Gathered around three sides of a long table in the basement conference room at the Department of Agriculture in Annapolis early last week were the members of the Striped Bass Advisory Board, a panel saddled with a shifting load.
The board, 10 men of varied expertise, was chosen to sort out the desires of commercial and recreational fishermen and recommend to the Department of Natural Resources a proposal or proposals to be considered in the formation of a spring fishery for striped bass.
Whatever recommendation came from the committee would (P have to fall close to scientific parameters already determined by the DNR's Tidewater Administration and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Among those 10 men were two with interests in charter-boat operations, three tied to commercial fishing, three sportfishermen, a tackle dealer and a scientist. All are knowledgeable and forthright men with an interest in furthering the resurgence of rockfish in Chesapeake Bay.
Among them also are those with an eye toward furthering the special interests they represent.
William Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and chairman of the advisory board, consistently took an ultra-conservative stance. From his point of view, no season would be better than any at all.
Fred Meers, president of the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen's Association, consistently agreed with Goldsborough. In Meers' case, however, the MSSA wants badly to have the striped bass declared a game fish and prohibit commercial interests from harvesting them. Meers and the MSSA are hoping such a bill will pass the legislature this year.
Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland Charterboat Association, and Buddy Harrison, who runs a fleet of charter boats out of Tilghman Island, see the spring season as partial salvation for an industry that has struggled through poor spring runs of bluefish the past few years and the rockfish moratorium. O'Brien and Harrison pushed hardest for an extended season that would help fill the till.
Jim Gilford, chairman of the Sports Fisheries Advisory Commission, and William Huppert, a member of that commission, held conservative views and emphasized that charter-boat customers and other recreational fishermen should be held to the same creel limits. Last fall, charter-boat customers were allowed five fish per day over 18 inches, and other fishermen were allowed two.
William Woodfield Jr., president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association, and Charles Ebersberger of Anglers Sport Center seemed to have formed no alliances and were in favor of a limited season that would protect the fish.
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, and Bob Eurice, chairman of the Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission, decided early on that the commercial allocation of a spring fishery was not worth fishing for because it could not be divided equitably among Maryland's watermen. They did seem to agree, however, that if there was to be a fishery, it should be shared fairly and fished as aggressively as possible by charter-boat customers and other recreational fishermen without damaging the stocks.
The reasoning of many fishermen is that if these fish are not harvested in Maryland waters, they soon may end up on a dinner table in New Jersey or on a clubroom wall in Cape Cod.
The spring stocks of striped bass are fish that come and go with the seasons, migrating to the spawning reaches of the Chesapeake estuary to deposit and fertilize eggs. Younger rockfish are nurtured within the estuary until they reach an age of 2 to 3 years and then provide the greater part of the coastal migrations of mature fish.
For centuries, this has happened through no design of man, whether that person be netter, hook and liner, charter-boat captain or sportfisherman.
These are fish that breed and grow here because 10,000 years ago, with the last Ice Age in recession, the oceans rose, rivers expanded over their banks and a shallow, brackish estuary began to form.
In these shallows, sunlight nourishes rooted plants. Along the shorelines, where the banks are low and easily sloped, marshlands grow, much of it covering and uncovering with the tides.
Together, these elements form an aquatic wonderland where an elaborate food chain rises through the waters, from sand and clay to plants, animals marine and terrestrial, and man.
Remember, always there were shad and herring, yellow perch, sea trout and weakfish, blues and menhaden, spot, white perch, eels, crabs, croaker, drum and rockfish.
Always, that is, until someone began to count and care that great numbers of many species were among the missing.
Rockfish, in the sixth year of moratorium or tight management, are among those species rebounding -- and with circumspection on the part of commercial and recreational fishermen they should continue to do so.