Sunday, June 23, 2019


On the morning of Thursday, August 8, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board will meet to decide the fate of the striper.

“the Board must adjust the striped bass management program to reduce the fishing mortality rate to a level that is at or below the target within one year”
and that

“the Board must adjust the striped bass management program to rebuild the biomass to the target level within [no more than ten years].”

What the proposed draft addendum doesn’t seem to do is include provisions that would rebuild the stock within 10 years, as required by the current management plan.  

Unfortunately, because the ASMFC is not legally required to rebuild overfished stocks, and is not legally accountable for its management actions, it can ignore such explicit provisions of its management plans with seeming impunity.

Thus, anglers were left with a comment by an Atlantic Striped Bass Technical Committee member, who said at the May Management Board meeting that, if fishing mortality was reduced to target, biomass would “theoretically” increase to target at some point, although the timeframe for that to happen was not clear.  

Thus, anglers concerned with the striped bass’ future would do well to contact their states’ representatives to the ASMFC who can be found on the ASMFC’s web page (go to tab “About Us” and then click on “Commissioners”), and tell them that fishing mortality must be returned to target in 2020, as the current management plan requires.

This isn’t something that responsible anglers should ignore, because we can be sure that those opposed to striped bass conservation will be contacting their representatives early and often.

And anglers shouldn’t stop there.  They should also tell their ASMFC representatives that they expect the Management Board to stay true to their word, and rebuild the striped bass stock to target within 10 years, as they promised to do when they adopted Amendment 6 to the management plan. 

During the Amendment 6 debate, which dragged out for years, there were many striped bass fishermen who thought that the amendment should be more restrictive, to allow more big female bass to survive and create a resilient spawning stock that will help assure the future of the bass population should it experience multiple years of poor spawning success, as seems to occur from time to time. 

The Management Board told those anglers not to worry, because there were management triggers in the Amendment that would require remedial action should the stock run into problems.  Back in 2011, when the Management Board was first faced with a stock assessment update informing them that the stock would be overfished by 2017, they took no action, because a management trigger hadn’t been tripped—yet—a rationale that certainly implied that action would be taken once such trigger was tripped.

Now, the overfishing trigger has been activated, and the Management Board’s duty—as set out in Amendment 6—is crystal clear. 

Whether the Management Board will demonstrate the integrity and moral courage to step up and do their duty is not clear at all.

Thus, anglers need to encourage them to do the right thing, and take action to rebuild the stock within the 10-year timeframe, as they have previously promised that they would do.  Again, there will certainly be other folks out there telling them to ignore the clear language of Amendment 6, and leave the rebuilding issue alone.

And there are people out there—and on the Management Board—who want to do far worse than that, and take actions that would render any Management Board effort to rebuild the stock or reduce fishing mortality largely irrelevant in the long term.

“Move to initiate an Addendum to the Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan to address the needed consideration for change on the issues of fishery goals and objectives, empirical/biological/spatial reference points, management triggers, rebuilding biomass, and area-specific management.  Work on this Amendment will begin upon the completion of the previously discussed Addendum to the Management Plan.”
Not surprisingly, the motion was made by Michael Luisi of Maryland, and seconded by John Clark of Delaware.  Both persons are long-time advocates for a bigger striped bass kill, and have been determined opponents of needed conservation measures.  Their push for a new amendment is extremely significant, for as Max Appleman, the Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, noted at the February Management Board meeting,

“Almost everything is covered in the addendum process, except for management objectives and goals.”
So by pushing for an amendment, it’s pretty clear that folks such as Clark and Luisi are hoping to change the most basic parameters of the management plan: the goals and objectives of the entire striped bass management effort.

What do the current goals and objectives look like?  Actually, 
they look pretty good.

The management plan’s current goal is

That goal makes a lot of sense.  It is focused on maintaining a healthy spawning stock, with an age structure adequate to include a number of the older, larger female fish that, on an individual basis, produce far more, as well as larger and healthier, eggs than do younger females.  

That’s a critical consideration in a fish like striped bass, that tend to depend on occasional, large year classes to maintain their abundance.

If fishing mortality is increased, or the target and threshold biomass is reduced, the stock would lose many of the large female fish, and be more dependent on younger females.  

Having seen the bass stock collapse once in my life, I’m in no hurry to see such a thing happen again.

On the other hand, by lowering the biomass target and allowing a bigger kill, people who make money from killing striped bass will see their income increase in the short term.  

While it’s true that you can’t catch fish that aren’t there, both commercial striped bass fishermen and for-hire operators have a history of focusing on what they can catch today, and not spending very much time worrying about whether there will be any fish for them to catch tomorrow.  To them, amending the goal of the plan to allow a bigger kill sounds like a good idea.

“Manage fishing mortality to maintain an age structure that provides adequate spawning potential to sustain long-term abundance of striped bass population,”

“Establish a fishing mortality target that will result in a net increase in the abundance (pounds) of age 15 and older striped bass in the population, relative to the 2000 estimate,”
will also be in the crosshairs should a new amendment be initiated.

Changing those objectives could only hurt the bass population in the long term.

Thus, when contacting your ASMFC representatives, it is of critical importance that you convey the message that the motion to begin an amendment must not pass.

Again, you can be certain that the folks who want to kill more fish will be getting the word out, contacting everyone they know in an effort to defeat conservation measures and amend the plan. 

They will say that there are plenty of fish out in federal waters, and that the assessment is wrong.  But they won’t be able to explain why no one but them can find those offshore striped bass.

They will argue that striped bass biomass has never achieved the target level.  But they will fail to mention that striped bass fishing mortality has never been reduced to the target, either.

They will say that higher landings will provide them with higher incomes today.  But they will not mention tomorrow.

It is thus incumbent upon everyone who cares about the striped bass to contact their three ASMFC representatives now, and again just before the August meeting, and insist that they reduce fishing mortality, promptly rebuild the biomass, and maintain goals and objectives that will best assure that the striped bass stock remains healthy not just today, but in the long term as well.

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