Good News Is Not Such Good News for Striped Bass - 27 East

Good News Is Not Such Good News for Striped Bass

Number of images 3 Photos
Pete Eilenberg of Hampton Bays with a limit of blackfish caught aboard the Shinnecock Star recently.

Pete Eilenberg of Hampton Bays with a limit of blackfish caught aboard the Shinnecock Star recently.

The latest stock assessment of striped bass, like this one caught recently by Russel Frank aboard the Shinnecock Star, says that overfishing is not occurring but that the stock is still severely depleted.

The latest stock assessment of striped bass, like this one caught recently by Russel Frank aboard the Shinnecock Star, says that overfishing is not occurring but that the stock is still severely depleted.

Ilyssa Meyer with a striped bass caught during a recent outing of the East Hampton Sportsmen's Alliance.

Ilyssa Meyer with a striped bass caught during a recent outing of the East Hampton Sportsmen's Alliance.

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In the Field

  • Publication: East Hampton Press
  • Published on: Nov 15, 2022
  • Columnist: Michael Wright

As we muddle through another mediocre fall striped bass run — one that saw most of the biggest fish in the dwindling coastal stock once again gone from our waters by early October, a nearly silent Montauk, and only smatterings of shots at good fishing along the sand — it’s hard not to be frustrated at what greed and political influence have done, and are continuing to do, to our once-verdant fishery.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced this week that the most recent stock assessment update shows that the striped bass stock is benefiting from the slot limit and reductions to commercial take imposed three years ago and other regulatory rules intended to reduce “dead discards” by recreational fishermen.

They say that the fishery is not “experiencing overfishing,” in that the number of fish being taken out of the stock each year is still allowing the overall population to grow. In fact, they say that under the current regulations, there is a 78 percent chance that the stock will rebuild to the target size set by federal scientists by 2029, the deadline set by the ASMFC after the 2018 stock assessment.

If taken at face value, this is good news. Unfortunately, not much can be taken at face value when it comes to fisheries management.

First of all, it is an inexact science that wallows in the vagaries of trying to count fish that can’t actually be seen. The brains in the university research teams that lead the studies are amazing good at it, but some of what led to this assessment that overfishing is not occurring was simply “moving the goal posts” when it comes to measurements of mortality.

Second of all, this assessment means that the grotesque bastardizations of the regulations intended to help set the stock straight, known as “conservation equivalency,” will be allowed to continue.

If you’re not familiar, conservation equivalency is the term that was introduced years ago into striped bass management. It allowed each state to choose to adopt the management regulations recommended by the ASMFC or to adopt their own regulations, as long as they could show that the resulting protection of fish would be the same.

From the very start, states like New Jersey have used the allowance to manipulate the rules to keep their fishermen happy today, and to hell with what that means for the broader stock and community of striped bass fishermen tomorrow.

And thanks to the influence of those states, the new striped bass rules adopted last year sidestepped the deluge of public opinion that conservation equivalency should be ended or tightly limited. The states were left with escape clauses that allow them to continue if various conditions are met.

This means that Maryland anglers are still killing more than a million tiny stripers a year. It means that New Jersey will continue killing far more than its share. And it will mean that Massachusetts commercial fishermen will continue to be incentivized to kill the biggest striped bass they can.

The striped bass stock remains greatly “overfished” — that is, the stock is far below where it should be, because we didn’t fully learn our lesson from the collapse of the 1980s and once again caught and killed too many striped bass for years.

For nine years, the ASMFC and the political influence whores who push them to inaction allowed the stock to be whittled down, even when evidence both scientific and observational showed that the stock was in decline. Now, when they have just finally gotten on the right track, they are going to give a bone back to those who are putting greed first, at the cost of the long-term enjoyment by millions of others.

But it’s not just corrupted and greedy politicians that are hurting the stock. We anglers are still doing our own part to put greed and self-interest ahead of the betterment of the stock in the long term.

I know from firsthand observation that the rule imposed last year barring the use of treble hooks in bait fishing — a rule targeting the “snag-and-drop” fishery — is not being followed by almost anyone.

I watched a dozen boats scrum around a bunker school outside Shinnecock a few weeks ago, and not a single angler on any of them snagged a bunker and then fished it on a circle hook, as is required by law. The result is fish with big trebles deep in their gullets if the fisherman is not paying attention, and blood gushing from their gills.

We need more fish police.

Still plenty of stripers in the area. There were blitzes in Orient, Montauk and even at Sammy’s Beach in East Hampton this week. Lots of fishing left to do. Guess I won’t be grassing my duck blind anytime soon.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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