ANNAPOLIS -- The Department of Natural Resources, after a review of catch estimates, determined yesterday that the charter-boat season for rockfish must close Sunday night at 8.
The charter-boat season, with a total catch limit of 161,000 pounds, had been scheduled to run until Nov. 11.
"We project they will have reached their quota [by Sunday]," said William P. Jensen, director of fisheries for the DNR Tidewater Administration.
"The first phase of the recreational season was scheduled to close Saturday -- and it will."
However, Jensen said, next week the DNR will review catch estimates for the first phase of the recreational season, which started Oct. 9, and then determine whether an extended season will be opened.
If an extended recreational season is to be allowed, it must begin before Nov. 9. Jensen said he expects a decision to be made next week.
The quota for recreational fishermen other than charter-boat customers is 456,000 pounds. Jensen said yesterday that the status of the catch has not been determined.
The charter-boat and recreational seasons were closed early last fall.
Last year was the first rockfish season in Maryland since January 1985, when a moratorium on fishing was declared because the species -- also known as striped bass -- was greatly diminished. The creel limits were different as well last year, with charter-boat customers allowed as many as five per day and fishermen in private boats or along the shoreline allowed two fish per day.
This year, charter-boat customers were allowed two fish per day and, during the first phase of the recreational season, other fishermen were allowed two fish per season.
Last fall, the rockfish seemed to be plentiful in the middle and upper bay, but almost nonexistent farther south.
"This year, there was a broader distribution of the fish," Jensen said, "especially in the Choptank River and including some waters of the lower bay, where there were virtually no fish last year."
Tangier Sound and the Honga River, for example, have been producing catches of rockfish, and catches in the upper bay have fallen off.
The impact of the charter-boat season closure will be felt by captains and customers alike, said Capt. Ed Darwin of Baltimore, who runs the charter boat Becky D.
"We will have to come up with a refund," said Darwin. "We are going to lose about 15 days and at least $1,500.
"But I think the worst impact is the disappointment for my steady customers who decided to wait near the end [of the season] to fish. Now, they are going to be disappointed."
Darwin said it has been a long time -- if ever -- that there have been as many big stripers in the bay as there are now.
"It [the fishery] has made a great comeback," Darwin said. "But that makes me wonder if we aren't cheating ourselves. What I read and hear is that along the coast they are catching a lot more fish than we are."
Maryland's allocation of rockfish for charter boats, recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen is set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which also determines what may be caught elsewhere along the coast.
Capt. Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland Charterboat Association and a member of Maryland's Striped Bass Advisory Board, said that the ASMFC regulations benefit the coastal states, but put the squeeze on Maryland fishermen.
"I feel that DNR did everything to keep us open as long as they could," O'Brien said. "They were constrained by the quotas and the ASMFC."