ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's fall recreational rockfish anglers are virtually guaranteed a longer season in October, with a more equitable distribution of stripers than last October, thanks to a tag system that would limit them to two fish for the entire season.
The Striped Bass Advisory Board last night unanimously recommended a proposal that would offer fishermen a 17-day season -- including three weekends -- during which anglers could use both their tags.
The season would start Oct. 11 and close Oct. 27. If they do not catch their still undecided quota during that time, two weeks later the fishery would be reopened to allow all anglers to catch the remainder of the quota under a traditional no-permit system.
Department of Natural Resource's tidewater fisheries chief Pete Jensen said he saw no problems ahead for the proposal, which needs final approval from the DNR and the Atlantic Coast Marine Fisheries Commission.
As during last October's aborted nine-day season, the rock must be of between 18 and 36 inches, and fishing would be allowed in the same areas, in contrast to next month's trophy fishery during which all fishing will be restricted to waters below the Bay Bridge.
The board moved up the opener a day from the date suggested last week so that it will open concurrently with the 31-day season requested for charterboats. Those fishing on charters would be allowed two fish a day, but no tags will be needed. Mates and skippers would not be allowed to keep fish.
Last year's special season started with a limit of five daily on charters, but was quickly reduced to two. Still, the season had to be cut short because within 16 days charters approached their quota.
No overall quotas were suggested for the fall fishery. That determination will be made based on a model being worked out by the DNR.
However, Jensen said the final quota could be a million pounds, which would about 30 percent more than last fall. That would also help ensure a longer season if there is not an appreciably larger number of anglers participating. It was estimated that nearly 200,000 fished last year.
In any event, DNR would monitor catches as it did in 1990, and if reaching a quota is imminent, the season would be closed. Charters would be restricted to two trips a day, but DNR regulations rule out any anglers fishing both trips to get four fish.
DNR stipulates that fishermen in the fall fishery could only catch two fish a day. This also rules out an angler catching his recreational limit of two, then taking two more on a charterboat.
The charter industry wants a study to determine if there is a way to keep so-called "non-charter charterboats" from fishing on the charter quota. Last year 130 true charterboats were expected to fish the season, but the number of licensed charterboats swelled past 500 as many other skippers got charter licenses to enjoy the five-a-day limit.
Equal creels rule much of that out this year, though some could do the same to take advantage of the longer charter season, or turn to "charter" fishing once their recreational tags have been used.
The commercial fishery will remain basically the same, with a few minor changes involving hook and line, and pound netting.