The TRCP and our recreational fishing partners are weighing in with detailed, technical feedback for fisheries managers—here are the high points
Anglers up and down the Atlantic coast know that the quality of striped bass fishing has deteriorated significantly over the past decade. In fact, a 2018 stock assessment conducted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission—the interstate body responsible for managing striped bass and other near-shore species—confirmed that the species has been overfished since 2013.
These findings tripped existing management triggers, and the ASMFC responded by mandating an 18-percent reduction in catch in 2020 to try and end overfishing and begin rebuilding the striped bass population. Commissioners also mandated the use of circle hooks when fishing with bait, created a slot limit, and continued a bag limit of one fish per angler. Separately, the commission is also reining in the menhaden reduction industry, which should provide more food for bass and other predators.
We will find out how much those measures helped later this year, when the updated stock assessment will be released. What we’re seeing on the water and in annual data collection, like the Maryland Young of the Year Study, indicates that the population is still in trouble.
In order to end overfishing and rebuild the striped bass stock, the ASMFC is currently going through a major overhaul of the Fisheries Management Plan that regulates striped bass. Through a proposed update known as Amendment 7, fisheries managers are looking to institutionalize changes to the FMP that will prevent striped bass from ending up in this depleted state in the future. This is the first overhaul of the FMP since 2003.
The proposed amendment is extremely technical, and the ASMFC is asking for public comment on a long list of management measures. You can count on the TRCP and our recreational fishing partners to respond in detail, but here is a quick summary of the four areas where updates to striped bass management are being considered.
In what is by far the most complicated part of the amendment, the ASMFC is considering changes to the multiple triggers that determine when they are required to take management action in response to a decline in the striped bass population. Under this system, a combination of factors—including more striper deaths annually, fewer large egg-laying females, and fewer juvenile fish—trigger the ASMFC to take corrective actions.
One option being considered in this section includes extending the amount of time the commission has to respond when triggers are tripped. We’ll be opposing this, as the declining stock should be addressed and rebuilt as soon as possible. The ASMFC should not have the option to defer management action.
Recreational Release Mortality
The popularity of catch-and-release striped bass fishing, combined with size and bag limits, creates a high proportion of fish being released. Post-release mortality—or the number of fish that die after being released—currently accounts for the highest percentage of striped bass deaths.
This section of the amendment introduces management options to reduce fishing mortality through seasonal closures, gear restrictions, and angler education. The introduction of circle hooks in 2020 was the first step. Seasonal closures of fishing during spawning periods and education of anglers on proper handling and release practices should be adopted to further reduce the number of dead striped bass. Anglers need to learn that even if a fish swims away when released, it still might die if it wasn’t handled and released properly.
This section considers whether to empower the ASMFC to respond quickly to the results of the October 2022 stock assessment, rather than going through a full addendum process. This should be supported to rebuild the striped bass stock as quickly as possible.
Individual states have the option of submitting alternative fishing plans that try and achieve the same level of conservation as the Fisheries Management Plan standards. It is the responsibility of the state to demonstrate that the proposed management program is equivalent and consistent with the FMP standards, but historically this has created regulatory inconsistency among states.
The current use of conservation equivalency for striped bass is not working. In fact, it has resulted in fishing mortality that exceeds the target for striped bass. For this reason, the TRCP supports the position that conservation equivalency cannot be used when the stock is overfished.
How Anglers Can Help
If you care about striped bass fishing, this amendment process is significant. These are complex issues, and the health of striped bass populations is on the line. Anglers can tune in to the Amendment 7 public hearings in your home state or send comments directly to the ASMFC.
This is a detailed guide put together by our partners at the American Sportfishing Association, if you want to drill down on each issue. The TRCP agrees with ASA on these positions.
The TRCP will join other recreational fishing leaders in sending a formal letter to the ASMFC outlining our recommendations. We’ll also be engaging the commission directly to talk through policy solutions to end overfishing and rebuild this iconic fishery.
Top photo courtesy of Joe Manansala / Woozy Fishing via Flickr.