Good news, bad news on fish, fowl

May 14, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

This is a good news, bad news column. If you don't want to read the bad stuff over your morning coffee, start with the first item and skip over every other one. After the caffeine kicks in, go back and fill in the blanks.

Good news: Menhaden may finally get a break. Tim Kaine, Virginia's new governor, has indicated he will consider capping the industrial harvest of menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay while scientists investigate why there has been a drop in the species' population.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted in August to curb the taking of the fish - the primary food for striped bass - at current levels for five years and set July 1 as the deadline for compliance.

The Virginia legislature, protecting Omega Protein's Northern Neck fleet and processing operation, rejected bills to enact the cap. Kaine cannot act until lawmakers, who remain in session as they wrangle over a budget, call it a year.

"Maryland will press the commission to take further action if we reach the deadline," said Howard King, DNR fisheries chief and voting member of ASMFC. "The clock is ticking, but they still have time to do the right thing."

Bad news: While the process drags out, Omega spotter planes are still pointing its trawler fleet - expanded by one this season - to the schools of fish. It's just like shooting fish in a barrel.

Good news: Despite competition from the restart of the Volvo Ocean Race last weekend on the Chesapeake Bay, participants in the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association tournament managed to find the big striped bass.

More than 700 boats competed for more than $175,000 in prize money.

Brian Hite of Hollywood checked in a 45 7/8 -inch fish at the Point Lookout station to beat out Christian Phillips, a Middle River resident who landed a rockfish that measured 44 5/8 inches. Robert Shenton of Cambridge took third place with a 44 5/8 -inch fish that was weighed in after Phillips' catch.

The youth division was won by Chris Poole of Lusby, with a 41 1/2 -inch striper. He earned a $800 U.S. Savings Bond.

Solomon Island charter skipper Keith Allston Jr. bested a field of nearly 40 charter boat captains with his rockfish of 46 1/4 inches.

The results will be final after lie detector tests. The awards ceremony will be 7 p.m. Thursday at the Earleigh Heights fire station in Severna Park.

Bad news: ASMFC put its gumption in a blind trust Tuesday and threw the red knot, an imperiled migratory shorebird, half a life preserver.

The regulatory commission approved a two-year moratorium on the commercial harvest of female horseshoe crabs. As for the other half of the reproductive process? Fellas, you're on your own.

The red knot flies from the tip of South America to its breeding grounds in the Arctic, stopping at the Delaware Bay this time each year to fatten up on horseshoe crab eggs.

Watermen scoop up hundreds of thousands of crabs each year and sell them to the bait industry for $1 apiece.

The number of red knots stopping along the shoreline has plummeted in recent years from 100,000 to 17,000.

Bird groups, and Delaware and New Jersey wanted a complete two-year moratorium in the Delaware Bay, contending that without a massive infusion of new horseshoes, the red knot is doomed.

But ASMFC voted 12-4 for a "male-only" compromise hatched by the seafood industry, leaving it up to states to enact more stringent controls.

The vote came on the eve of the first Endangered Species Day.

Bye-bye, birdie.

Good news: While Maryland sided with the majority, King says DNR is taking steps to reduce the take off Ocean City, such as instituting a harvest ratio of two males to one female. The state does not allow fishing during the spawning season or the collection of crabs from beaches.

Bad news: We don't know much about mycobacteriosis, the nasty bug that kills striped bass, scientists from 15 state and federal agencies admitted in the news conference Thursday.

Good news: But all 15 groups have agreed to work together and share information.

Bad news: The most pressing issue is figuring out the extent of "myco" on the Chesapeake Bay's striper population, a study that will take more than five years. There is no money.

Good news: State fisheries biologist Marty Gary says the robust spring trophy season is the result of the 1996 year class of striped bass.

Gary says reports of fish in excess of 50-inches long indicate that the 10-year-old fish are reaching the upper end of the growth chart.

"When you get a fish that's 50, 51, 52 inches, you're talking about the 99th percentile," Gary says. "They could approach 60 or 62 inches, but then it becomes more a matter of luck."

As for the Bay record of 67.8 pounds (and 52 inches) set in 1995?

"That record is going to fall," Gary says.

Bad news: The great outdoors turned on outdoor writer emeritus Bill Burton two weeks ago. Burton, an Evening Sun writer for 30 years before retiring and moving to the Bay Weekly and The Capital, fell outside his Pasadena home and broke his hip and chipped his elbow. Before doctors discharge him, the "Admiral of the Chesapeake" is doing a stint in rehab. You can send best wishes to his home at: 178 Park Road, Pasadena 21122.

Good news: The state record for largest Atlantic striped bass was shattered May 6 off Assateague.

Gary Smith, a long-time surfman from Keedysville, caught a striper weighing 57.6 pounds that measured 53-inches long and 30-inches around.

The old mark, set last May 16 on Assateague Island, was 52.9 pounds.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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