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Who is minding store?

5/25/2010

Early this month, the Atlantis States Marine Fishery Council (ASMFC) proposed to accept public hearings and feedback on increasing the striped bass commercial take by at least 20 percent and quite possibly 50 percent.

This is terrible news as many charter captains and biologists have already witnessed a major slowdown in the overall numbers of striped bass, not to mention big breeding class fish being caught on their home waters.

When talking with watermen up and down the coast, as well as my personal observations on two of the top four spawning rivers on the east coast (Hudson River and Delaware River), I can tell you that a major slowdown in overall catch rates has been ongoing for 4 years among all anglers and captains fishing those waters.

So, it stands to reason that when the ASMFC Striped Bass Technical Committee releases data predicting the overall number of adult striped bass to steadily decline through the year 2015, an increase in commercial take leaves us wondering, "Who is minding the store."

With that ASMFC data in hand, why would states and federal agencies including Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Maryland, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vote to increase commercial harvest as much as 50 percent?

I must admit however, that this season is off to a great start, but biologists and the ASMFC must be smart and carefully take into consideration the fact that the extreme ranges of the striped bass has been creeping back for years.

It is no secret that the extreme striped bass ranges such as Maine and northern most stretches of Massachusetts are witnessing less bass than in years past.

Add into the equation the extreme ranges on spawning rivers, including less fish spawning in Troy New York on the famed Hudson River not to mention less fish, leading to less spawning fish, in the non tidal portions of the Delaware River.

What's more, the 2010 striped bass (or Rockfish) spawning migration up into the Susquehanna Flats region of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has basically been non-existent. This population of fish is arguably one of the largest populations of spawning striped bass. And, they did not show this year!

It is my opinion, through on the water observations and constant communication with the best captains along the coast, that when any extreme ranges of any specie begins to shrink, biologists and officials must take notice and monitor that situation as this is one of the first indicators of a shrinking biomass for that species.

In keeping a blind eye and increasing the commercial take will have devastating ramifications down the road.

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the N.J. / N.Y. coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).