Protect rock, but make others do it, too

Bill Burton C

October 04, 1991|By Bill Burton

Maryland's second fall rockfish season opens Wednesday, but already many are looking ahead to the spring season. Some don't like what they see.

In many ways the fall season stacks up much better than that of last year, but liberalization of the spring trophy season might not be in the cards in '92. And it's in the spring that we can keep the big rock, the legitimate trophies.

We'll cover the fall season in detail, with suggestions for catching Tuesday; today, let's look ahead to next spring, which suddenly comes under question following a thumbs down by the Technical Committee of Atlantic Coast Marine Fisheries Commission, which incidentally meets in Baltimore next week.

There are many questions, and not so many convincing answers, to questions about Maryland's planned easing of the spring regulations.

The Technical Committee KO'd Maryland's plan because it figured this is no time to ease the rules -- after all, our beloved rock is not out of trouble yet. That sounds reasonable, but then we learn that some other coastal states worked the same fish after they left the Chesapeake to literally catch hundreds of times as many pounds as we did.

In our trophy season, we got only 336 fish that met the 36-inch minimum; the Department of Natural Resources figures they weighed 6,000 pounds. Meanwhile, New Jersey's catch was 700,000 pounds; in Massachusetts, 500,000 pounds. Some states don't have a 36-inch minimum. Does that sound fair?

Our spring season was described as a trophy season, and we set a 36-inch, which figures out to about 20 pounds. We like to brag about big fish, but is our now requested 32-incher of about 15 to 17 pounds a legitimate trophy?

Would we get enough breaks in our proposal for next spring's season to compensate for losing the asked-for 4 inches less in length, apparently the sorest point of all in the Technical Committee? Next spring we want a season beginning May 1 and continuing through the month; last spring it was May 11-27. More important, last spring many of the big rock had left by the 11th, and next spring we would get those important 11 earlier days, which undoubtedly would mean more fish.

And wouldn't we also be working on fish that fell just short last spring -- and there were many of them -- but will reach 36 inches next spring?

Are we justified in self-serving complaints of what other states catch? Is not our fishery the nursing grounds of nearly all rock along the coast; did we not have first cracks of them in the heydays of rockfishing, and did we not overcatch in the hey-days of chumming disgraceful numbers of them -- and have not we polluted in one way or another the waters of the fish that mean so much to the basic stock of the entire coast? We were catching and keeping by both net and hook incredible numbers of rock of only 12 inches that horrified anglers in many other states, which had significantly higher minimum length limits. It was a slugfest between fishermen here and there.

But why look back? What's done is done, is it not? What matters now is what's best for the species. Last spring, in an estimated 70,000 trips, we got one keeper for every 135 rock we caught in a truly trophy fishery. Is that enough?

Then there's the young of the year index, which has been only half of the average the past two years. Is this a time to liberalize? And, last, why are there so many complaints amidst the Striped Bass Advisory Board targeted at Al Goetz, one of three Maryland members of ACMFC? He is vehemently criticized for undermining our efforts for liberalization by lobbying within ACMFC against DNR's goal.

Is a commission member's greatest responsibility to the "philosophy of my state, right or wrong," or is what he thinks best for the fishery? Incidentally when reached at his Easton home, Goetz said he has not lobbied against Maryland's plan since it was decided to go ahead with last year's spring season, which, he emphasized, was accepted because it was a legitimate trophy affair.

"Now we're going back to change the rules," said Goetz, who added he supported the past spring season at decision time.

Around and around we go. These are just questions; sorry I don't have any answers. Like the rest of you, I'm just confused.

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