William P. Jensen, director of fisheries for the DNR's Tidewater Administration. "What is really hanging them up is the discussion over the fine-tuning of a spring fishery."
The spring fishery, which would be aimed at migratory stocks of striped bass, is a matter that is being discussed mainly between PTC the charter-boat industry and the other recreational fishermen.
The commercial interests represented on the board have little interest in a spring fishery because their meager portion of the 380,000-pound quota would be impossible to divide fairly among the watermen. That leaves the full quota to be divided among the charter boats and the other sport fishermen.
The charter industry has been pushing hardest for the spring season because an early season would be an economic boost after a few slow years when early runs of big bluefish have not materialized.
The dates being discussed are a trophy season from May 1 through May 15 and a minimum size limit of 36 inches. Smaller limits would be in effect from May 16 through the end of the month.
The concern of a spring season is that the stocks being fished on will include spawners, which are crucial to the continued recovery of the fishery.
Conservationists and conservation groups such as the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen's Association are opposed to opening the spring season because of possible damage to the spawning stocks.
To offset the damage to spawners, one recommendation is that no fishing for stripers be allowed above Bloody Point.
"For some time we have been something like a rowboat without oars," said William Goldsborough, chairman of the advisory board. "We have asked the [DNR] for figures to support several scenarios, and they have promised to make them available.
"But all that should be decided once and for all next week. We will make a recommendation to the department, and they will take it under advisement."
Jensen said his department, which is bound only to consider the recommendations of the advisory board, must start the regulatory process shortly after the first of the year in order to implement a spring season.
If the spring fishery were bypassed, the regulatory process would not have to begin for the fall season until May or June.
The advisory board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Department of Agriculture building on Harry S Truman Parkway in Annapolis. The public is invited to attend.
Among other changes that are expected in Maryland saltwater fisheries in 1991 are:
* The institution of a 10-fish per day creel limit for bluefish. Jensen said action to implement the limit will be initiated shortly after the first of the year. The creel limit would take effect in 1991.
* The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a federal body that regulates fisheries, has agreed to establish a weakfish/sea trout management board to coordinate unified action among coastal states to enhance the sea trout population. "We do intend to propose a 12-inch minimum size for sea trout in Maryland this year," Jensen said.
* Flounder, which was bumped to a 13-inch minimum size last year, is expected to remain at 13 inches next year, although Jensen said "there is a little bit of movement to try to move it up to 14 inches."
The DNR and the University of Maryland, focusing especially on the ocean bays, are tagging flounder and marking their movement inshore and offshore. "But it isn't clear to us at this point that the fish that come into our coastal bays or Chesapeake Bay really would benefit very much from a [larger] minimum size in our bay," Jensen said.
Yellow perch are rebounding strongly enough that starting Jan. 1 sport fishing for the species will be restored in Patuxent River, Tuckahoe Creek and Wye River. There will, however, be a new 9-inch minimum size limit statewide and a creel limit of five fish per day.
Under the 1987 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, major species of fish were scheduled for study and deadlines were set for the formulation of resource-management strategies that would protect and enhance the populations.
To this point, deadlines have been met on oysters, blue crabs, shad, striped bass, bluefish, sea trout and spotted sea trout.
The species targeted in 1991 are croaker, spot, summer flounder and American. In 1992, the focus will be on red and black drum.