The Bay State is a center of commercial and recreational striper fishing. Despite growing concern over the health of the striped bass population, calls to end commercial harvest and curtail the recreational catch have for years been ignored in Boston.
But now, given recent data showing poor spawning success and dwindling recreational catches, even Massachusetts thinks we should ease the pressure on stripers. Paul Diodati, the state’s fisheries director, proposed cutting the recreational daily bag limit along the entire East Coast in half, from two fish to one, and reducing the commercial catch by 38 percent.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted no, as it always does. But Diodati’s acknowledgement that stripers are in peril seems like a turning point in efforts to protect stripers from a population crash like the one in the early 1980s, which nearly wiped them out.
“The number of sexually mature female striped bass has slumped badly and there has been a steady drop in the number of young stripers born in the Chesapeake Bay, which is the major nursery for Atlantic Coast striped bass,” said Brad Burns, founder of Stripers Forever, which advocates for the end of commercial fishing in the seven Atlantic coast states that still permit it. “For anglers from Maine to South Carolina, this translates to a decline of approximately 90 percent in the coast-wide recreational catch of wild stripers since 2006.” (Disclosure: I’m a member of Stripers Forever’s board.)
Lou Tabory, the widely read author and guru of fly-fishing for stripers, recently wrote that the decline of the fishery is hurting the recreational fishing business on Cape Cod.
“In the late 1990s in May, the ‘bowl’ just south of Chatham Lighthouse on Cape Cod might have had a hundred anglers fishing — now it’s mostly empty,” he wrote this summer in Fly Fishing in Salt Waters magazine. “Guides I know that specialized in light tackle and fly-fishing for stripers have stopped doing trips or fish for other species.”
The ASMFC did agree to consider tighter limits on fishing – in 2015. Stripers Forever says that’s too little, too late. Monte Burke writes in Forbes magazine that recreational anglers should take the matter into their own hands.
“For the next two years, all recreational anglers should consider limiting their catches to one keeper a day at a minimum (all catch-and-release would be better, in my opinion),” Burke wrote. He specifically called on “party boat” captains to reduce the number of stripers coming over the gunwales.
“The fishing from these boats, filled with 25 to 100 anglers all taking their two-fish-a-day limit, is just not sustainable. These captains have to know somewhere in their hearts that what they are doing is similar to the actions of the commercial fishermen who eventually fished cod out to the point of near extinction. Catching and killing that many striped bass on every trip is just not in their long term self-interest.”