Recreational anglers get their fair catch Rockfish quota tell story by numbers


November 10, 1992|By PETER BAKER | PETER BAKER,Department of Natural Resources, Tidewater Fisheries

Last Saturday, Maryland closed down the fall rockfish season for recreational anglers who fished from private boats or the shoreline. While the season was ended for the private fisherman, the charter-boat fishermen were allowed to continue fishing.

Was the private recreational angler ripped off?

According to figures from the Department of Natural Resources, they were not.

However, recreational fishermen did catch more than their quota. Again.

And probably that should not be too surprising, if one looks at the numbers.

DNR issued 125,000 free permits to rockfish anglers and has determined that approximately 337,000 trips were made by boat or bank fishermen through Oct. 31.

The average weight of each fish caught was about 6.5 pounds, and more than 33 percent of the fishermen caught one. Multiplying 6.5 pounds by 112,333 (33 percent of the fishing effort) gives a total catch of 730,164.5 pounds.

The recreational quota was 695,300 pounds.

So, based on DNR statistics, by the end of October, the recreational fisherman already was over by 34,864.5 pounds, or slightly more than 5 percent of his quota.

And fishing was allowed to continue for two more days.

"We don't have the final numbers in on the recreational fishermen," said William P. Jensen, director of Tidewater Fisheries, adding that the numbers for October are complete, "but we expect that they will be about 10 percent over."

So the next question is: If the private fishermen are over their limit, how is it that the charter boats are not? After all, weren't charter-boat fishermen allowed two fish per day to the private fisherman's one?

The simplest way to figure it would be to assume that everyone who went out on a charter boat caught his limit of two fish per day. At an estimated 20,000 trips through the end of October, that would make 40,000 fish at 6.5 pounds each or 260,000 pounds.

The charter-boat quota is 245,400 pounds, and if everyone limited out, they would have been well over that by the end of October.

But according to DNR statistics, which are based on charter-boat logbooks and DNR checks of creels and charter-boat activity, charter-boat customers overall did not come close to limiting out until the fifth week of the season at 1.7 fish per person.

At the end of October, DNR estimated that the total charter-boat catch stood at approximately 203,000 pounds.

"The catch rate per person increased steadily for the charter boats," Jensen said, "and sort of the same thing happened for recreational fishermen."

In the last week of October, Jensen said, the recreational fisherman was enjoying a 50 percent success rate, something comparable with 29,000 fish or 188,500 pounds in that week alone.

"Which was quite a dramatic jump," Jensen said, "and that is what contributed to the inflated number that caused the premature shutdown."

The next question is: Who is to say that charter-boat logbooks are accurate? The rebuttal, of course, is who's to say that the estimates of the recreational catch are accurate?

The answers are a matter of faith -- unless one has the funds and personnel to conduct creel surveys of each and every private fisherman or charter boat in the state that participated in the fishery.

DNR did conduct telephone surveys of permit holders to determine fishing effort and catch.

DNR also conducted creel checks and back-up interviews with charter-boat captains and customers to verify logbook entries.

"We had people going to marinas and taking note of which boats were in and out, and also we creeled some boats and checked them against their logs," Jensen said. "We came up with less than a 10 percent error rate or nonreporting rate."

Further checks with the logs showing discrepancies determined that the error rate was closer to 5 percent.

The last question is: What will happen next year if we are over our quota this year?

This is where the private recreational fishermen, who have caught more than their share the past couple of years, catch a break.

Maryland must justify its catch of rockfish to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a federal watchdog group charged with ensuring the species continues to recover from its problems of the 1980s.

"The ground rules with ASMFC are that if you are operating under a quota system -- and in our case we have a quota for everything, recreational, charter and commercial -- the understanding is that if you exceed your quotas, you will take it out of next year's," Jensen said.

In Maryland's case, however, the ASMFC considers only the total quota. Last year, for example, recreational fishermen were over their quota, but charter boats and commercial fishermen were under and the total catch was within ASMFC guidelines.

If the charter boats and commercial fishermen are under again this year, it is reasonable to assume that no penalty would be imposed next year.

Rockfish catch rates

The following are catch rate figures derived from Department of Natural Resources surveys and spot checks of recreational and charter-boat fishermen and charter-boat logbooks during the October weeks of the fall rockfish season.

Recreational .. .. .. .. Fishing .. .. Successful

Dates .. .. trips . .. .. anglers

Week 1 . .. 50,000 ... .. 31%

Week 2 . .. 85,000 ... .. 32

Week 3 . .. 78,000 ... .. 32

Week 4 . .. 66,000 ... .. 30

Week 5 . .. 58,000 ... .. 50

Charter boats (estimated 20,000 total trips) .. .. .. .. Average catch

Dates .. .. per person/trip

Week 1 . .. 1.0 fish

Week 2 . .. 1.1

Week 3 . .. 1.4

Week 4 . .. 1.6

Week 5 . .. 1.7

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