Longer rockfish season asked for charters, others

September 01, 1993|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

Maryland's Department of Natural Resources has submitted proposed regulations to an arm of the General Assembly that could create expanded striped bass (rockfish) seasons for recreational and charter-boat fishermen this fall.

If the assembly's Administrative Executive Legislative Review Committee approves the proposals, recreational fishermen would be allowed to fish a maximum of 38 days (Oct. 1 to Nov. 7) with a daily creel limit of one fish per person. Charter-boat customers would fish a maximum of 52 days (Oct. 1-Nov. 21) with a creel limit of two per fisherman.

Season lengths and creel limits are set according to projections of how long it will take each segment of the fishery to catch its share of the quota. Maryland's total catch this year is 2.3 million pounds, an increase of several hundred thousand pounds from last year.

If any user group were to exceed its portion of the catch -- 977,500 pounds for recreational fishermen, 345,000 pounds for charter-boat customers and 977,500 pounds for the commercial catch -- that part of the fishery would be closed early.

The minimum length for stripers would be 18 inches, with no maximum length. In previous fall seasons, a 36-inch maximum length was in effect.

A decision by the AELRC is expected on Sept. 14.

Bill Huppert, a recreational fisherman who sits on DNR's Sport Fishing Advisory Board, said last night that he believes the numbers of rockfish in the bay now will easily support the expanded rockfish limits, but he believes the season splits are unfair.

"The handwriting has been on the wall for three years now," said Huppert, who also is a member of the Striped Bass Advisory Board and hashelped recommend seasons and creel limits since fishing for rockfish resumed in 1990. "It is obvious that the great minds we have making the decisions did not come up with an equitable division of the resource.

"It is terribly unfair to recreational fishermen in the state that [the charter-boat season] is so much longer and those fishermen get twice as many fish. My contention has been and will continue to be that we need a combined season and creel limit, where everyone shares equally."

Since the reopening of rockfish seasons, the charter-boat industry never has caught its full quota of stripers. Last year, recreational fishermen exceeded their quota by more than 50,000 pounds, and this fall's overall quota was reduced to offset that overcatch.

"This way we get a chance to catch our quota," said Capt. Ed O'Brien, vice president of the Maryland Charterboat Association and a member of DNR's Sport Fishing Advisory Board and the Striped Bass Advisory Board. "And it does give an extended season for Marylanders who want to go out in November on a big, safe charter boat."

If the recreational season were to run all 38 days and catch its quota, the average daily catch would be 25,723 pounds. If the charter-boat season were to run all its 52 days, the average daily catch would be 6,634 pounds.

Last year, the rockfish season was scheduled to run the month of October and the first two weeks of November.

Last week, William Goldsborough, senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that the step up in the fall rockfish season is "too much, too soon."

DNR fisheries personnel insist that Maryland has been catching roughly half of the total allowed under guidelines set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which oversees interstate fisheries from the Carolinas to Maine.

"The one sort of unknown factor in this whole thing this year is that the number of fish out there is greater than it was last year," William P. Jensen, head of DNR's Tidewater Administration, said yesterday.

"Whether the catch rates are going to change this year is something we don't know."

Expanded rockfish seasons are a possibility because the ASMFC has approved the 2.3 million-pound quota for Maryland's total catch. But the ASMFC did not approve the plan exactly as the Tidewater Administration wanted it to.

"We had hoped, in our initial proposal to ASMFC, to . . . have a fixed season and measure the mortality rate," Jensen said. "Of course, they didn't like that idea, so we came back with a different proposal."

A tagging study completed by the DNR during last fall's rockfish season, Jensen said, demonstrated that Maryland was fishing below catch rates allowed by the ASMFC.

Based on the results of the tagging study, Maryland contended that it could regulate its rockfish seasons based on the catch and thereby simply set a season for 45 days, for example, and let it run its full course.

Setting a season would have been more cost effective than keeping a running count of the catch in all three segments of the fishery.

If the tagging study, which measures mortality, is on the mark again this year, Jensen said, then next year it is likely the ASMFC will let Maryland set a season and manage it by catch rate.

The increase in Maryland quota is reflective of the coastal population of rockfish, Jensen said.

"We think it is an absolute success, no doubt about it," Jensen said. "We have achieved just about everything we set out to do. . . . That is pretty remarkable, to go from a fish that was considered threatened just 10 years ago to being almost fully recovered."


The Department of Natural Resources has proposed the following parameters for Maryland's fall rockfish seasons for recreational fishermen and charter boats. An arm of the General Assembly still must approve the proposals. A decision is expected on Sept. 14:

Total catch (including commercial fishery): 2.3 million pounds.

Total recreational catch (42.5 percent): 977,500 pounds.

Total charter-boat catch (15 percent): 345,000 pounds.

Total commercial catch (42.5 percent): 977,500 pounds.

Size limits: Minimum length of 18 inches, no maximum.

Creel limits: 1 per day for recreational fishermen, two per day for charter-boat customers.

Recreational season: 38 days, Oct. 1-Nov. 7.

Charter-boat season: 52 days, Oct. 1-Nov. 21.

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