Numbers don't support concern over rockfish But researchers keep eye on decline of forage fish


November 29, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Are rockfish in crisis? Last weekend, the Coastal Conservation Association-Maryland held a symposium on Kent Island to begin to answer that question.

The symposium drew scientists and fishery managers from state, intrastate, federal and private organizations and more than 120 fishermen and conservationists.

Dr. Robert Bachman, director of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service, doesn't believe rockfish are crisis.

Rockfish (striped bass), he said, are at record high numbers, spawning stocks are at all-time highs and the juvenile index, or young of the year count, has been at record highs several times in this decade.

"But there is evidence the growth of [individual] striped bass is slowing and the length-weight ratio is declining," Bachman said. "And there are studies under way to document condition, diet forage base and overall health of bay fish."

In general terms, he said, "The vast majority of sport fish are in excellent condition."

There are, however, concerns about the decline of menhaden (alewive) in Maryland waters and along the Atlantic Coast. Menhaden are a primary forage fish for rockfish and many other species.

According to Bachman, there were an estimated 15 billion menhaden coastwide in 1981, and now there are an estimated 5 billion. Findings from Maryland's annual juvenile index surveys have dropped from 17.00 in the mid-1970s to less than 1.0 for the years from 1994 to 1997.

The rise and fall along the Atlantic Coast, Bachman said, is similar to the decline documented by the juvenile index in Maryland.

Part of the decline could be attributable to Virginia's commercial menhaden fishery, which Bachman said is responsible for 60 percent of the coastal catch of menhaden. But, he said, several successive poor spawning years have had a disastrous effect on stocks, as well.

Studies of stomach contents of rockfish have documented a shift in diet as the menhaden have declined -- although menhaden and bay anchovies still are the primary food items.

"In the 1960s and 1970s, in Maryland we were catching 50 to 70 percent of all striped bass over 12 inches in length, and the population crashed and the moratorium came in," said Bachman. "Now, while the poundage is close to what we were taking in the and '70s, we are taking only 25 percent of rockfish 18 [inches] or over.

"Essentially, there are many more fish out there and we are taking a much smaller fraction of what is there."

America's Cup update

Dates for the elimination series for challengers for the America's Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, next year have been announced by the America's Cup Challenge Association.

The Challenger Selection Series (Louis Vuitton Cup) will consists of three round-robins, semifinals and finals. The winner will start against Team New Zealand in the best-of-seven America's Cup series on Feb. 19, 2000.

There currently are 16 challengers from 10 nations.

Opening dates for the series are: Round-robin 1, Oct. 18; round-robin 2, Nov. 6; round-robin 3, Dec. 2; semifinals, Jan. 2; finals, Jan. 25.

Waterfowl Stamp Contest

The 1999-2000 Maryland Migratory Waterfowl Stamp Design Contest is open and will run through March 15. The contest is open only to Maryland residents.

The artwork that wins the contest will be reproduced as the stamp waterfowl hunters must purchase before hunting in Maryland. Waterfowl stamps also are widely collected.

Rules and entry forms are available by calling 301-292-8331. Eligible species information is available by calling 301-627-2270.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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