Like most Chesapeake Bay fishermen, my passion for fishing comes with a cost. I’m not speaking of tangibles like the money we put into gasoline, fishing lures, or repairing broken rods. That’s to be expected. The cost for the Chesapeake angler is worrying that the fish we love to catch may soon disappear.  This week the Maryland Department of Natural Resources released its annual Young of the Year (YOY) Index. It’s an assessment of how many baby striped bass were produced the previous spring. This is the third year in a row that there has been less than normal reproduction. Marine biologists tell us there are a lot of reasons why the big fish aren’t making enough little fish.  There are too many to list but it all boils down to one thing – uncertainty.  We just don’t know what’s going on with our rockfish.  The only thing we know for certain is that there will be a lot fewer fish for us to catch.

I believe there is cause for alarm.  Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) – the national decision making authority for striped bass management – sets thresholds for when they think management action should be taken.  Despite the continuing decline in the number of young fish, the ASMFC says no protective action is necessary.  There’s even a proposal on their agenda to increase the off-shore commercial harvest of striped bass.

To make matters worse, Maryland authorities seem to be minimizing the decline. To quote from the Department of Natural Resources press release, “Likewise, the number of adults in the Atlantic coast population and levels of fishing are within healthy limits.”  The spin gets worse.  On the Maryland DNR managed Diamond Jim Facebook page, this comment appeared yesterday along with a link to the press release:  “Good news for antlers (sic) and everyone – Maryland DNR announces Atlantic coast striped bass population remains healthy.”

Overall, I think Maryland DNR has made some commendable decisions recently.  Of course there’s still those baffling catch and release proposals from last winter, but otherwise, lots of good work toward protecting our fish.  But calling three consecutive years of reproductive decline “good news,” must be a stretch in anyone’s book.

Let’s be honest, it’s very bad news.  Targets or no targets, it’s terrible news that should result in action.  A good start would be for Maryland’s delegates to the ASMFC to vote against the commercial harvest increase.  It sounds like they’re leaning that way, but let’s watch carefully.  Another step should be the reduction in the harvest of the roe-laden cows that migrate into the Bay in the spring.  We have to stop killing these fish before they have time to spawn.

Now for something a little more certain, and this time the news is good.  As I predicted last week, we’re smack in the middle of one of the best light tackle fishing weeks of the year.  I’ve been off the water for a few days, but I made it out for a couple of hours Monday evening with extremely good results.  Rich and I caught and released a dozen healthy ocean-run rockfish measuring over 30 inches each.  Rich got the biggest fish of the night at 35 inches on a white 10″ BKD hotrodded with red garlic dye . We also had some big fish on top-water lures.

I received reports yesterday and today of nice fish up and down the Bay.  Things have changed slightly in the October pattern in that the fish are now settling for 5-8 inch bunker instead of the 10 inch plus bait they wanted last week, so smaller lures will work.  Look around six to sixteen foot deep flats near steep ledges around the mouths of the rivers or in areas of mixed salinity for big birds.  Good luck!

Related posts:

Maryland DNR Drops a Thanksgiving Turkey
Maryland DNR Fiddles While Striped Bass Burn
Catch & Release – Now More Than Ever
Striper Wars – The Home Front

Posted Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 at 1:56 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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11

Responses to “Uncertainty”

  1. Gary says:

    whatever you’re running for -you got my vote!

    I sometimes find it a little painful being a grown-up; learning about PCB’s and special interest groups pushing bad policy. I remember being a kid and reeling in a fish was just that.

    Now, I still reel in a fish once in awhile and vote of course, but realize that’s not enough. What organizations are trying to protect the interests of recreational fishing?

  2. Shawn says:

    Gary, there are several organizations that claim to be representing recreational interests. Some seem to me to be more interested in protecting commercial interests under the guise of “fishing rights.” I am active in the Coastal Conservation Association because their policies come close to the things I care about. In the areas where I don’t agree, I’ve found I can have more influence from the inside that out. Oh, and thanks for the vote, but I’m not running for anything except a 50 inch rockfish this fall!

  3. Capt. Eric says:

    You’re right about pre-spawn fish. Why not catch and release only until mid-May? Those big fish aren’t good to eat anyway. Most of them go directly from the bay to the dumpster.

  4. Lori says:

    I think DNR just needs to look like they are being good stewards of the resource, especially in an election year. The bigger issue is over harvest up and down the coast, especially the winter gill net fishery. It’s the same fish you know. But I get it, we live in the state where they spawn, and we should set the exmaple.

  5. Shawn says:

    Lori, I don’t want to sound like I’m beating up DNR. For the most part, I like what they’re doing. They have some good people in decision making positions now. I think there are some in the agency that are genuinely concerned about the YOY numbers. I just don’t understand the sugar-coating.

  6. Jacko says:

    GOOD NEWS??????

  7. Andrew says:

    Those big fish should not be able to be caught until after they are done spawning. The good eaters are the smaller ones anyways. Nice read as always!

  8. Daniel says:

    Self-imposing catch and release practices, especially with regards to large, female fish, will become ever more important as the Menhaden population in and outside the lower Bay diminishes…’tis the season for photos folks.

  9. jumbo1 says:

    As for the part where you are “running to catch a 50″ fish”…I believe that 51” is the mark to beat this fall..great read ol’ buddy….I think you need some Chesapeake Light tackle hats?

  10. Dr.Mrs. says:

    It’s somewhat ironic that while wildlife management wouldn’t endorse harvesting does when they’re pregnant (or any other land animals at critical gestation stages) they don’t put such severe restrictions on fish harvest.

  11. Dave says:

    As an ameteur fisherman at best and a recent transplant of the shore (15 years) I was guilty of trophy season charter trips for a few years but as I learned more about the fish as well as the bay,I stopped the practice. Now I love nothing more than to target fish with light tackle and chase them down the bay. I do wonder if a early river season for 18″ would work, nothing better than a perfect pan fish for dinner, and there seem to be plenty.
    The spring season has to go.

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