Rockfish Plan Works, Despite Critics

OUTDOORS

Policy's Compromise May Be U.s.model

June 16, 1991|By Capt. Bob Spore

It is no secret I am a fan of Maryland's striped bass management program, as long as we can keep the politicians out of it.

This year's spring season was a bust for the fisherman, but the Department of Natural Resources proved to its critics that it could run a fishery without catastrophic losses to the migrating rockfish.

We continue to have critics outside Maryland who complain about the program.

I think in most cases they do not understand the Maryland striped bass management plan, nor are they interested in learning, because Maryland permits commercial fishing and these people are totally against commercial fishing.

On Wednesday I received the Times Mirror Magazines Conservation Council's spring newsletter. Times Mirror is a conglomerate, which owns newspapers, including this one, and magazines across the country.

One of those magazines is SaltWater Sportsman.

Rip Cunningham, editor of SaltWater Sportsman, provided a short article or comment for the newsletter, and it raised my ire a bit.

He wrote, "The reality is that the (striped bass) fishingmoratorium imposed in 1985 enabled the resource to start to recover.But when the fishery reopened in 1990, the age-old problems returned. The state fishery agency, a longtime ally of the gillnetters, has been figuring every possible way to allocate more fish for commercial operators without worrying about the fishery's recovery from over harvest."

Maryland is far ahead of the other Atlantic states in its management of the striped bass resource.

It has set quotas well below those of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the controlling striped bass authority, and has monitored the harvest to assure compliance. The most strictly controlled user group is the commercial fishermen; next are the charter boat captains.

The commercial netter is given an annual and a daily quota and he must sell the catch at DNR-controlled buying stations where the fish are weighed and the data applied against the commercial fishermen's allocation. Since these are the only folks on the water during the commercial netting season, they are monitored closely by the DNR marine police.

The allocation for all three user groups -- the recreational, the charter boat and the commercial fishermen -- are set by the Striped Bass Advisory Board, which is made up of a balanced mixture of all three groups.

There is much beating on the table at the SBAB meetings, but in the end it is a quiet compromise of all the groups that creates the annual striped bass program.

In a way I understand Cunningham's position. I, too, am frustrated by the commercial fishermen in Virginia who sell small sea trout for crab bait and by the shrimpers in the Carolinas whose by-catch of juvenile game fish runs into the tons and bydraggers on the Continental shelf who sell the undersize flounder for hog food.

Possibly, Cunningham was given bad information. The rockfish is a very emotional subject, and maybe if you didn't know better you would think that all commercial fishermen were the bad guys.

It turns out that in Maryland we all are learning the days of wide-open fishing are gone. Good, sound fisheries management is the name of the game. I think Maryland could be the national model for fisheries management in the future, assuming we can keep the politicians out of it.

Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.

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