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Apr 10, 2018 10:46 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Striper Season Opens, But Should It?

Apr 10, 2018 11:11 AM

Striped bass are very slowly—thanks to the persistent chill—pushing their way north and east. Most of the bays that spill into the New York Bight have micros and schoolies moving into them now, and the On The Water migration tracker shows that big, spawning-age fish have already started to push up the Chesapeake.With the season opening this weekend, the guys who fish the Verrazano Narrows will certainly be dragging around the bridge footings next week in search of those first spawners heading for the Hudson.

The early season striper slaughter in the Bight region, particularly in New Jersey, has become a spectacular new opportunity for catching big fish. But I fear that fisheries managers may be missing a calculation as to exactly how many people are focusing their efforts on stripers in that area now, and how much mortality it is putting on those fish that, if given another month, would get at least one more spawn in before they were killed.

The shift of the opening of the striper season from early May to mid-April came at a time when striper stocks were burgeoning and fishing pressure on them was much more limited. Now, a booming economy, with more boat owners, the lure of very large fish easily targeted because of the bunker resurgence, and the draw of Instagram and Facebook posts have all certainly pushed the number of anglers who are taking stripers out of the pre-spawn run well higher than calculations of decades-ago forecasts.

Even after a year of such spectacular fishing as some areas saw last year—actually, because of that—I think striper rules need to be wholly overhauled in light of a stock that is, while not exactly struggling, at least wavering a bit and could use with some steadying.

A firm one-fish limit should be imposed in all states. Minimum “keeper” sizes should be increased to 32 inches, at least in the tri-state area and New England states. Seasons should be shortened to delay significant mortality until after the spawning season, and after fish have reached a size where they will have spawned at least once or twice (this is a particular problem around the Chesapeake), and while there is some scientific debate about whether slot limits are the best approach to stock building, I think for a fishery where so much activity and so much money is driven by the desire to catch very large specimens, a slot limit on striped bass is a worthwhile experiment.

Flounder season started last week, and while the fishing in parts of Long Island once again seems to be at least decent, despite the cold, I don’t know of anyone who will even be trying on the East End bays.

In fact, it’s been so long since anyone gave flounder fishing a real effort, maybe the little flatties have rebounded and we haven’t even noticed. That, however, seems unlikely. Someday, I would love to stumble on a new crop of fat little small-mouthed flounders in Heady Creek or the Basket.

Put those rat rods in the car and start poking around.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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