Is a Recreational Striped Bass Moratorium Really Being Considered?

By Tony Friedrich, Vice President and Policy Director

There has been a little bit of a stir lately regarding upcoming management decisions for striped bass. We detailed the four main issues left on the table for Amendment 7 in our most recent blog.

The draft Amendment 7 document will in all likelihood be released for public comment after the meeting on October 20th. Saving striped bass requires 100% focus on the issues at hand. This is not the time to get distracted. Amendment 7 is going to be a beast of a document. It will be difficult to comment and almost impossible for a normal fisherman to decipher the various options while navigating the nuances.

Which brings us to the topic of this blog. The slide below appeared around halfway through the Plan Development Team meeting on September 28 as one of the options being considered to protect the 2015 year class.

When we saw the slide, it took a moment to process. In fact, we had to read it multiple times to make sure our eyes weren’t deceiving us. Unfortunately, it is all there in black and white, with a little red thrown in for flare. A recreational-only harvest moratorium? Really? Did anyone at ASMFC look up the meaning of “moratorium”? Spoiler alert: It only works if everyone does it. So, we save striped bass by allowing only one sector to harvest? Somehow, this doesn’t pass the smell test.

We don’t pick winners and we have never advocated for ending commercial striped bass fishing. At the same time, our members rely on an abundance of striped bass—not necessarily the ability to harvest them—to make a living and have a successful day on the water. But if the goal is to rebuild the species, all of us—commercial and recreational alike—need to be part of the solution.

Our readers know by now that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is not accountable under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), the nation’s federal fisheries law. Why is this important to the discussion? Under MSA, there are National Standard guidelines that all fisheries management plans must abide by. National Standard 4 seems to apply to this situation:

National Standard 4 – Allocations

Conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different states. If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign fishing privileges among various United States fishermen, such allocation shall be (a) fair and equitable to all such fishermen; (b) reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and (c) carried out in such manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of such privilege.

This is just another example of why ASMFC needs to be reformed. The fact that something so one-sided would even enter the discussion is unbelievable. Recreational fishermen have fought for over a year to conserve striped bass. We have largely been ignored due to the many shortcomings of ASMFC management.

This is the same management body that came up with a “slot limit” that allowed Maryland, New Jersey, and Potomac River recreational anglers to harvest fish over the upper limit of the 35” slot as well as multiple jurisdictions that allowed commercial harvest for striped bass over 35”.  The decision to go with a slot limit completely ignored over 90% of the public comments in the Addendum VI process to go back to one fish over 35”.  While that is par for the course, it doesn’t change the fact that slot limits don’t work unless everyone does it—and the same goes for a moratorium.

The meeting in October will decide what options go out for public comment. We hope that this moratorium option doesn’t make it into the final document. This option would cause confusion and take away from the four main issues at hand, thus making a difficult process almost impossible.

ASGA works hard to be an honest broker for fisheries management, taking these hard-to-understand topics and breaking them down so that fishermen can participate in the process. So, be aware that if you do see a moratorium as an option, it is not a real moratorium just like it wasn’t a real slot limit. We will continue to fight for striped bass recovery. Please look to our blog and social media for guidance on the final Amendment 7 document later this fall.

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