Rockfish expectations reeled in DNR uncertain on 45-day season


July 20, 1993|By PETER BAKER

To paraphrase a state official who spoke at a fisheries advisory commission meeting in Annapolis last night, if Maryland's 1993 fall rockfish season could be built solely on mathematics and biology, determining its parameters would be easy.

However, where rockfish are concerned it seems that nothing comes easily, and Maryland, which earlier this year had hopes of a 45-day fall season for recreational and charter boat fishermen, may be limited to a season similar to last year.

"At the moment, the season could be October and three days in November," William P. Jensen, head of the Department of Natural Resources' Tidewater Fisheries Division, said last night at a joint meeting of the Tidal Fish Advisory and the Sport Fishing Advisory commissions. "But the final answer will come some time later."

There are several issues to be resolved before Maryland submits its proposal to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The ASMFC is an arm of the federal government that tracks catch rates for species in interstate fisheries, such as rockfish, which range from the Carolinas to New England.

The primary issue is whether Maryland will be permitted to fish at its allowable catch rate of 25 percent of the population. Jensen said last night that a tag and recapture study last fall showed that Maryland is fishing at only 15 percent (1.6 million pounds) and should be entitled to more fish.

At what Jensen said would be the 25 percent rate, however, Maryland should be entitled to 3 million pounds this fall.

The major problem is that the ASMFC has refused to accept the results of Maryland's tag and recapture study, saying that because the study lasted less than a full year it is incomplete.

Jensen said that the study will be repeated this year, expanded to include the Potomac River Fisheries Commission territory, and he expects the study to validate the figures of the first year.

After explaining the rockfish situation, Jensen asked for recommendations from the two advisory boards, which in turn asked for public comment from the three dozen anglers in attendance.

"We all know the fishing has been improving," said Ed Kucharski, president of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association. "We should be entitled to a bigger slice of the pie. But let's go about it carefully and with proper study."

William Goldsborough, chairman of the Striped Bass Advisory Board and a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said perhaps DNR's tag and recapture study needed a closer look.

"It is a one-year study and we are proposing major management changes based on that one year study. . . . That seems to go against the traditional pattern of [DNR]."

Fred Meers of the Sport Fishing Advisory Commission said the prospect of a season equal to or less than last year is "totally unacceptable."

Joe Rupp, president of the Maryland Charterboat Association, said that the business of managing the coastal stocks of rockfish is political.

"We are tired of politicians in other states determining how we in Maryland can fish," Rupp said. "It is time to get what is rightfully ours. And if we step on some toes in the process, we don't care."

The ASMFC meets next month, at which time Maryland will submit its proposal for the fall season.

The majorities of the Tidal Fish Advisory and the Sport Fishing Advisory commissions recommended last night that DNR seek an increase in its catch quota from 1.6 million pounds to more than 2 million pounds.

The size limit again will be between 18 and 36 inches.

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