ASMFC Spring 2024 Meeting Recap

ASMFC Spring 2024 Meeting Recap: Striped Bass Release-Mortality Work Group, Acoustic Menhaden Survey, and Cobia Draft Addendum II. Feature Photo – Captain Brian Kelley releasing a healthy bass.

Arlington, May 2024—This past week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met for its Spring 2024 meeting. As far as ASMFC meetings go, this one was relatively simple and lacking any major news or controversy. However, there were important discussions and science and management developments, specifically regarding Cobia, Menhaden and Striped Bass. This blog provides an in-depth summary of what happened with those species as well as other notable updates. We will be paying close attention to the new Striped Bass Recreational Release Mortality Work Group over the summer.

Striped Bass

The Striped Bass Board’s primary agenda item was to approve revised Addendum II implementation plans for Maryland, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, and Pennsylvania. As you may recall, the SB Board had issue with these states’ plans back at the Winter 2024 Meeting; primarily MD and PRFC’s inability to comply with the FMP’s requirement to institute paybacks to commercial quota overages in the following year. To review these new implementation plans, click here (page 32). In summary, Maryland and PRFC will be paying closer attention to their commercial fisheries’ quota performance through monitoring programs, project landings for the remainder of the year, and (if an overage is expected to occur) distribute less 2025 quota/tags. There was some discussion about how Maryland utilizes its check stations for quota monitoring and a recommendation for Maryland to make striped landings public on a website. The Board approved the implementation plans by consent.

The most interesting and engaging portion of the SB Board Meeting was a presentation on Mass DMF’s striped bass release mortality work. The Department’s infamous Dr. Mike Armstrong presented on the study’s initial findings. For those not familiar, here’s a quick summary:

  • Phase 1: Mass DMF caught and tagged over 350 striped bass with acoustic-accelerometer tags (these tags are very effective at assessing post-release mortality). The point of this initial study was to assess the efficacy of circle hooks using mostly mackerel. The research team associated each fish with a condition score (1-4, 1 being very healthy and 4 basically dead on release). Ultimately, this work found circle hooks are not as effective as they are in other fisheries, but there was good agreement between the condition scoring and the acoustic tagging data.
  • Phase 2: Using that condition score, Mass DMF then leveraged Citizen Science to obtain many more samples across a wider range of fishing techniques and regions. ASGA was thrilled to connect Mass DMF with the folks at GotOne to fold this portion of the study into the app. If you want to help contribute to this work, be sure to download GotOne and opt into the Mass DMF study! In year one, this portion of the study amassed 3,500 samples and sheds a lot of insight into the different impacts associated with bait fishing, artificial lures, fly fishing, water temperatures, handling time, etc. We’ll go into more detail below, but a safe takeaway from this work is that bait fishing causes more harm than fishing artificial, fishing topwater plugs with two trebles is more harmful than other artificial terminal tackle, and long handling times increase mortality.
  • Phase 3: The next step in this work is to develop a survey for the entire striped bass range to better understand what types of terminal tackle the recreational sector uses coastwide. This would be immensely useful should the SB Board wish to explore potential gear restrictions informed by this new science.

Mass DMF Study Findings

Below are screen grabs from the presentation. A lot of this is totally intuitive—and understood by people who spend a lot of time catching striped bass—but having hard data is important to solidifying the conversation.


While this information is crucial for better understanding the impacts of catch and release mortality of striped bass, it is still in its early stages. However, the preliminary analysis provides scientific groundtruthing for what many anglers already understand.

In the short-term, the Board tasked the Recreational Release Mortality Workgroup with a to-do list ahead of the Summer ASMFC Meeting. The Workgroup will review existing non-targeting closures for striped bass, the efficacy and enforceability of such closures, the Mass DMF study to review potential gear modifications, impact of different release mortality rates, and public outreach/scoping on some of these options (how does the general public feel about non-targeting, no-harvest seasons, additional gear restrictions, etc.). In the coming weeks, we will learn which SB Board Members volunteered for this Workgroup. While it is promising that the Board is prioritizing this work ahead of the upcoming 2024 Striped Bass Stock Assessment, ASGA cannot help but be a little concerned about the consistent discussion of non-targeting closures from certain Board Members. We’ll be paying close attention to this Workgroup and advocate against any coastwide no-targeting closures, as they are unenforceable, unquantifiable, punitively harm the guide/charter community, and are not informed by the best scientific information available (Mass DMF research).

If you are genuinely committed to increasing the survivability of the fish you release, review MA DMF’s information on release mortality and refine your fishing strategies to reduce your impact. In addition, ASGA will be sharing educational materials on best handling practices and providing an in-depth analysis of the initial MA DMF data in the very near future.

There was another exciting striped bass announcement. The Board Approved ASGA Board Chairman and Owner of The Saltwater Edge, Peter Jenkins, to the Striped Bass Advisory Panel. Congrats, Jenks!


The Menhaden Board met to receive updates from Maryland and Virginia, an Acoustic Survey of overwintering menhaden off New Jersey, and two upcoming Menhaden stock assessments.

Without a doubt, Virginia is ground zero for both the commercial menhaden reduction fishery and public pressure campaigns against that fishery. While ASGA is no fan of the reduction fleet in and around the Chesapeake Bay (concentrating roughly 70% of coast-wide landings in and around the Bay does not pass the smell test), the science assessing what may be sustainable or even how many menhaden are in the bay is just not there yet. Thankfully, that may soon be changing.

Virginia’s VMRC representative, Pat Geer, provided updates on several developments related to menhaden in the state:

  • In 2024, two bills were introduced into the state: one bill would have required the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to study the ecology, fishery importance, and economics of menhaden to the state, but the legislature punted on it until next year. However, the Legislature did unanimously pass a bill to address interference with commercial fishing activities and increased the penalties for such interfering individuals. To be 100% clear, ASGA does not condone any public persons interfering with actively fishing commercial vessels—it is dangerous for all parties and destroys any possibility for positive progress in the Bay. That being said, the fact that the State refused to do more science on the Bay’s menhaden and then passed this legislation easily….well it just doesn’t sit well.
  • Two petitions amassed enough support in VA to be considered by the VMRC Board. They involved pushing the purse seine fleet into deeper waters, and another one to more or less restrict the bulk of the reduction fishery’s landings to federal waters (>3 miles from shore) and fund the VIMS study plan. Both petitions were easily defeated at the VMRC Board. Frustrating, but begs the question ‘how can we achieve some precautionary management with this resource, specifically in the Country’s largest estuary?’
  • Greer went into greater depth on the VIMS Chesapeake Bay Menhaden Study Plan, which includes research priorities conducted over three years and estimated to cost $2.5 million. Here is what the plan entails:
  • This research will require funding, which is now a Congressional priority of ASMFC, ASGA and other entities. There is room for substantial improvements and sustainable, precautionary, science-based management for the Bay’s menhaden population if fully funded.
  • Finally, Pat noted the increasing frequency of public interactions regarding menhaden management over the last three years and the strain it is placing on the Agency. “These interactions include increased public participation and comment during MRC’s monthly Board meetings, 11 Freedom of Information Act requests (April 2023-March 2024), and correspondence with local and state representatives.” There aren’t many fisheries management meetings the ASGA team is not paying attention to, and we too have noticed the increased public interactions. Some of it is definitely good—getting involved and respectfully sharing your perspectives on the ecosystem and fisheries is always beneficial, and most managers are generally appreciative and receptive to hearing from their stakeholders. However, the tone and approach from some stakeholders regarding menhaden management has appeared to directly stymie positive progress on the menhaden management front and definitely is frustrating those around the Menhaden Management Board table. We are fully committed to improving menhaden management and the science (and advocating for precautionary approaches when the science isn’t fully developed), but we must recognize that some of these public approaches do appear counterproductive to that goal.

One of the most interesting agenda items for the Menhaden Management Board was a presentation from Dr. Genny Nesslage on a recently completed study, “Enhancing sustainable development of the winter bait fishery for Atlantic menhaden through the use of industry acoustics,”(linked in meeting materials). Dr. Nesslage is a scientist at the Chesapeake Biologic Laboratory and has a rich background in fisheries science and stock assessment work. For years, many in the scientific and management communities thought that menhaden migrated South towards the Carolinas and further over the winter, but fishermen off New Jersey had been seeing significant numbers of menhaden during these winter months.

Dr. Nesslage initiated a cooperative scientific study in 2022 with Lund’s Fisheries to confirm these observations and estimate how many fish might be out there. The most interesting component of this work, however, was that she utilized acoustic sonar technology to estimate the size of menhaden schools from Hudson Canyon to Delaware Bay and then compared her estimates against Lund’s catches. This design proved very reliable—the acoustic sonar technique was very accurate at estimating the volume of menhaden. In addition to the biomass estimations, the research team conducted biological sampling, including sex, maturity, and age work. While this was a one-off study, there are several key takeaways for menhaden management:

  1. Menhaden were in fact overwintering off New Jersey, which provides fishery-independent groundtruthing for future management decisions. She estimated New Jersey’s overwintering menhaden abundance to range from 17.5-24 million pounds.
  2. The use of acoustic sonar technologies (think larger more advanced fish finders/down-sounders) is a viable method for surveying menhaden abundance—at least in deeper waters. How else can managers and scientists use this design to estimate menhaden abundance more accurately? What would it take to sample the entire Atlantic coast, and maybe sample other schooling fish species? And, could it be used in the Chesapeake Bay?
  3. This survey/fishery mostly caught older fish, confirmed by the biological sampling, which could have implications for the stock assessment models (this is complicated so look for a future blog for more on this). The weight-at-age data could be considered in the assessment.

Finally, Dr. Katie Drew (ASMFC’s stock assessment lead) shared updates on two upcoming menhaden assessments with the Board. Both the Menhaden Ecological Reference Point Benchmark Assessment and the single species assessment update are on track to be ready for the Annual 2025 Meeting (late October). ASGA is looking forward to these new assessments, especially given some of the Board’s questions and Dr. Drew’s responses. For example, we learned that the new ERP model will be better equipped to capture predator-prey dynamics AND manage at spatial scales—i.e., specific regions. Dr. Allison Colden flagged her concern that ospreys are not included in the model; there may be opportunities to leverage osprey data sets from other entities to fold into the ERP model.

That concludes all the major points from the Menhaden Board meeting. Our takeaway: more science is better science and will inform better, more sustainable management.


The Coastal Pelagics Board met to consider Cobia Draft Addendum II and discuss Spanish mackerel. The Board approved Draft Addendum II for public comment. ASGA will be developing a more in depth blog on this action and management options. Briefly, Addendum II seeks to develop new recreational allocations for Cobia, a species that is shifting/expanding its range yet is one of the more challenging species for MRIP to capture (pulse/rare-event and almost entirely recreationally via boats). The goal of the action is to better capture recent trends in the fishery’s distribution in a new allocation scheme (i.e. more closely match up management to where fish are being caught). Draft Addendum II’s proposed allocation schemes include state-state, regional, or coastwide approaches. In addition, this action will explore the utilization of confidence intervals to potentially smooth the effect of imprecise, variable MRIP data.

After a productive discussion, and an attempt to postpone this action until the MRIP FES Report is made public was defeated, the Board approved Draft Addendum II with one state in opposition. It is very important for the Cobia resource and management to select a new allocation scheme, as the Board must approve new measures for 2025. The current system is broken, and this action addresses many of the management challenges with Cobia, such as the shifting distribution of the fishery, challenges with de minimis status, and the data challenges. However, outside of smoothing out MRIP estimates, Draft Addendum II is not constructed to really improve our understanding about where, when, or how many Cobia the recreational sector.

Unfortunately, Virginia’s mandatory electronic reporting for cobia catches was terminated and was largely ineffective (this is not a ding on VA, but was the reality…) ASGA hopes that there will be future opportunities for both fisheries scientists and managers to consider voluntary angler data to supplement other data collection streams and be used within stock assessments. For cobia, the data-quality bar is pretty low, and given MRIP’s current challenges we’d hope ASMFC and states would seek innovative approaches to this important yet ever-changing fishery.

Spanish Mackerel

Speaking of another a fish species on the move, the CP Board also had a good discussion on Spanish mackerel via a staff developed white paper. The primary takeaway from this agenda item was the fishery is changing, catches are changing, and management may need to adapt to keep up.

For New England anglers who have seen Spanish mixing in with albie feeds the past few years, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is hosting three virtual Port Meetings from May 14th-16th to better understand the dynamics and perspectives within the king and Spanish mackerel fisheries. Be sure to register for one of the virtual New England Port Meetings if you’re interested!

Other Updates

  • Stock assessments for redfish (red drum) and croaker are on track, and final reports will be presented at the Annual ASMFC Meeting this fall.
  • Legislative Updates: ASMFC is encouraging congress to fund the VIM Menhaden Science Plan and the Industry Based Trawl Survey (to serve as a backup for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fall and Spring Bottom Trawl Surveys). Unfortunately, President Biden’s FY2025 Budget Request for NOAA Fisheries included a cut to Cooperative Research projects—these projects and funding are tremendously effective and provide great data for fisheries science and management. Many in the fisheries world are encouraging Congress to maintain the cooperative research budget.

There you have it, ASMFC Spring Meeting is in the books. These meetings often feel like marathons and we do our best to provide a concise summary of the important points. In the coming months, the ASGA team will be paying close attention to meetings for the upcoming striped bass stock assessment and the Catch & Release Mortality Working Group. Look for updates on those meetings as well as our breakdown and positions on Cobia Draft Addendum II.

As always, feel free to reach out to comments@saltwaterguidesassociation if you have any questions!

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