ANNAPOLIS -- Thursday, or Friday morning at the latest, we should get the answer to the big question among those who like to fish for rock. The Department of Natural Resources should know by then whether there are enough fish remaining in the quota of 456,747 pounds to warrant an encore.
The regular fall season closed Saturday as scheduled, followed by the premature shutdown of the charterboat fishery Sunday. The charter season can't reopen because its quota of 162,206 pounds was reached.
It appears the recreational fishery that was monitored under a different procedure did not reach its quota, but the question remains whether there are sufficient fish available to justify at least three more days of angling. DNR is studying the results of its surveys.
If a reopener is in order -- and DNR has indicated it would have to be of at least three days to make it worthwhile -- we could go back on the water the coming weekend. We won't get much advance notice, but there is much to be considered before the big decision can be made.
We could get in a long weekend; maybe two of them, or any other arrangement that would give anglers the opportunity to take the quota's leftovers whatever they might be.
All that fog that kept many private boats at the docks Thursday through Saturday might have been a blessing in disguise. With catches reduced, more fish were left to be considered in deliberations for a reopener.
If you are among those who chose to ignore colleagues in the recreational fishery who continually violated the two-fish-a-season limit, consider that this illegal practice was not unnoticed by DNR, and will be considered in the overall catch. There is a possibility it could be a deciding factor in the decision to reopen.
Should the season be reopened, it would be on a basis of two rock a day of 18 to 36 inches in length -- which charterboaters enjoyed -- as opposed to the two a season in effect during the regular recreational season. No permits would be required -- and those who caught their two by permit would be able to fish again during the extension.
One question that remains is whether private fishermen can book charters to catch their two fish a day if the season reopens. We can alsoexpect a final decision on that later in the week.
Not only are fishermen awaiting the word, so are bait shop proprietors, many of whom have big supplies of eels left over. Some joke of smoking them for Thanksgiving, but it's a more serious problem with some shops that have a thousand or more in stock. On the retail market, they are worth $1 or more each, but are useful only for rockfishing.
Jack Barnhart of Outdoor Sportsman, who has 1,000 eels squirming in the bait tank, said no reopener would mean he would beobliged to cut them up and freeze them for crab bait next year. One charterboat skipper released 400 Sunday, kept about 50 for personal use if the recreational reopens. He and other charter skippers would be allowed to fish for rock for their personal consumption and that of friends on a not-to-hire basis during the extension.
And there could be the unexpected decision that charters would be allowed to carry parties during the extension.
One thing is perfectly clear -- a different recreational permit systemis badly needed. The trial and error method used for the Oct. 9-25 season had a big loophole. It didn't make it impossible for an angler to get more than one block of two permits.
There was no central recording of to whom permits were issued, though most tackle shops issued only two to each applicant. But, there was nothing to stop anyone from going to another shop to pick up two more. Names weren't recorded. One
tackle shop in Southern Maryland had permits stacked on a vending machine for self-service distribution -- and some anglers took as many as they wanted. Presumably, there were other such irregularities.
Ironically, DNR Police had to warn some tackle shops about illegally charging applicants up to $2 for the permits, which were intended to be passed out free as a service to their customers.