CHESAPEAKE BEACH -- The spring trophy season for rockfish still has nine days to run, but already the fall season for stripers is heating up -- around conference tables, during club meetings and in barrooms.
The primary preseason issue again is fairness.
Again, a number of private recreational fisherman feel they are being ripped off while charter boat captains will be allowed to roll out the red carpet for anyone with the bucks to book a trip.
One Joe will and one Joe won't say it's so.
At a Striped Bass Advisory Board meeting Tuesday night, and on a Department of Natural Resources charter trip out of the Rod 'N Reel docks Wednesday, an effort was made to bring the issue into focus.
"Perspective," said Torrey Brown, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. "It is all a matter of perspective. Most people are going to see it as they want to see it."
What people are seeing at this point are the recommendations of the Striped Bass Advisory Board to the DNR. The agency will take them under advisement, formulate a plan and forward it to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission early next month, then come back to the public in July with the department's plan for the fall season.
In a nutshell, the fall season would allocate 42.5 percent for private recreational fishermen, 42.5 percent for commercial fishermen and 15 percent for charter boats (same as last year). The poundage, or total quota, of fish that could be caught will be either 750,000 pounds (same as last year) or 1.1 million pounds if the ASMFC approves the change.
For charter boats, the board has recommended a creel limit of two fish per day per customer over what could be a 31-day season. If charter boats were to catch their full allocation before the full 31 days, the season would end immediately.
For private recreational fishermen, the board has recommended a 17-day season (Oct. 11-27), with a two-fish limit per angler per season. At the close of the first 17 days, the number of fish caught by private recreational anglers would be calculated. If the allotment has not been caught, the season would be reopened (( for the remainder of the quota at one fish per day per angler.
An alternative proposal would create a split season for charter boats and private recreational fishermen, opening with a 16-day season (Oct. 12-27). All fishermen would be limited to two fish per season, and at the end of the first 16 days the catch would be calculated. If there still were fish available, the season would be reopened Nov. 9 at two fish per day until the allocation had been caught.
In all cases, the size limit would be 18 inches, as it was last fall. Fishing would be limited to daylight hours, gaffs would be prohibited, free permit tags would be required of every angler, etc.
L So which proposal is more equitable to Maryland's fishermen?
"The biggest complaint after last year," said William P. Jensen, director of fisheries for the DNR's Tidewater Administration, "was that the season ended too soon and not everyone got their chance to fish. This year, the board has tried to come up with a proposal that will provide that chance. I think the opportunity to shut down the fishery, evaluate the catch and possible reopen will do that."
Last fall, the charter boat and recreational seasons were closed early because the DNR determined they had caught their share of the quota.
But what about the charter boat limits versus the private recreational limits? Is it fair that anyone with the bucks can book multiple trips and catch perhaps two fish per trip?
Jim Gilford, a member of the SBAB and the state Sports Fisheries Advisory Commission, said at a special meeting of the SBAB that he thinks it is. His argument is that the charter boat allocation (15 percent) is small; the boats offer access to fishing waters many anglers otherwise could not reach; few charterboat fishermen are likely to multi-book at that time of year, and the state can use the jobs and income the industry produces.
William Huppert, another member of the SBAB and a member of the Sports Fisheries Advisory Commission, said that fairness may be achieved only by having the same limits for charter boats and private anglers.
"Why," Huppert said, "should they get a bigger share? Last year they got five fish per person per day. This year they get two fish per person per day; we get two fish per person per season."
Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland Charterboat Association and a member of the SBAB, said at the special meeting of the board that if there is to be a charter industry on the bay, rockfish have to be a big part of it because fishing for other species, especially bluefish, has been sporadic.
"The way our industry works," O'Brien said Wednesday aboard his charter boat, Semper Fidelis, "is that there are certain clients that bring us a lot of business -- guys who bring their employees down for trips, their families, their business associates, and so on.