'08 fishing plan makes more sense

November 04, 2007|By CANDUS THOMSON

If last week's meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission was Howard King's final performance, the Maryland fisheries chief deserves a curtain call and Maryland anglers should be on their feet applauding.

It wasn't a flashy show, filled with theatrics and soliloquies. But that's not King's style; results are.

What Maryland got is the right to regulate the 2008 spring striped bass season without the constraints of a phony cap, the same right long enjoyed by the other East Coast states. The vote was 13 in favor, one null vote and two abstentions.

"What you saw was the tremendous amount of respect around the table for Howard," Eric Schwaab, the deputy secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, said of the vote.

As reported in Thursday's Sun, the split spring season will run April 19 to May 13 and May 16 to May 31. During the first part, anglers can keep one fish a day with a minimum length of 28 inches. During the second segment, anglers can keep two fish, minimum length of 18 inches, only one of which can exceed 28 inches.

Fisheries managers believe that under the plan, Maryland's anglers could catch as many as 62,000 fish, nearly double this year's total.

Every seat was filled as King made his case. Schwaab and his boss, John Griffin, were in the audience, as were anglers, charter boat captains and a member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Heck, even state Sen. Richard Colburn, an ASMFC member, was at the table for a change instead of a proxy.

The overwhelming endorsement by the ASMFC took years to build and had numerous setbacks. But King never lost his place in the script. (Hats off to New York commissioner Pat Augustine and chairman Paul Diodati of Massachusetts for their important supporting roles.)

Now, I know there are folks who are fretting that giddy Maryland anglers will overfish next spring and we'll be right back where we started from - or maybe worse.

Certainly, that's a possibility. Anything's a possibility when you try to predict the weather and what fish will do in that weather.

But the 30,000-fish quota established in 1996 by the ASMFC and regularly exceeded by Maryland wasn't a science-based Holy Grail. The number was picked out of thin air by a DNR official of that era and approved. It never took into account the recent large year-classes of stripers that filled the Chesapeake Bay and made the fishing so good.

The truth is, given what scientists know about the population, a harvest of 65,000 fish is closer to reality. So please, no gnashing of teeth on that account.

On the supply side, Striped Bass Nation has a healthy population of more than 65 million fish and a spawning stock well over the target set in 2003, according to ASMFC's census. Recent year-classes of fish, though not in the league of the 1993 and 1996 classes, are robust.

"We have a lot of fish in the pipeline. The picture is good for at least the next 15 years," King said.

On the demand side of the equation, the number of charter fishing boats in Maryland is capped and the number of recreational anglers continues to decline. It's true that Maryland anglers, armed with fish finders and other gadgets and using multiple rods, are much more efficient than they used to be. Perhaps DNR will have to address that at some point.

For once, let's enjoy.

Here's hoping that after King's December retirement, DNR finds a way to keep him in the cast for the next big production.

Nudge a judge

It has been months since a panel of recreational and commercial anglers put the finishing touches on revisions to the fines and bond portion of fishing regulations and sent the package on for judicial approval.

The "Buddy Regs," named for charter Capt. Buddy Harrison, the self-described "Boss Hogg" of Tilghman Island, are to prevent future outrages where the punishment in no way reflects the crime. You may remember that Harrison, a three-time convicted fish poacher and federally convicted goose poacher, paid a fine last year of just $310 for having 31 undersized striped bass on his boat.

Ben C. Clyburn, the chief judge of the district court system, has approved new fisheries regulations, which take effect tomorrow. But there has been no sign of the accompanying hammer - the fines and bond schedule he received for review around Labor Day.

Give him a friendly nudge by phone at 410-260-1525, by fax at 410-974-5026, or by snail mail at Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building, 361 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis 21401.

Perch patrol

The DNR will have a hearing on its yellow perch management plan Dec. 5 in Annapolis. If you can't make it, you can offer comment online or by mail beginning Nov. 26 and running to Dec. 26.

The plan provides more protection for spawning fish by dialing back the commercial harvest and extending the ban on sale of yellow perch to March 14. Further, by lowering the minimum recreational size from 9 inches to 8.5 inches. recreational anglers will get a bigger share of the pie.

The hearing will be at 6 p.m. at the Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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