Proposed harvest increase for iconic sportfish shelved by Atlantic States Commission
A controversial proposal to relax regulations on striped bass and allow a 10-percent increase in harvest was voted down at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) meeting this week. Anglers and conservationists all along the East Coast had voiced concerns over the proposal amid signs that the striped bass population may actually be in trouble and expressed relief that managers had rejected the proposal.
“Our members remain concerned over the status of striped bass and we believe the Commission certainly did the right thing in rejecting any proposal to increase harvest at this time,” said Frank Bonanno, chairman of the Maryland Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “There is a very good chance that when harvest data from 2016 is fully analyzed they will show that Commissioners need to take a much more conservative approach in the future to ensure that the population of striped bass remains healthy and doesn’t slide into decline.”
By an 8-7 vote at its January meeting, the Striped Bass Management Board of the ASMFC narrowly approved proceeding with a possible harvest increase after an analysis of 2015 striped bass harvest showed that removals were slightly under the management target. However, many anglers and conservationists were skeptical of that conclusion and urged the Commission to wait until information from 2016 could be reviewed before possibly loosening regulations. These concerns were reflected in the final vote at this meeting – 10-5 in favor of delaying consideration of a harvest increase until after the next benchmark stock assessment.
“Anglers are highly attuned to changes in the striped bass population and there are signs that instead of loosening regulations we should be considering additional conservation measures in 2017 to put the stock back on track,” said Bob Lorenz, vice president of CCA North Carolina. “We fully support this decision by the states and urge them to do everything necessary to keep populations of this iconic gamefish healthy and accessible to the public.”
“We acknowledge the difficulties that current size limits and regulations have caused the charter/for-hire industry in the Chesapeake Bay, but given the uncertainties in the status of the stock and the impact of a harvest increase at this time, CCA felt it was wiser to evaluate the next benchmark assessment before taking any action,” said David Sikorski, executive director for CCA Maryland. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders in the future to find solutions that benefit the fish and everyone who enjoys pursuing them.”