We look into the emergency striper slot limit implemented and what it means going forward.
Atlantic anglers woke to a shock earlier this month when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council announced an emergency slot limit for all striped bass off the Atlantic Coast. Anglers looking to keep a striped bass may now only keep one fish a day measuring between 28 and 31 inches long.
The emergency measures were made by the council and without public comment in light of new information regarding the striped bass stock migrating down the Atlantic.
The ASMFC is made up of representative states from Maine through Florida, with the striped bass board being specifically represented by Maine through North Carolina, DC plus the Potomac River Fisheries commission.
According to Justin Davis, the assistant director of marine fisheries for the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, in 2018 the ASMFC declared Atlantic striped bass overfished. The stock was rebuilt in the late 90s and early 00s to great success, but then began to gradually decline.
In 2019, in response to the decline, the commision voted to implement a slot limit of 28-35. The 2019 slot limit was implemented in 2020.
In 2021 the Council also implemented a rule requiring bait anglers to use circle hooks as well. Circle hooks have a much lower chance of being swallowed by fish and increase the survival rate of any fish released.
In 2022 the ASMFC did another assessment and found it was working. The council had a 78% chance of reaching their rebuilding goals by 2029.
Problems came up, however, when further studies showed that one massive age class of fish from 2015 were making up almost all of the fish numbers counted. Davis said when the commission plugged in that data, along with the fact that striped bass recruitment was very poor after 2015, they now only had a 15% chance of reaching their rebuilding goal.
The shocking revelation led to the council's decision to use emergency authority to cut the slot limit even smaller.
Council decisions usually require public input and open meetings, but the emergency authority gave the council the power to make a decision on their own.
The emergency action marks the first time the action has been used in a little over 10 years when the northern shrimp fishery was closed (Maine and NH area). It has also been used a few other times before that for species like flounder and black sea bass.
Davis understands why the council made the call, but would hate to see the commision get into a habit of doing things like this.
According to the Fishery Management Plan Coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Emilie Franke the drastic decision was only used because of the situation at hand.
“The public didn't get a say, it's true,” she said. “The decision was made without public comment but it points to how serious the situation is.”
Franke says part of the drastic circumstances are a result of several consecutive years of poor striped bass spawning and recruitment in the Chesapeake Bay.
“We define recruitment as the number of age one fish entering the population … and we’ve seen below average recruitment for four of the last five years,” she said. “We don't have any strong year classes coming up into the stock.”
One of the biggest drivers to this poor recruitment is environmental conditions during the spawning time. Productive years have cold, wet, springs, which haven’t occurred lately, but other factors aren't being met as well.
Neither the ASMFC, nor any individual states want to see anglers stop fishing in these situations. Anglers provide huge economic benefits to Atlantic states and provide valuable data to the researchers studying striper numbers.
There is more that the average angler can do, however. One issue the ASMFC has found is catch and release mortality of fish makes up for almost half of all striped bass mortality. Catch and release fishing is incredibly popular and the council finds there is around a 9% mortality rate from all catch and release anglers.
To help combat this number, Franke says anglers need to practice best safe fish handling techniques like keeping fish in the water during handling, especially during warm weather, like in August. She also urges anglers to abide by the circle hook regulation when using bait.
The emergency slot limit regulations are for 180 days effective through October 28. The ASMFC board will meet again the first week of August where there will be a draft of the 2024 options. The board will approve whether the draft and options are ready for public comment at that August meeting. The board has already developed new options for addressing 2024 and those will go to public comment.
The board can also extend the emergency measures up to two times and up to one year long each time if they feel the measures need to stay in place based on stock numbers.
“We will be calculating that next probability of rebuilding based on the 2024 options,” Franke said. “Stripers are awesome and clearly an extremely important species (to work on and save).”
Now let's go fishing. We'll bring circle hooks.
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