The Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermens Association won the first round in its fight to have striped bass declared a gamefish, but there might not be enough time left to win the battle.
By a 6-4 vote the State Senate Economic and Environmental Matters Committee approved Senate Bill 575, which could go to a full Senate vote today. However, with the General Assembly due to adjourn Monday, MSSA executive director Rich Novotny said it will be a "tough struggle" to get the legislation through the House of Delegates before time runs out.
In addition, if approved in the Senate, the bill could go to the House Environmental Matters Committee, which a couple weeks ago turned down a companion bill to prohibit gillnetting of rockfish in Maryland by a vote of 14 to 4. SB 575 would prohibit the sale and commercial fishing of all types for rock while providing a fund to buy out watermen, and also offer other incentives.
"We can't plan anything because we don't know what's coming -- even if there will be a House committee hearing on the bill," Novotny said last night. "But, we're pretty confident the bill will get out of the Senate, which would be accomplishing a lot.
"We've come a long way in two years on this legislation, and we'll eventually win -- if we don't this year."
Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources has modified and clarified some of its earlier proposals covering fishing activity during the planned May 11 to 27 trophy rockfish season in the Chesapeake proper below the Bay Bridge.
The question of chumming for blues in waters open for rock has been a see-saw affair for a couple weeks, but yesterday tidewater fisheries chief Pete Jensen said emergency regulations being prepared for consideration by the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Committee would allow chumming for blues during the brief rockfish season.
However, the use of eels and other non-artificial baits would not be allowed by those fishing for rock next month. Also, the DNR is working up regulations on a non-emergency basis -- which would go to public hearings later -- to ban the use of eels for bait north of the mouth of the Patuxent River at any time other than during the fall rockfish season when they would be allowed.
Eels are almost exclusively used for rock north of the Patuxent, and the DNR seeks to discourage the fishing of rock illegally when they are not in season. The Patuxent was established as a boundary because south of there, eels are a favorite bait for cobia, which appear to be gradually making a comeback.
So, while eels would be allowed in the fall season for rock, they could not be used in the May season.