States take action to reverse striped bass decline

Anglers applaud Atlantic Commission’s more conservative approach for popular gamefish

Posted on October 30, 2014

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Striped Bass Management Board voted this week to adopt new, more conservative reference points for striped bass and reduce fishing mortality by 25 percent in the coastal states and 20.5 percent in the Chesapeake Bay.  The decision is welcome news for recreational anglers who have grown alarmed at the precipitous decline of the most popular gamefish on the East Coast.

“It is good to know that the days of allowing serial overfishing to go unchecked are over,” said Richen Brame, Regional Fisheries Director for Coastal Conservation Association. “The states acted decisively to end overfishing and reduce mortality to begin restoring abundance. This should set this critically important Atlantic coast gamefish on the path to recover to former levels.”

The action by ASMFC will likely end overfishing of striped bass and is forecast to return fishing mortality to the target rate within two years.  Anglers have been concerned about the decline in striped bass abundance since about 2006, but previous stock assessments, using different parameters, had not detected problems.  The latest stock assessment, completed in 2013, confirmed what anglers long suspected and determined that overfishing had been occurring for at least six of the previous 9 years.  The cause of the stock’s decline has been attributed to several years of below average spawning success which is at the mercy of a variety of environmental factors.

“Anglers began sounding the alarm on striped bass many years ago and the science just wasn’t where it needed to be to detect the problem,” said Brame. “The overwhelming majority of comments to the ASMFC on this issue have been from anglers asking for action to be taken proactively, before a crisis could develop. The system corrected itself, identified the problem and took action to set it right before we reached the point of no-return. Overall, this is a good management outcome.”

The new reference points adopted at this meeting to gauge the health of the stock are more conservative than previous thresholds and should help prevent future declines. 

While anglers are relieved to see the new management direction, some valid concerns still remain. While the coastal recreational fishery will face a true 25 percent reduction from 2013 harvest levels, the coastal commercial fishery will face a 25 percent reduction in quota.  Since the quota has not been met, some states will see little if any reductions in their commercial harvest, which is troubling. 

“In the past when abundance was much higher, recreational removals accounted for 75 percent or more of the mortality,” said Brame. “With the decline in abundance, the recreational and commercial contributions are nearly equal. So the Board’s decision to not base the coastal commercial reductions on actual catch is patently unfair.  Both sectors should be treated equally.”