On opening day, a lot of buck for the bang

October 22, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON

Deer muzzleloader season began Thursday in a pea-soup fog. The second day brought high winds and falling temperatures.

Thank goodness yesterday's forecast didn't involve swarms of locusts.

Despite the fickle fall weather, not everyone got skunked on opening day.

John Blasy of Arbutus bagged a 160-pound buck on Kent Island, just off U.S. 50's Exit 37. Talk about your easy off, easy on.

Blasy hadn't been in his stand more than 20 minutes that morning, when he heard a grunt and saw the rack.

The humid temperatures brought swarms of mosquitoes as Blasy field-dressed the animal and dragged it to his car.

"The mosquitoes were eating me alive," he said while he ordered venison chops and sausage at Austin's Meats in Anne Arundel County. "It sure made me work faster."

Department of Natural Resources biologists are at meat processing centers around the state to take brain tissue samples from 820 deer. The testing is to ensure that chronic wasting disease, found in more than a dozen states - including New York and West Virginia - does not spread here.

The always-fatal disease has forced wildlife officials to destroy thousands of deer and elk.

Paul Peditto, director of Maryland's Wildlife and Heritage Service, believes the regional cases were "isolated spot fires" and remains confident CWD will not spread here.

"If we could see a greater reduction in the number of captive animals and with it a reduction in the likely catalyst, life would be really great," he said.

Maryland banned the keeping of penned deer and elk years ago and has waged a vigorous campaign to coax owners of long-standing captive animal permits to relinquish them. But not all surrounding states have adopted that policy.

Peditto has ordered 50 samples taken in every county that borders Pennsylvania and West Virginia and 30 samples from non-border counties.

Exception to the rule

Riddle me this: Why is the Department of Natural Resources allowing an out-of-state tournament to play by a different set of rules than fishermen who live here and pay for licenses year after year?

The Wal-Mart FLW Striper Series is coming to Cambridge on Nov. 4, the last stop on the seven-event tour before the championship in Virginia Beach in December. Like everything else the Wal-Mart FLW team touches, this is a high-end tournament, with $125,000 in prize money.

The tournament rules state: "All team members must have in their possession a valid fishing license and must follow all applicable federal, state and local regulations and laws. Any violation of such regulations or laws may result in disqualification from the tournament."

Except, apparently, for one Maryland regulation, the one that prohibits striper fishermen from culling, or tossing back a fish if a bigger one is caught.

As with its bass competitions, Wal-Mart FLW is allowing each fishing team to keep two fish for each of the three days of the tournament, with the highest total weight winning. Competitors are required to have "keep-alive" boxes aboard their boats, much the way bass fishermen are required to use live wells.

You can't cull and I can't cull. This spring, the state banned striped bass tournaments before May 1 to protect the state fish.

But if you pony up the tournament's $450 fee and you're backed by the world's largest retailer, it's another story.

DNR turned down the tournament three times before relenting. The company line is that biologists want to see what the impact is on the fishery.

What about the impact on the concept that there's just one set of rules that apply to everyone?

You don't need to blow your fingers off with a shotgun to know it hurts. Why does the state have to sanction a tournament to see what happens when it allows a handful of people to indulge in an illegal practice?

Fishing for solutions

Howard King, Maryland's fisheries chief, will be - pardon the pun - testing the waters at tomorrow's meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission instead of proposing changes to the spring trophy striped bass season.

The state has exceeded its quota in each of the past two seasons by about 60 percent, and measures to curb the enthusiasm of recreational anglers haven't made a dent.

King says his plan is to ask commissioners what regulations they would be comfortable with and then draft a plan to present to the ASMFC Striped Bass Technical Committee later this year. The full commission would pass judgment at its February meeting.

Suggestions from the public have been "all over the map," King says. "Generally, people are very conservation-minded."

Setting a slot limit for the big fish (allowing catches between a minimum and maximum size), continuing the ban on tournaments within peak spawning time and requiring a separate permit for the spring season are measures that have been raised by anglers.

Just starting the spring season a week later, as it will next year by the luck of the calendar, saves about 11,000 fish.

Biologists have to review the numbers from the Marine Recreational Fishery Survey Statistics taken this spring and compare them to the logs kept by charter boat captains and other data.

"There's so much information we have to delve into that we haven't even evaluated yet," King says of formulating a plan for next year.

King says his ultimate objective is to get Maryland off the quota system and allow the state's spring catch "to rise and fall with the other states'. We don't want to be tied to a specific number but fish under the mortality target as the other states are."

That would be a radical departure but one King thinks commissioners might be receptive to considering.


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