By now, you know Virginia has taken further striped bass measures ahead of ASMFC action. In addition to closing the spring trophy season earlier, other measures were passed by emergency action recently.
There will be a public hearing on these at the September Virginia Marine Resources Commission meeting where they will be finalized, modified or be rejected. There are further commercial actions planned for the November VMRC meeting.
The recent stock assessment shows that striped bass are over fished, over fishing is occurring, and there is a particular concern with spawning stock biomass (big fish).
Virginia’s actions are particularly concerned with protecting these big fish. The commercial actions taken and those proposed for the November meeting do nothing to limit the commercial quota but are designed to protect big fish.
An original proposal was to place a 36-inch maximum on both commercial and recreational fisheries. Some fish over 36 inches will be caught with the small mesh nets, but the thinking was better to apply these to the commercial quota than to require them to be thrown back, possibly dead already.
But, at least one of my fellow commissioners thinks that the 36-inch maximum should apply to the commercial sector as well, so this could be revisited especially if a bunch of big fish show in the commercial catch.
So, while Virginia is taking these actions, what is ASMFC doing? They are taking two paths, a fast one and a slow one, addendum and amendment.
The addendum actions are planned to be in place for 2020. The amendment process takes longer. The addendum is not really doing anything directly for the big fish. They have just decided that there needs to an overall reduction in catch of 18%. They are looking at things like increasing size minimums which may help catch numbers but not big fish. They are seeking public comment now for this process.
One thing they are looking at is whether to apply this 18% reduction to both recreational and commercial fisheries or to make the cuts 1.8% commercial and 20% recreational.
The amendment process will more directly address the spawning stock biomass, but this process will take at least a couple of years. Virginia is not waiting to protect the breeding stock.
I had asked VMRC staff to look at ways to allow some limited recreational catch of big fish and everything under the sun has been looked at. A big-fish tag has some support, but this is where we are now.
The recreational changes more than satisfy the 18 or 20 percent reduction that will be required by ASMFC for 2020 and Virginia is way ahead of ASMFC in protecting big fish. Whether they decide a 1.8 or a 18 percent reduction is required by the commercial fishery will decide any required quota reduction to the commercial sector.
Other VMRC news that will be of interest is flounder. Unlike striped bass, this stock looks good overall, though we know the bay fishery is way down from the glory days of just a few years ago.
What will be looked at during the September VMRC meeting is the size limit for commercial hook-and-line fisherman. Recreational anglers have a 16.5-inch minimum size while commercial hook-and-line fishermen have the same 14-inch minimum as the draggers. So there are complaints like a charter captain who also has a commercial hook-and-line license takes a “charter” out and keeps 14-inch fish, while the charter fishing next to him has to throw them back.
Anyway, this has been grumbled about since the commercial hook-and-line license was created, so it will be visited via a public hearing at the September meeting.