For ladies who are both lifeguards and nightlifers ...
Below: This is exclusively a striped bass aficionado segment. Please take some time to read up on what is purely my theories followed by those of Tom Fote:
ALL OVER AGAIN: There’s a ton of torrid talk about what has rather suddenly become a surfacing striped bass crisis. It is based on some admittedly piss-poor fishing for trophy bass, along with a sour showing within recent spawns.
Social and print media flapping with editorials about piss-poor angling for trophy stripers. Verbal assaults have been leveled at those folks seen as causal agents, pretty much other fishermen, most often elsewhere. Finger-pointing has taken a Pogo-esque tilt. “We have met the enemy and he is …” Among accusations of too many trophy bass being kept by the other guys, I’m also inclined to point to long-term biomass bothers, including poaching and aggressive mycobacteriosis outbreaks.
While I can make a strong case that this hubbub is coming on a tad too fast, that won’t slow the toxic flow. What’s more, the pissing and moaning has caught the ear of fishery management, which isn’t always the ear you want to catch.
BAD ON THE ONE HAND: There is a shaky agreement that overall stocks of striped bass, meaning fish of all sizes, are not in big trouble. However, big-time bass fishing has always been based on bigness. Trophy-bass fishing soars far above fun fishing for schoolies or even medium-sized stripers. Of course, that biggest-is-best syndrome applies to virtually all gamefish species.
Looking not all that far back, past cures for legitimate shortages of bass stocks have proven amazingly effective. The moratorium of the 1980s was a resounding and applauded success. Maybe too much so. Bass came back so fast and furious that other gamefish species – already strained when they became targeted during the striper shutdown – were consumed by the striper population explosion.
Since the moratorium-related recovery, well-managed fishing for stripers has worked … until now, per many. The current dearth of big-ass bass has sparked a demand to protect trophy stripers, possibly via a true slot, i.e. a moratorium on keeping bass over, say, 42 inches and up. The thinking: Saving the biggest of bass will lead to more biggest of bass being spawned. I won’t make friends saying this, but that thinking is flawed, genetically speaking.
ALL BASS ARE EQUAL: Preserving the largest of bass stocks is not all it’s knocked up to be. Huge bass do not produce more trophy-bass genes than other spawning bass of smaller sizes, per science – and nature.
Admittedly, jumbo cow stripers pitch in quite heavily when it comes to adding copious numbers of eggs to spawn mix, but it’s a misconception that they’ll also be contributing gifted DNA for making a slew of larger bass, like themselves. Lower life forms don’t abide by such mammalian concepts, i.e. breeding prize bulls and prize heifers for blue ribbon results.
With fish, it's exclusively what nature dictates, not mankind. Simply, any bass of any size that spawns has an equal chance of producing genomes destined to become trophy-sized fish. It involves the complex genetics of survival, which demands offspring of not only both sexes but all body types. Nature does not abide by the human precept that hefty and heavy fish are foremost.
We’ve all seen bulky, heavy bass being caught in association with lean and relatively lightweight fish. That has nothing to do with one bass out-eating another, i.e. being a better predator. Nor does it mean, as I’ve heard, that thin fish have just traveled a long distance and are thusly skinny, vis-à-vis bluefish. Those divergent shapes within fish of equal length represent a well-planned and natural genetic distribution.
Nature designates certain bass to get bulky. Females lead the bulky segment, for egg-carrying reasons. However, nature just as enthusiastically assigns other bass to remain lean, even among some female fish. A balanced genetic distribution is absolutely imperative for the survival of the species. During spawns, when waters carry eggs and sperm from all spawn-age stripers, nature doles out body-type zygotes with no favoritism or prejudices. Both fat-ass and lean-cuisine bass add genetic input as nature demand, not as mankind would prefer.
During fat forage times, bass bearing bulk-up genes go for the gusto. Enter world-worthy weigh-in bass. However, nature knows that good times come and go. For sure-to-come lean times, a sector of the bass population has been genetically assigned to stay lean, either through reduced metabolism or, more likely, a propensity to feel satiated before growing portly. That looms large during tougher existence times. Most of the biomass are somewhere in the middle, which makes sense in a long-run survival way.
Worth repeating: Fat bass do not produce trophy bass genes any more -- or less --than smaller or leaner bass. This is actually great genome news for anglers and conservationists. Any and all striped bass large enough to spawn offer the DNA needed for trophy bass of the future.
BIG BASS HAVE PROBLEMS: A strong biological case can be made that bigger bass produce more eggs and sperm. Very true. However, it then comes down to the highly complex and much-debated issue of fecundity - the fertility of the eggs and sperm cells.
In an unfished and chemical free world, the eggs of the larger bass would be a huge and prolific asset to any spawn, in a numbers sense. However, in our all-too-real world, it’s well known that a deleterious chemical load accrues as a fish gets older. This is positively doing harm. Along with PCBs, other more modern chemicals, along with human steroids flushed into the marine environment, are attacking bass, internally. Reproductive organs are seemingly hit the hardest. As impressive as the egg output of large and jumbo bass might be, the fertility of those genomes must now comes into serious question.
That worry voiced, even with an old-fashioned 100-percent fecundity rating, the output of sperm and eggs from one trophy bass can be matched by the contributions of only two medium-sized spawning bass. What’s more, science dictates that bass in the prime of life – not at the height/weight of their growth – are most virile and fertile.
Without supporting or opposing any upcoming bass regulation, I’m pointing out that the best way to a bass recovery in the semi-long run is protecting the healthiest spawners, those fish between, say, 32 and 40 inches. Exclusively protecting bass above 40 inches -- and how many of those are there? -- is a highly dubious way to preserve the biomass into the future. It also flies in the face of genetic science.
WHERE ARE WE HEADED
By Tom Fote
There will be some interesting decisions made on the management of striped bass in the near future. The reason the regulations will be up for discussion is the most recent benchmark stock assessment. Because of the recent government shutdown, the document we discussed at the winter meeting of ASMFC was not the final version. But the draft document stated that we were exceeding the reference points on where the spawning stocks should be. This is after all the states took a 25% reduction a few years ago. Basically, the stock assessment says that the current regulations are not rebuilding the striped bass stocks to the base year of 1995, that we are overfished and overfishing is taking place. The striped bass management plan calls for us to take action. Before we make these decisions, there is important information everyone should have.
MY HISTORY WITH STRIPED BASS
First, my history with striped bass dates to my childhood. I fished in Brooklyn on piers and occasionally on a party boat with my father. My real introduction to striped bass fishing was on the beaches of Coney Island. One day I saw an angler who had caught a striped bass on the jetty fishing overnight. That is when I became passionate about catching a striped bass. My fishing was interrupted when I went into the army in 1966 and didn’t begin again until I was in the hospital at Fort Dix in 1970. While recovering, my therapy was fishing. The first thing I did when I came home from the hospital was a party boat trip with my father fishing for bluefish.
In 1970 my then girlfriend who is now my wife of 44 years took me to Island Beach State Park to surf fish. A family friend introduced me to the Berkeley Striper Club (BSC) and I became a member in 1972. Since I had free time due to my medical retirement from the service, I was asked to start attending meetings on striped bass. I was lucky enough to meet people like Bob Pond who started Atom Lures. He was volunteering his time to go to clubs from Maine to North Carolina explaining that striped bass was in trouble. I was not a fluke fisherman, a tautog fisherman, a black sea bass fisherman. I fished for striped bass and bluefish. In this period of time, there was much discussion about the collapse of the Chesapeake striped bass stocks. In 1983 BSC asked me to represent them at JCAA. From 1983 to 1987 there was an ongoing discussion at JCAA about whether or not to work to make striped bass a no-sale fish in New Jersey alone or work on the coastwide no-sale.
When I became vice-president, after much discussion, JCAA voted to support NJ Senator Lou Bassano’s bill to make striped bass a no-sale fish in New Jersey. It is important to know who was selling fish in NJ at that time. Many of the hard-core striped bass fishermen who belonged to clubs in that era were what we call “pin hookers”. They were selling most of their catch to pay for their fishing passion. New Jersey’s law was one of the strictest along the coast. We had one of the highest size limits and we were the only state that had a bag limit on the number of striped bass you could keep. There was no net fishery so it was all hook and line. At that time I was recreationally fishing almost 200 days a year and bicycling 6000 miles a year. When JCAA voted to support passage of the bill, I took on the responsibility for passage of the bill. I was naïve. I really did not know about state or federal politics. I knew how the management of striped bass and the agencies for their management worked since I started attending meetings for BSC and JCAA. As fishing had been my passion, now getting this bill passed was my passion. JCAA lost 5 of the original founding clubs of JCAA since their members sold fish and they would not support no-sale. I visited almost every club in NJ and began visiting coastwide clubs seeking their support. In the 70’s I actually belonged to Save Our Stripers in NY which was also pursuing no-sale. This battle changed the course of my life. I started going to ASMFC meetings and learned I had no respect for how they were managing striped bass or how the board was controlled. Even as a Governor’s or Legislative Appointee, you were not allowed to sit on a management board. The management board for striped bass had representatives from only 5 states, consisting mainly of the states with a large commercial fishery, NY, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. JCAA started sending me to ASMFC meetings to represent our interests. I built friendships with people at the
meetings from other states who shared my passion for the protection of striped bass and, in some instances, for making striped bass a no-sale fish.
Three years of my life was spent on the NJ legislation, going to hearings, meeting with politicians and clubs. I’m a fast learner and I had some good teachers. The culmination was in 1991 at a JCAA meeting at the Jersey Coast Shark Anglers building when Governor Florio signed the striped bass no-sale bill with Senator Lou Bassano on one side and Assemblyman John Paul Doyle on the other; the bill that people said I could not get passed. When you are in my house you see a copy of the bill, a pen from the signing and a picture from that night prominently displayed. I felt that was my first accomplishment for JCAA and our member clubs. We went from 36 clubs to 100 clubs which included clubs from Maine to North Carolina, all wanting to work on coastwide no-sale. JCAA was so passionate about promoting catch and release that when we started the Governor’s Surfing Tournament we had judges riding the beach so people could catch and release any fish they caught. We only measured the length and that is still how it works 25 years later.
It is important for me to explain my philosophy for supporting making striped bass a no-sale fish. Striped bass along the coast was mainly a recreational caught fish. Outside of the Chesapeake Bay the commercial market was largely made up of a hook and line fishery. In NJ and Massachusetts, the commercial catch of striped bass was totally a hook and line fishery, mainly made up of recreational anglers selling their catch. People supported striped bass no-sale for different reasons. Some want all fish to be catch and release. Some wanted an abundant fishery for everyone to have the opportunity to land one of the biggest fish from the surf. My feeling was it was the only game fish we could protect that so everyone could harvest, rich or poor. Some of the best striped bass fishermen I know fish with gear that is not expensive. They repaint their plugs and reuse everything and they are some of the best striped bass anglers. Because I grew up fishing on party and charter boats, I realized anglers took home fish to feed their families. I felt that if we eliminated the commercial sale of striped bass there would be enough fish to provide the all recreational anglers with a quality fishery. Recreationally, I have always understood both the catch and release community and the catch-for-dinner community. The overriding factor is that this needs to be a sustainable fishery with large enough numbers that it can be a quality fishery for all sectors. Striped bass has gotten me involved in ocean dumping, water protection, renewable energy, endocrine disruptors and many other areas. It has changed my life as it has for many other anglers.
To understand today’s discussion, you need to understand the regulations that were put in place in 1995. I have been at the striped bass board meetings since 1986. At that time the public was not allowed to ask questions and neither were ASMFC Commissioners who were not state directors. In 1989 the discussions began about how to re-open the fishery since many of the states along the east coast had a total moratorium on fishing for striped bass but the stocks had begun rebuilding. The 1989 year class was one of the best in striped bass history and pushed the 3-year average high enough to allow for the resumption of the fishery. During the discussions at the striped bass board meeting and with the advice of the technical committee, the board debated all day long about whether or not to open the fishery with 2 fish at 24 inches in the Chesapeake Bay and 2 fish at 34 inches along the coast recreationally and with the same size limit commercially with quotas. Before the board broke at 9:30 PM the audience was asked for comment. I was pushed to speak for the audience and asked the board for an opportunity to speak before the vote the following day. The board agreed and we went to sleep. The next day they opened the meeting at 8:30, made a motion to open the fishery at 18 inches in Chesapeake Bay and 28 inches along the coast. That motion was passed in 45 minutes without public comment. At 1:00 they asked for our comments and I was again the spokesperson. I said, “You don’t give a damn what we have to say but you will in the future.”
Because of that board meeting the community was excited to be more involved and began attending more striped bass meetings. There were no longer 5 or 6 of us in the audience but more often 30 or 40. The ASMFC commissioners began hearing from the recreational anglers and the process began to open. By the time the 1995 amendment was being drafted, the recreational sector along the coast had developed a stronger voice. There were not only ASMFC commissioners from the states who were speaking at board meetings. The 1995 amendment was an example of our participation. It was designed to have a quality fishery and the base year was the year that we declared the fishery recovered, the highest point we had seen since we started
the striped bass emergency act in the early 80’s. The referent points, unlike other fisheries, were made more precautionary. I was one of the three NJ ASMFC Commissioners making those striped bass management decisions.
In 1995 the participation in the striped bass fishery was different than it is now along the coast. But so was every other fishery. It is important to understand what was happening in 1995. We were still benefitting from the large number of big striped bass that were protected during the moratorium that was in place from the 80’s through the early 90’s. Many of the states had not opened the fishery to 2 fish at 28 inches along the coast and put in seasons that were more conservative than required. There was also a smaller group of anglers. Most striped bass fishermen were like me, we didn’t talk about catching fluke, black sea bass or tautog. Our 24/7 talk was about striped bass fishing. The seasons were open all year for black sea bass, fluke, scup and tautog. Summer flounder had a 10 fish bag at 14 inch size limit and no closed season. Most of the people I fished with or knew didn’t like striped bass for dinner and fished for other species for food. There were not as many striper fishermen in general, even fewer who were taking striped bass home to eat. That was part of the big increase in the number of private, party and charter boats targeting striped bass. The 1995 amendment was good based on the era for which it was written. It allowed for a fantastic fishery on big fish throughout the 90’s and into the early 2000’s.
THE NEW FISHERIES IN THE 2000’S
Because of the concerns of the MidAtlantic Fisheries Management Council and ASMFC, there was a dramatic change in the way we manage fisheries jointly. We kept raising size limits and shortening seasons and cutting bag limits. Anglers who fished for their tables had fewer opportunities to bring fish home. There were periods of time that striped bass and bluefish were the only fisheries without closed seasons. Anglers discovered they were spending a great deal of time, effort and money with little to show for it if their target was fluke, black sea bass or tautog. So it was the natural move for many private, party and charter boats moving into the striped fishery, especially since it was open year-round. The abundance allowed for novices to meet with success. All you had to do was snag a bunker and you were a striped bass fisherman. The pressure on the striped bass population resulted in fewer trophy fish being caught. In the 90’s the hook and release mortality rate was greater than the number of fish we were taking home to eat. By the 2000’s we began putting more pressure on the stocks. Because people were taking more fish home to eat and the hook and release mortality increased because more fish were being hooked and released, the stocks actually began to change and there were fewer big fish available. This is the natural progression for a recovered fishery. The question is whether or not this is sustainable.
Hook and release mortality has always played a big role in the striped bass stocks. In 2017 and 2018 the hook and release mortality exceeded the number of fish anglers were taking home to eat. The catch and release fishermen generally turn a deaf ear when we talk about catch and release mortality, denying they contribute to the problem with the stocks. In the late 90’s a friend of mine from NY, one of the leading striped bass conservationists, and I were having a discussion about striped bass management. We were discussing the two fish bag limit allowed to charter boats in NY. Since he had become a catch and release fisherman after many years of fishing, he thought they should only be allowed a one fish bag limit even though at that time there was no problem with the stock. I suggested he consider the angler who took two fish home. This angler may make 5 trips a year on a charter boat. If the angler is lucky enough, he/she kills 10 fish to take home to eat. The angler probably caught and released a few other fish on those 5 trips. We agreed the angler releases 30 fish on those trips. With 8% mortality, the angler has killed 2.4 fish in his releases for an estimated total of 13 striped bass he/she killed that year. The catch and release angler who was fishing almost every day, lands hundreds of fish in a season. I suggested that once this angler catches 160 fish, he/she should stop because the catch and release morality is 12.8 fish. Since a dead fish is a dead fish no matter if it is a catch and release or kept fish. The angler on the charter boat is more likely to be using heavier tackle, fishing in the spring and fall when the water is cold and in saltwater. These factors lower the catch and release mortality. The higher the water temperature, the greater the catch and release mortality. The lower the salinity of the water, the greater the hook and release mortality. A study by Maryland showed the higher the air temperature, the greater the hook and release mortality. So the year-round angler probably has a higher hook and release mortality due to the climate issues since he is fishing a lot more. For example, if you are
fishing in a river where the water is fresh or brackish, the water temperature is high, the air temperature is high and you are using light tackle so the fight is longer, the catch and release mortality is extremely high. The studies again prove this is true. Catch and release anglers need to consider these factors before they blame other anglers who take a few fish a year for the table for problems with the stocks. We each need to put ourselves in other’s shoes before we condemn them and put our own homes in order.
WHERE ARE WE NOW
We have a striped bass fishery that has expanded. Unlike the 90’s striped bass is important to the party and charter boats. It has also grown increasingly important to all the private owners who cannot fish for fluke, tautog or black sea bass in closed seasons or with the increasing size limits. The science tells us that the present spawning stock biomass is more than high enough to produce the highest young of the year in Chesapeake Bay. In spite of the skepticism I received when I said the spawning stock biomass was high enough to produce the highest young of the year when we were discussing the last addendum, the facts proved I was correct. The 2011 year class was the 4th highest in history of the young of the year. The 2015 year class was the 8th highest in the young of the year index in the over 70 year history. The hook and release mortality was going down but has increased in the last few years. It is also a fact that we are never returning to the way the recreational fishery operated in 1995 or the 2000’s. This is the first benchmark stock assessment in which we are using the adjusted recreational catch numbers which show an increase in both catch and participation from the methods we historically used.
There are also things that are affecting fish populations that have nothing to do with fishing pressure. The water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and the warming of the waters inside the bay and elsewhere are just two of them. Then there is added pressure on the harvest of the forage species that striped bass count on. NJ beach replenishment has impacted many species. I can list many more but these are things that we cannot control through fisheries management.
The ASMFC will be focusing its attention on what we do in either a new addendum or amendment. What we decide will have a huge impact on the recreational fishing industry, the anglers and the states. These decisions should be made thoughtfully and deliberately. They need to include all stakeholders and look at the long-term consequences on what we do. All options should be on the table and be discussed with the general public. In the mission statement of ASMFC it states that we are managing fisheries to be sustainable. That means different things to different people. Below I am listing some of the options that are available to us. I have not taken a position on any option at this time since I need more information and a discussion about the long-term impact of each of the options on the fishing community. There are more that may come up for discussion.
1. Season closures – We could close the fishery when the highest hook and release mortality takes place.
2. Size limits – We could raise the size limits though that might raise the hook and release mortality as anglers continue to fish until a legal fish is caught.
3. Education – We could work with anglers to lower the hook and release mortality.
4. Research on poaching – We need a better handle on the amount of poaching and better law enforcement especially in areas like Raritan Bay and the EEZ.
5. Changed reference points – This could allow us to continue fishing as we do now since we would identify the stock as sustainable at a lower number.
6. A combination of options or others now mentioned here
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
It might be easier to get 10 striped bass together to agree on management issues than to get 10 striped bass fishermen to agree. I am always an optimist and realize that compromise is essential to deal with the needs of many. All of us are going to have to give a little to make this work. No one will be totally satisfied. I haven’t dedicated 40 years of my life to striped bass management to give up now. But I am also not going to manage this fishery for just one sector of the recreational community. I have not been paid by anyone or any group in all the years I been doing these many jobs. Since I am a 100% disabled veteran and retired military officer, I did not need to get paid. I always have seen this as continuing my service.
The state Division of Marine Fisheries is seeking comment on proposed recreational fishing rules designed to enhance striped bass conservation and improve for-hire compliance in state waters.
The proposed regulations will be discussed at two public hearings, including Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at DMF’s Annisquam River Station on Emerson Avenue in Gloucester. The other public hearing is set for 6 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay.
The DMF measures include three proposals related to striped bass, or stripers, including a ban on the gaffing or attempted gaffing of the species.
The agency also proposes to force anglers, beginning in 2020, to use circle hooks when fishing for striped bass with whole or cut natural bait. The rule would not apply to artificial lures with bait attached.
The state agency also proposes to open the commercial striped bass fishery “on the first open fishing day on or after June 13 and have open fishing days on Mondays and Wednesdays.” It also is proposing “to allow seafood dealers to import non-conforming-sized striped bass from other jurisdictions year-round provided the fish are tagged and lawfully harvested in the state of origin.”
DMF also seeks to enhance compliance with recreational fishing measures in for-hire fisheries by “prohibiting all for-hire operations from conducting commercial fishing activity while patrons are on board.”
The agency is considering measures that only would apply to head boats, which are larger than charter boats, fishing for scup or black sea bass in May and June. The measure would direct the operators to separate the catch of individual anglers “as well as prohibiting crew from selling or exchanging catch with patrons.”
DMF also proposes allowing draggers fishing with small mesh to keep up to 2,000 pounds of scup per trip between April 15 and June 15.
The final proposed measure would clarify that it is unlawful “for commercial fishermen to transfer any fish at-sea that are managed by a trip limit.” It would allow buy boats working on behalf of an authorized dealer to possess trip limits of all managed species.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@g
Plan to attend!
The second 2019 Fisheries Forum will be this Saturday, February 23 at Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest at 10:00 a.m. Topics include:
- Bass Sampling Highlights in Central/South NJ Lakes
- Restoration Projects Update
Suggestions for regulation changes for 2021 will be welcomed during the open discussion. There is also time for one-on-one discussions with DFW fisheries biologists following the meeting.
Parkway Directions from South Jersey:
Take the Garden State Parkway North to Exit #50 (New Gretna), exit to Route 9 North to Citgo gas station. Turn left onto Route 542, continue for 12 miles; Batsto Village is on the right.
Parkway Directions from North Jersey:
Take the Garden State Parkway South to Exit #52 (New Gretna). Turn right at stop sign onto E. Greenbush Road. Make left at next stop sign. Go over two small wooden bridges. Pilgrim Lake Campground will be on the right. Make left onto Leektown Road. Continue 2 miles to a stop sign. Stay straight on Leektown Road. Continue 3 miles to stop sign. Turn right onto Route 542 West. Stay on 542 for approximately 9 miles. Batsto Village is on the right.
From Trenton/Mt. Holly Area:
Take Route 206 South to mile marker #3 and make a left onto Route 613. Continue on 613 and make left onto Route 693. Follow 693 until the road ends and make left onto Route 542; Batsto Village is on your left.
The classic chicken scratch pattern a color scheme in the bomber that has bailed so many fish over the years had to do my own rendition!!
Added a handful of beauties to the straight eye collection. #megabass#mymegabass
Americans use up to 390 million disposable plastic straws on a daily basis - enough to circle the planet almost twice a day. They cannot be recycled and sent to landfills, where it takes 400-500 years for them to decompose. Or they wind up in oceans where plastic ingestion kills 1 million+ seabirds and marine mammals every year.
Last year, inspired in part by a video of a good Samaritan extracting a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nostril, large municipalities began to ban plastic straws, some restaurants did the same. Traditional paper straws lose their shape and suckability in liquid. So, what’s the solution?
Compostable tableware manufacturer World Centric tackled the challenge and has just introduced a 100% compostable Kraft Paper Straw that:
- Is specially made to stand up to your favorite smoothies, milkshakes and iced coffee drinks Protects forests with FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) certified kraft paper –
- Is marine-degradable so it won’t harm that cute little penguin, dolphin or other marine life –
- And is made without toxic chemicals like phthalates and BPA that can leach into the water from plastic products