Passing along data on rockfish helps all

April 09, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

With trophy rockfish season less than a week away, it's time to get in touch with our inner Seuss.

Decades ago, the good doctor put down in writing his own fish census (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish), which also helped kids to learn how to read.

State biologists hope we'll take that Seussian knowledge and apply it to striped bass during the first month of the season to help them build a better database to manage the fishery.

Maryland recreational anglers are starting the season in a hole because we caught way too many fish during last trophy season, or so says the National Marine Fisheries Service. The payback is we have to catch far fewer fish and the minimum size is 33 inches rather than 28 inches.

But there is very little doubt that the counting method used by federal regulators to decide our allocation of fish is woefully inadequate. Still, the Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey (MRFSS) is the only tool available, and states are bound by its findings.

By developing a database using numbers collected by fishermen, charter boat captains and guides, Maryland will be able to argue for an annual allocation of fish that reflects actual Chesapeake Bay numbers and conditions, says Department of Natural Resources biologist Marty Gary. The state created a similar database for flounder.

"The existing system is not working properly as an assessment tool," Gary says. "We want to be able to sit at the table and discuss what Maryland caught. If we have our own robust database, we can apply ground truth to the MRFSS numbers."

All state biologists are asking is that anglers go to the DNR Web site and print out the survey form, then measure the first 20 fish they catch - undersized and legal - and submit the information online. Folks without a computer can call Gary (410-260-8289) and he'll mail the form along with a pre-paid envelope.

Ideally, biologists would like to have information on 5,000 to 10,000 fish caught between April 15 and May 15.

"We hope anglers will make this part of their routine when they go on a fishing trip," Gary says. "It's a great way to help fishery management and ensure protection of the species."

`Jim,' prizes return

Back in the days of doo-wop, the state ran a popular fishing tournament called "Diamond Jim," with a $25,000 cash prize.

Through the decades, Jim begat several other events, including the "Catch a Fortune Contest" and the "Governor's Cup Challenge" before the tournament trail went cold.

Last year, DNR revived the tradition with the "$1 Million Fishing Challenge," which ended somewhat anticlimactically with the awarding of a pile of gift certificates rather than cash prizes.

OK, free is free, and you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but there are not a whole lot of heart-pounding thrills attached to handing out certificates to go shopping. (The real excitement last year - and I'm not making this up - was the school of menhaden that swam just beyond Annapolis City Dock as the governor gave his speech.)

Promising to do better, the quiz masters at DNR headquarters have revamped the contest for this season, and with a tip of the hat to nostalgia are calling it "The Return of Diamond Jim."

Although the details won't be firmed up until Friday, I'm told it involves prizes that float and can haul an outdoors person and his or her gear to fun places.

The contest will run from early June through August. Like last year, there are no forms to fill out or fees to pay. The only requirement is a Maryland fishing license.

How easy is that?

Cashing in on tag

If you're fishing the upper Chesapeake Bay or upper Potomac River and haul up a striper with a dark green tag with white lettering, you've hit the $125 jackpot.

The Fisheries Service is releasing between 150 and 200 fish with the tags to update the agency's estimate on the reporting rate by recreational anglers, biologist Beth Versak says.

"We know that the percentage changes over time and having an accurate number comes into play when we do survival estimates and mortality estimates," Versak says.

In 1993, Maryland anglers had a 75 percent reporting rate. Six years later, it dropped to 64 percent.

In addition, biologists use the input from the tags to better understand striped bass movement and survival in the bay and along the eastern seaboard. And it stands to reason that the more information provided by anglers, the better the state's management plan will be.

To get the $125 reward, anglers must turn in the tag to DNR. They should write down the date and place the fish was caught and whether it was released or taken home for dinner. If the fish is undersized or the angler is practicing catch-and-release, just snip off the tag before returning the fish to the water.

Then call the Fisheries Service at 800-688-3467.

15 years later

Happy 15th anniversary to George Bentz and the Pasadena Sportfishing Group, which will celebrate tomorrow with free hot dogs, coffee, cake and a talk on Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release fishing by Capt. "Walleye Pete" Dahlberg.

The group, which numbers several hundred, will meet at 7:30 p.m. at the Earleigh Heights Fire Hall on Ritchie Highway at Earleigh Heights Road. The doors will open at 6 for socializing and to peruse the flea market tables. No one stands on ceremony, and membership is free and painless.

For more information, call 410-HEYFISH or visit heyfish.com.

Familiar words

If you get a chance, the April 10 edition of The New Yorker magazine has a fascinating story about the trials and tribulations of the Long Island oyster population.

"A Passion for Oysters" by Bill Buford is a good read, and the parallels to the Chesapeake Bay situation are worth pondering. candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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