Striped Bass at ASMFC: Never Let Your Guard Down

ASGA Policy Team

We know it is a weekend.  We need all of you and we need you now.

This entire process with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and striped bass has bordered on the absurd since day 1. We knew the stock was in trouble back in 2014. We should have taken bigger reductions then, but we bet on the 2011-year class. That did not work out. We got the stock assessment in 2018, which was approved in 2019. Instead of acting immediately, we had to work through an amendment that was filled with terrible options. Whereas we could have gotten started then to get the stock on the right path towards rebuilding, we had to play defense and fight off efforts to lower the reference points, for example. We should have started rebuilding in 2021. In parallel, we had four straight years of back recruitment from Maryland. Everything has been a challenge. But, we stuck with it, and so did you. We worked our asses off to counter every obstacle and delay tactic thrown in the way of striped bass recovery.

The conventional wisdom in the striped bass world was that stock assessment update was going to be ugly and additional reductions would probably be needed to successfully rebuild the stock by 2029. Yes, some regions had good fishing this year. We are happy for you, and happy that a lot of those big fish are going back into the water. Other areas were like the Dead Sea. And this fact remains: the stock is still overfished.

The first striped bass stock assessment call gave us every indication that there would be an additional reduction required to rebuild stripers by 2029. That meeting discussed projections ranging from 27%, 25%, and 9% . All of those reductions seemed doable to us. We could have tightened the slot a little and gotten there. Our team at ASGA thought this was positive news.

During the second call, we learned that things had changed and there were no further reductions needed to rebuild by 2029. Hmmm… We immediately asked for a call with the stock assessment team because we are not stock assessment scientists. We just wanted to understand how we got from A to B. To their credit, the stock assessment team took our call and explained how there was bias detected, and a new selectivity model was applied to account for the new slot limit (which will change the age classes that are killed). This new combination of model parameters told the stock assessment team that no further reductions would be needed. Even with the bad spawns, squishy data at best for 2021 due to Covid, and an extremely low fishing mortality, we accepted this and moved on.

We were excited that the stock would be on track to rebuild, but we couldn’t help but feel a little confused. However, as you all know, we are a science based group and we have faith in the stock assessment team. Our position was, and is, striped bass are recovering but we have to watch this very closely.

Yesterday, we were alerted that Maryland had no intention of changing their regulations by a concerned captain. (We appreciate the head’s up, Capt.) This seemed impossible to us. Amendment 7 had passed. Conservation Equivalency was removed as long as the stock was overfished. Furthermore, no MRIP data with a PSE greater than 40% was allowed to be used moving forward no matter what the status of the stock may be. To close the month of April to catch and release, Maryland used MRIP numbers that had PSE’s in the 60’s. This should not be allowed to continue.

We could not figure out how this could be until we were alerted to this slide from ASMFC presentation several months back.

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Now…. This slide is kind of misleading. You see the bullet that says, “All approved Addendum VI CE plans are maintained until the measures are changed.” Measures? Does that mean regulations? I guess so. The next bullet says, “CE programs will not be approved for non-quota managed fisheries when the stock is overfished.” Doesn’t that kind of conflict with the previous statement? You can see how we were confused.

So, what the heck does all of this mean? It means the science is probably good but management sucks. Since we do not have to take additional reductions, the “measures” aren’t going to change, and Maryland and New Jersey get to continue to use CE.

It means that Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions will be allowed to kill over slot fish during the trophy season. Can I get a show of hands of how many anglers like that? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? (If you don’t get that joke, I have socks older than you) it also means that all that uncertainty surrounding CE will continue to live on for the next few years. It means that Maryland’s charter boats can still kill two fish per person/day. It means that New Jersey can continue to not meet their conservation goals while the rest of the coastal states do more than their part. If we wait until the next assessment update, that means that these regulations will remain in place until about 2025. The last good year class we have is 2018. That equates to six years of the last good class being in the Chesapeake meat grinder. Is everyone comfortable with that? We are not.

Mush all of this together and then throw in the four years of abysmal spawns in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake, and I think you see why we are no longer very positive about striped bass. The recruitment trigger tripped. But there is a section of Amendment 7 that says if the board is working on one issue, they don’t have to respond to a different trigger. There is an enormous amount of uncertainty in a stock assessment at 10 years out vs. 2 or 3. Is ASMFC really that confident?

What exactly did we fight for? The number one issue was putting guardrails on CE. Over 98% of public comments fully supported this. Yet, here we are, again.

This is not what the public or the board wanted. This is not the spirit of the process or Amendment 7. The Striped Bass Management Board meeting is on Monday at 3:00PM. The only thing we can do is ask for a regulation change which would trigger CE to go away. We could also demand that the board act upon the recruitment trigger that was tripped after another awful spawn from Maryland—making that four straight years of poor spawns.

The point is, we cannot give up now. Here is the commissioner page from the ASMFC website. Send your commissioners emails…We need to remind them that putting strict guardrails on CE had overwhelming public support. Tell them this is not what we fought for. Here are our options:

  1. Ask your commissioner to initiate an Addendum to remove the previously approved Amendment VI CE plans from Amendment 7. This would revert all states to the FMP standard: the coastwide slot of 1 at 28” to <35” and 1 at a 18” minimum for the Chesapeake Bay.
  2. Or, you can tell your Commissioner to act on another awful MD JAI survey for 2022 and another tripped Recruitment Trigger

Anything that would require adjusting the “measures” i.e. regulations would fix all of this. We need to get the entire coast on the same page and hold the states that continue to game the system accountable. How is it fair that anglers in the Northeast have been throwing large breeders back (for conservation and because they have to), but then Chesapeake Bay anglers are allowed to harvest some of the most prolific breeders on their spawning run? Seriously, tell us, because that is flat out not fair nor is it helping us recover striped bass.

ASGA does not have time to do a fancy infographic or webinars. All we can do is tell you that stripers need our help and they need it now. Please pass this along. At best, this is all a long shot. But, We have never let a longshot get in our way before. Please be courteous in your communications. It doesn’t help if commissioners get abrasive emails.

Thanks for all you do and let’s get stripers back on track for real this time.

5 Responses

  1. In your response for a call to action, I used the link to get to the ASMFC page. It lists three people for Maryland: Michael Luisi as the Administrator; H. Russel Dize as the Governor’s Appointee; and Delegate Dana Stein as the Legislator. Both Dize and Stein have proxies – Robert T. Brown Sr. and David Sikorski, respectively. What roles do the Governor’s Appointee and Delegate have in deciding rockfish regulations? In your experience, who are Maryland’s problems for striped bass advocacy?
    I sent my input to each of them and received a response from Mr. Sikorski indicating he is affiliated with the MD CCA. With very little research I found that Mr. Sikorski is the Executive Director of the MD CCA. Is he an advocate or part of the problem? Southern Maryland has three Delegates and rockfishing in the Solomons Island area has been dismal. Do we need to have Delegate Stein replaced or possibly having the southern Maryland delegates put pressure on the Governor to have Mr. Luisi and Mr. Dize replaced?

    1. Chris,
      For the past 8 years, Gov Hogan’s administration has been a disaster when it comes to conservation in the Chesapeake. This statement is nothing more than a fact. It is not D vs R politics. We will have a new Gov in a few weeks. Hopefully, this one will be more focused on fair management for our natural resources. The new Gov will appoint a new Sec of DNR. We can start working with the new administration to try an repair things. Since everything is about to change for Maryland, my suggestion is to focus on that. The other changes will come naturally.

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