ANNAPOLIS -- Don't want to spoil your fishing fun fellas, but if you're planning to stock up on extra rock in the extended recreational season that reopens tomorrow, Big Brother will be watching.
Your chances could be as high as one in four of getting checked on the water or ashore in what could be five bonus days of fishing over two consecutive weekends, thanks to catches falling 25 percent short of the nearly half-million-pound quota that applied during the regular fall season that closed Saturday.
Catches are going to be monitored closely by Department of Natural Resources Police, not to mention DNR personnel and outside surveyors. During the regular season, DNR Police alone checked 26,644 fishermen of an estimated 100,000 who participated.
In the encore they can target recreational fishermen -- who obviously need their share of close scrutiny -- because closed will be the charter season that ran concurrently with the recreational season except for one day. Incidentally, if you see a charterboat out on the water, don't assume it is fishing illegally.
Under season guidelines, charterboats can carry family and friends for rock, but cannot be paid for it. Also, those charter craft could be fishing on a charter basis for blues that remain plentiful in some areas, sea trout, flounder or other species still available.
Don't begrudge them the opportunity to fish for rock on a not-for-hire basis. They like to eat them, too. Captains and mates were prohibited from possessing rock during their season, which was cut short Sunday when the charter quota of 161,206 pounds was met.
In addition, Capts. Eddie O'Brien and Buddy Harrison, the charterboat representatives on the Striped Bass Advisory Board, were outspoken in their support of reopening the recreational fishery. And they did not insist, as expected, that charters be allowed to carry recreational anglers during the extension.
They readily accepted DNR's opinion that they could not carry, for profit, recreational fishermen who wanted to take rock during the extra days.
Joint DNR-board findings in a nutshell:
"Consensus was reached that charter parties would not be eligible to fish because the charter allocation was not part of the supplemental season. Board discussion focused on the thought that combining recreational and charter user groups would be a step backward from the accepted charter/recreational distinction."
O'Brien and commercial representatives on the board rightfully complained of recreational fishermen who continually fished for, caught and kept rock during the season, though DNR Police insisted that overall the compliance was "outstanding." One thing is certain: The type of tags used must go, as well as the
lenient method of distributing permits and tags.
They were a farce -- many tags were used over and over again, and some recreational fishermen had many times the two that were permitted. But, this was a new system and changes were made late in deliberations to save expenses involved in the original tag concept. As it was, DNR spent $100,000 in enforcement.
For that sum, 13,948 boats and 56,490 fish were checked, and 91 citations and 249 warnings issued -- most involving untagged fish. The citations-issued count was about the same as in the '90 fall season.
Extended rockfish regulations
* FISHING DAYS: Tomorrow and Saturday, then closed while DNR assesses the catch, and reopened next Friday through Sunday -- unless the remainder of the quota is caught prematurely.
* CATCH LIMITS: One a day, no permit or tag needed.
* QUOTA: The 117,747 pounds remaining in the regular-season quota of 456,747 pounds. If it appears the extension won't run its full course in the second weekend, DNR will make the announcement in midweek.
* OTHER REGULATIONS: The same as during the regular season other than the reduced creel limit. Both the ocean and Chesapeake charter seasons remain closed, but the ocean recreational fishery will reopen concurrently with the bay extension. Call Frances McFaden, 974-3356.