Last Tuesday night, the Department of Natural Resources met with members of the Striped Bass Advisory Board to discuss the fine tuning of what are expected to be the regulations for this fall's rockfish seasons.
The seasons include commercial, recreational and charter boat efforts, and for each, the fine tuning is the result of lessons learned last fall in Maryland's first rockfish seasons since January, 1985.
In brief, the Chesapeake Bay seasons and limits are as follows:
* Size limits for all seasons: 18-inch minimum, 36-inch maximum.
* Recreational season: Oct. 9-26, with provisions for an extended season if the quota of 456,747 pounds of rockfish is not caught. The creel limit for the first part of the season will be two fish per person per season. In the extended season, fishermen would be allowed two fish per day until the quota is reached.
* Charter boat season: Oct. 9-Nov. 11, with no provisions for an extended season. The creel limit will be two rockfish per person per day -- unless it is determined that the charter boat quota of 161,206 pounds has been caught before Nov. 11.
* Commercial seasons: pound nets and haul seines, Sept. 9-30; drift gill net, Jan. 2-Feb. 28; Hook and line, Dec. 2-31. Quota is equal to recreational allocation of 456,747 pounds, and there is a daily limit of 100 pounds per fisherman.
* Fishing for or possession of rockfish is prohibited from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday, and drift gill nets must be taken from the water during that time.
* For the commercial seasons, fishermen must declare their intent to fish by July 31.
"This declaration will allow us to see who is going to participate in the commercial fishery," said William P. Jensen, director of fisheries for the Tidewater Administration.
The declaration, Jensen said, also will alleviate the problem of commercial fishermen putting their boats to use in the charter trade, as many did last fall.
* Fyke nets, hoop nets and fish pots will not be allowed during the fall seasons.
Another change in the commercial regulations will be a provision that will allow DNR to reallocate portions of the quota.
"Last year we found that a lot of allocations in some instances went unused and were available -- and we under-harvested that allocation," said Steve Early of the Tidewater Administration. "This would provide that halfway through the season the department could go back and see if there are people who have not used their allocation. . .and re-allocate to the fishermen who have been fishing."
Allocation this year is based on 1,074,700 pounds, with 42.5 percent of the catch for recreational and commercial and 15 percent for charter boats.
The Atlantic commercial quota remains at 25,000 pounds. Atlantic recreational catch is not managed by a quota. The Atlantic seasons for recreational and charter boats would follow the bay dates, with a one fish per person per day limit and a minimum size of 28 inches.
For recreational fishermen, the regulations for fish caught out of state and then brought into Maryland have been simplified, requiring only that the angler prove the fish was taken legally.
During the Maryland fall season, fishing for or possessing rockfish at night again will be prohibited, as will the use of gaffs or tournament fishing aimed at striped bass.
The fall season will start in the middle of the week this year, a move designed to avoid the mania that swept the bay last fall, when one veteran charter captain said "it looked like the Normandy invasion out there."
A tag system again will be used, as it was in the spring trophy season, but this time those applying for the free permits will receive two tags instead of one. Both tags would be used in the first part of the season.
"If the quota is not taken during that October season, the secretary can declare another season to start no later than the 9th of November," Early said. "No tag system would be in place for that season."
Jensen said the DNR does not anticipate the expanded quota will be caught between Oct. 9 and Oct. 26, "and there is really no reason to wait until the 9th. If it turns out that way, we would reopen immediately after the 26."
The charter boat season will not get an extended season because theirs is a longer session.
"Based on the creel limits and the number of participants, it appears they need that amount of time to take their quota," Early said. "There is no provision for a supplemental season."
Charter boat captains would be limited to two trips per day for rockfish, Early said, and would be responsible for tagging fish taken aboard their boats.
"There was some concern last year that people were making a [greater] number of trips daily," Early said. "This regulation would halt that during the striped bass season."
Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland charter boat Association and a member of the advisory board, endorsed the limiting of charter boat trips. But he also asked what would keep recreational fishermen from making multiple trips in a day, especially in the supplemental season when the tag system will not be in effect.
"What this regulation says," Jensen said, "is two fish per day --
no matter how many trips he makes."