Rockfish spawn rate remains poor Below-average count of young fish doesn't mean season will be restricted, DNR says.

September 13, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

Striped bass reproduction in Chesapeake Bay has remained poor for the second year in a row since Maryland lifted its moratorium last year on catching the fish.

W. Peter Jensen, fisheries director for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, said state biologists were at a loss to explain why striped bass, or rockfish, did not have a good spawning season last spring.

But he said there is no reason to curtail fishing again because there are still plenty of rockfish of all ages in the bay.

DNR's annual seine-net survey of 22 different sites around the bay this summer yielded a "young-of-the-year index" for rockfish of 4.4.

That was up slightly from last year's index of 2.1, but still well below the historic average of 8.6.

But Jensen said that DNR officials were not alarmed by the findings of their annual summertime survey of young rockfish, and they planned to go ahead with raising the quota of striped bass that can be caught in Maryland from 750,000 pounds to more than 1 million pounds a year.

Jensen speculated that climate -- a relatively dry and warm spring -- may have depressed the rockfish reproduction.

But he said that biologists do not know exactly how climate influences spawning success.

"Everything else we're looking at indicates their recovery is well under way, and there's nothing to worry about," Jensen said.

Maryland imposed a moratorium on rockfish in 1985 after commercial and recreational catch plummeted from the 1970s.

Restrictions were imposed in other Atlantic Coast states where striped bass migrate.

The ban was lifted last year for a limited fishery after rockfish racked up a near-record spawning index of 25, and other states relaxed their fishing restrictions as well.

William Goldsborough, senior staff scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the continued poor rockfish reproduction was disappointing.

He said the environmental group had urged the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates rockfish, not to allow Maryland or other coastal states to expand their fishing until the rate of reproduction improves.

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