Officials say ban won't be lifted on catching shad in Md.

March 07, 2006|By RONA KOBELL | RONA KOBELL,SUN REPORTER

Maryland officials say they have no plans to reconsider a statewide ban on catching shad, despite a recent decision in Virginia that eases restrictions on the once-abundant but now-scarce species.

Virginia officials voted last week to ease a 12-year moratorium on catching shad just for the 2006 season, at the request of local fishermen.

Effective immediately, commercial fishermen will be able to keep five shad per day from the York, Rappahannock and James rivers, including those caught in the spawning sanctuaries that the state established two months ago.

The fish must be part of the "bycatch," those caught accidentally in the process of trying to net other species.

Virginia's decision comes a month before the spawning run for American shad, a species sometimes called the founding fish because it became a staple for George Washington's troops during the Revolutionary War. In early spring, female shad release hundreds of thousands of eggs in rivers throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

Maryland closed its shad fishery in 1980. Restoration efforts have been under way ever since, particularly in the northern bay. The Conowingo Dam has a $15 million fish elevator - the largest in North America - which lets the fish pass over the dam and into the Susquehanna River.

Howard King, director of fisheries at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says the state has no plans to relax its shad restrictions. But King says he's not bothered by Virginia's decision. It won't hamper Maryland's restoration goals because it affects only three rivers, he said. The fish that spawn in a certain river tend to stay there, so the shad from the three rivers would not reach the bay.

Maryland already lets fishermen keep a bycatch of two shad per day for individual consumption. The shad that Virginia fishermen net in their bycatch would die anyway because they would suffocate in the gill net, King said.

"Maryland would be opposed to a fishery in the Chesapeake Bay because those fish are headed for the Susquehanna," King said, adding that he doesn't believe that either state is headed toward such a move.

King said no one opposed Virginia's proposal when it was discussed at recent interstate fisheries meetings. But not all scientists support the plan.

Virginia Institute of Marine Science Professor John Olney was one of several biologists who testified against the measure. Olney said that although Virginia shad stocks are lower than Maryland's, the real problem is that Virginia is setting a bad precedent by creating its first shad sanctuary, then opening it to fishing.

"One month you say, `We're going to protect the spawning grounds,' and then the next month it doesn't happen," Olney said. "The disappointment is that there's a mixed message."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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