Comments On the Draft of Amendment 6 Striped Bass Plan From The JCAA Striped Bass Committee
by Tom Fote
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association October 2002 Newsletter)
The goals and objectives of the plan are commendable, but here is our choice of options and comment on the draft Amendment.
On the Matter of Biomass targets and thresholds:
We are in favor of
Option 1. Establish a total biomass threshold of 110.2 million pounds
and target of 132.3 million pounds, respectively.
On the Matter of Planning Horizon:
We are in favor of
Option 1. Implement a three-year management-planning horizon with management measures that will be maintained for three-years.
On the matter of striped bass stock:
From the body of amendment 6:
188.8.131.52 Ecological Benefits
Recovery of major migratory striped bass populations throughout the species range on the east coast (e.g., the Roanoke River, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River and Hudson River populations) has restored the species to its historic normative position as an important component of coastal oceanic, estuarine and riverine ecosystems in the region.
1.2.2 Stock Assessment Summary
The conclusion of the striped bass stock assessment for 2001 is that the overall abundance of the stock is very high and the fishing mortality remains below the target fishing mortality (2001 F target = 0.31).
2.6 STOCK REBUILDING PROGRAM (IF NECESSARY)
The stock of striped bass is considered restored and is currently not considered overfished.
Also The Population Study Of The Atlantic Striped Bass 2001 Report To Congress shows the Striped Bass population to be robust and healthy. Some charts within amendment 6 show the population has been at a relative plateau for the past several years. We currently may be at a maximum sustainable population. With loss of spawning areas and estuary habitat, viral and bacterial infections and other ecological concerns should be addressed and emphasized in amendment 6. With low populations of age 0-1 menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay system plus a strong Weakfish and Bluefish stock, there may be greater competition for the same prey species, which would also tend to keep the striped bass population in check at its current levels. If we are at a plateau, or at a somewhat stable biomass, then it does not make sense to increase commercial catches before all the states implement the size and creel limits that are available to them in Amendment 5. When all the states do this, and with a three-year planning time within the amendment, we will better be able to assess the stock biomass for the future and future management decisions.
It is absolutely essential that the multi-species model of fisheries management be expanded upon to allow for greater input and better management decisions.
The “Trophy Fish” concept still seems to be present in the plan, and certainly is addressed in the tables 24-29 directly as such. As with the difficulty in defining a “quality fishery,” the definition of a “Trophy Fishery” is even more elusive. All reference to “Trophy” should be removed from the plan. The fishery should have a balance of all age groups consistent with the historic fishery. The large or older fish will appear as time progresses with the plan if the plan is, in reality, working.
The commercial fisheries quotas are in pounds, but they are killing 18”-20” fish in the southern producer areas (Md., PRFC, Va, NC). This accounts for LARGE NUMBERS of bass being removed from the population. A uniform 24” producer area and coastal area size limit would be a step forward. It would allow for better compliance, reporting, and law enforcement, and a more stable population.
New Jersey has 2 producer areas and we produce 40% of the coastal stock. We do not allow for the harvest of 18” fish in our spawning areas. Rather, we use a 24” size limit. The Delaware and Hudson River stocks have increased with no problems in either stock. We are seeing large fish in both stocks.
We are not seeing a lack of balanced age groups in NJ because we have a 24” producer area size limit, while Chesapeake Bay is at 18 inches. Our recreational catch consists probably of 25% Hudson, 15 % Delaware and 60% Chesapeake Bay stocks. We have a nice mix of age and size classes and we do see numbers of large fish. In the base years (1972-79) New Jersey was the most conservative state with a 10 fish creel limit and 18” size limit. No other state had a bag limit or 18” size limit at this time period.
Chesapeake Bay produces 60% of the stock, and they harvest 58% of the total catch. They may be harvesting 70% of their own stock in numbers. This could account for the lack of big fish from this particular stock.
The recreational quota has not changed since amendment 4. Meanwhile, in the same time frame the commercial quota has gone from 20% to over 70% of the historic high, while no recreational fishery is fishing at 70% of the historical fishery. In the Chesapeake Bay states the commercial quotas are above what they were during the base years. Commercial quotas should remain where they are.
On the matter of allocation:
Status quo for recreational fisheries with all states implementing Amendment 5 provisions should be the preferred approach.
Option 3 with F target = 0.30 is preferred.
There should be a uniform size limit both in producer areas and coastal fisheries of 24”.
The commercial quotas should remain at status quo and not be increased.
On the matter of EEZ:
We support Option 1 for continued closure of the EEZ.
We could live with Option 2 only if the individual states have complete jurisdiction of the 12-mile zone and there are no federal regulations for this area.
On the matter of large fish:
If the stock of striped bass is considered restored and is currently not considered overfished, as stated several places in the document, then as a consequence of time passing, the larger or older age groups will appear throughout the system even at our present mortality rates. There appears to be a very normal age mix of fish to 10 years of age in a number of charts within the document, which seems to coincide chronologically with the adoption of Amendment 4 by the Commission in October 1989. So patience is probably more the key here than changes in a basic plan that appears to be working extremely well. It is not necessarily the goal of the fishing public as a whole to be seeking only large fish. Those people solely seeking that aspect of the fishery are no doubt in the minority and a fishery should not be directed at satisfying the needs of a minority.
On the matter of 4.1 RECREATIONAL FISHERIES MANAGEMENT MEASURES
Item 1. Circle hooks should be made mandatory on bait fisheries. However, standards should be set. Is there a difference between offset and non-offset? Size variations are considerable among manufacturers and, thus, we need some sense of order and uniformity. Perhaps additional studies are required before making these hooks mandatory.
We will also need to EDUCATE the public in the proper method/s to handle and release fish. This is an essential management measure. Posters, placards, etc. should be distributed among tackle stores, manufacturers, etc. to facilitate an education process. These procedures will help to reduce the mortality rates.
Item 2. We are not entirely in favor of the elimination of treble hooks.
Item 3. Prohibition of bait fishing in spawning areas should be implemented.
Item 4. Closure of fisheries during weather water periods should be implemented.
JCAA supports a status quo in both the recreational and commercial fishery. If there is any increase in the commercial fishery and a reduction in the mortality rate, it will only mean more restrictions on the recreational sector, a sector that is nowhere near its historical level, unlike the commercial sector that is at least at 70% of its base year catch and, in the Chesapeake Bay, over the base years average. A lower mortality rate will make it nearly impossible for the states that have more restrictive recreational management measures than allowed under Amendment 5 to come up to the level of Amendment 5. This is totally unfair and these states should not be penalized for being more restrictive. We must have a uniformity of size limits in producer and coastal fisheries, and we urge that this be 24” as the base in both. Raising size limits affects the shore-based subsistence fisherman the most, and the effect of this has never been addressed in this plan. We must address this. We do not need to make these changes to create a fishery for the people who primarily want to catch and release fish. All you have to look at is where all the large fish are now caught. Those receiving the most benefits along the coast are Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. Massachusetts and New York also have the largest commercial fisheries along the coast. They would reap the greatest benefits in the increase. The striped bass fishery should be maintained so all recreational anglers can actively participate in this fishery. We should not implement restrictions that save the striped bass only for those who want to catch a 50-pound fish. This fishery should also be managed for the anglers who want to catch and consume a striped bass.