Hatcheries Produce Enough Rockfish For Pros, Fun-lovers


September 22, 1991|By Capt. Bob Spore

Last week I briefly mentioned Maryland's striped bass hatchery program. Did you know that Maryland stocks enough striped bass to satisfy both recreational and commercial fishermen?

We put the rockfish inthe bay when they are small and catch them three to four years laterwhen they are legal size.

Let me show you some numbers. This year the Maryland Department of Natural Resources selected approximately 1.1 million pounds as the total allowable striped bass or rockfish fall-winter harvest, and theAtlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission agreed. Let's assume therockfish caught average 5 pounds each. The total harvest then would be roughly 220,000 fish.

Also this fall, the DNR will stock 4- to 9-inch young of year striped bass that have been grown in hatcheries.Over the last five years Maryland has stocked about 800,000 of thesefish each year.

Even with 20 percent natural mortality each year,an acceptable value with many biologists, Maryland still produces and stocks enough striped bass from its hatchery program to more than cover the total 1991 recreational, charter and commercial harvest.

These are not secret numbers. They are known by DNR biologists, concerned citizens and members of the Striped Bass Advisory Board, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation biologist who has written the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recommending that the commission not expand any of the states striped bass fisheries because of two low juvenile (young of year) indexes in a row.

Maryland plans to ask for an expansion of its spring trophy fishery. In 1991, 36,954 anglers participated in 73,759 recreational and charter fishing trips. Afishing trip is one fisherman fishing one day. For example, if four anglers fish in the same boat it is considered four fishing trips.

Anglers checked in 149 legal trophy rockfish during the May 11-27 season. Based on survey results, fishery managers say an additional 187, or a total of 336, rockfish were caught. The additional rockfish probably were not checked in because of confusion in reporting procedures, not an intent to circumvent the regulations.

An effort of 73,759 fishing days to collect 336 legal fish does not a season make. TheDNR plans to request that ASMFC approve a 1992 season from May 1-31 with a minimum size limit of 32 inches. The 1991 minimum was 36 inches. The DNR projects the 1992 trophy harvest at something over 3,000 legal fish, a conservative but worthwhile fishery.

As discussed last week, the annual juvenile survey produces an index of "relative abundance," or whether the year class is very poor or very good. Though the results do not provide definitive information regarding the strength of the year class, Maryland biologists and fishery managers incorporate the indexes when determining the annual total allowable harvest.

Eight different year classes are considered when setting the harvest level; these are year classes of legal-size fish that are currently available to fishermen in the Chesapeake. The large 1989 year class, which triggered the opening of Maryland's striped bass fishery, is not included in the computation because these fish are still too small. They will begin to enter the fishery next year as some small percentage of them will reach the minimum size limit.

Additional information is available on the 1991 year class that does not show up inthis year's survey report. During similar survey action for yellow perch, large numbers of young of year striped bass were found in the Magothy, Severn, South and Miles rivers. This data cannot be used in the official striped bass survey, but it does indicate that the 1991 year class is probably much stronger than the 4.4 index indicates.

If all this information is known by the CBF, why has it gone on record recommending against Maryland's expansion of the spring trophy fishery? One theory is that the CBF gains strength and contributions whenit can highlight the negative. No one wants to rally around the flagand pull out the checkbook when things are going all right.

Quitesimply then, everything is messed up. Last month it was the oysters and this month the rockfish. I wonder, what they will twist to their advantage next month?

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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