Recalculations might lower number of rockfish caught in Maryland waters


July 26, 1992|By PETER BAKER

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's Striped Bass Advisory Board met at midweek to discuss the recent spring trophy season and to look toward improvements and possible expansion of the rockfish seasons in our portion of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The immediate future, this year and next, appears to be bright. Beyond next year, however, changes may be made that could diminish Maryland's striper fisheries -- recreational, charter boat and commercial.

The problem is that under a new method of calculation of population and harvest being instituted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Maryland eventually might have to accept an adjusted annual allocation of rockfish. The ASMFC regulates the catch of rockfish in waters of states along the coast.

Because Maryland is in the final stage of preparations for implementation of the fall season, William P. Jensen, director of DNR's fisheries division, was able to avoid an adjustment in the allocation for this year and next.

"Maryland gets to fish at 40 percent over what our adjusted quota would be," Jensen said, explaining a compromise that was unanimously endorsed by the ASMFC. "But in return for not adjusting this year's quota, we will freeze our 1993 quota at 1.6 million pounds."

Jensen said that Maryland's record of being below its catch quota in each season since fishing for rockfish was re-opened in 1990 and a hatchery program that accounts for 13 percent of the catch were key factors in the ASMFC decision.

The problem that must be faced in the future is the result of a problem that has nettled fishermen and biologists in the past -- the controversial young of the year index reading in 1989 from Hambrooks Bar.

The Hambrooks Bar reading was high enough to boost the three-year average over 8 and trigger the re-opening of the fishery. The concern is that it was an anomaly, and the ASMFC is recommending that states change the method by which they calculate the young of the year index and their harvest control models.

In a broad sense, the young of the year index and the harvest control models are what measure spawning success and mortality rates, which in turn are used to determine how many pounds of what sized fish may be caught by recreational, charter boat and commercial fishermen.

The new method of calculation (geometric mean), Jensen said, "could possibly result in reducing Maryland's quota."

The geometric mean method could lessen the impact of anomalies such as the Hambrooks Bar reading. In an example Jensen provided, for

instance, under the new method, a revised Hambrooks reading dropped from just over 25 to just over 10, while revised readings from other monitoring stations in the bay rose slightly.

Members of the Striped Bass Advisory Board, which represents all sectors of the rock fishery and recommends courses of action to DNR, were not pleased with the prospect of recalculation.

Maryland is and has been leading the way in the rebuilding of the rockfish population along virtually the entire Atlantic Coast. More than 75 percent of the stripers from North Carolina to Maine spawn and mature in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries before entering the coastal population.

"This is a numbers game that has been played on us for centuries," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Waterman's Association and a member of the SBAB. "I don't know why we have to accept it.

"Maryland is doing all of it, yet we get all the bad press and those states to the north keep hammering us. . . . We should holler foul and holler it loud."

What Jensen and the members of the SBAB said they want from the ASMFC is parity, a chance to fish seasons and creel and size limits that ensure a fair share of the fish go to anglers in Maryland waters.

The prescribed mortality rate is .25.

"We are really concerned whether we are fishing at .25," Jensen said. "Or whether we are supporting the fishing up and down the coast."

Maryland waters, while providing more than 75 percent of the fish, account for only 8 percent of the total recreational catch and 16 percent of the total commercial catch.

"Equity is the big question," said SBAB chairman William Goldsborough. "But the point other states are making is that we are fishing on the pre-migratory fish, too, and they never get a shot at them."

Fred Meers, who is an SBAB member and Maryland's commissioner on the ASMFC, said: "In my opinion, we are the luckiest state around. We have 1.6 million pounds this year, we will have 1.6 million pounds next year and the next year.

"But anything we can do [to ensure parity] can only help us in the future."

Among the possibilities is a change in size limits to increase the number of days that may be fished between June and December, the time slot for fishing on the pre-migratory stripers.

At one fish per person per day, under the new method of calculation, the ASMFC would allow 30 days with minimum lengths between 18 and 23 inches, 36 days at minimums of 24 to 26 inches, 45 days at 27 inches and 84 days at 28 inches.

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