Fly-Fishing: It’s time to ban commercial striper angling

It’s a delicious feeling to be just a few weeks away from a new fishing season. If you’re among thos
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It’s a delicious feeling to be just a few weeks away from a new fishing season. If you’re among those whose plans for 2008 include fly-fishing for striped bass, you may be interested in some recent news.

The federal agency that regulates and monitors fishing for stripers has issued a rosy report on the health of the wild striper stock — along with figures showing a significant decline in the number of large breeder females.

People who keep tabs on these matters have come to expect glowing reports on the East Coast’s striper population from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. But this particular stock assessment included specifics that some observers say confirm their suspicions that the wild striper is in decline.

“Striped Bass Stock Assessment Indicates Healthy Stock,” reads the headline of the ASMFC’s Feb. 5 news release, and “Female Spawning Stock Biomass Remains High” reads the subhead. Breeding females down by 20 million pounds over the past four years, says the graph below.

Well, not in those words. But the graph does indeed show a decline in what the fisheries managers call “spawning stock biomass” from 75 million pounds in 2003 to 55 million pounds in 2006.

Regular readers know I’m an advocate of game fish status for wild stripers — in other words, the end of commercial fishing for striped bass. Commercial fishing doesn’t kill as many stripers as recreational fishing does, but it does put extra pressure on a species that may well be in distress.

Stripers Forever, an organiz­ation to which I belong, is out with its own assessment of the ASMFC

assessment.

“By every measurement, fishing mortality is rising and spawning stock biomass is shrinking,” said my friend, Brad Burns of Maine, the founder of Stripers Forever. “One doesn’t have to extend the dots for more than a year or two to see that a huge problem looms ahead.”

Stripers Forever surveys its members every year, and many of these serious recreational fishermen say they’re catching smaller fish, fewer fish or both. Commercial fishing may or may not be the cause of this perceived decline, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Commercial fishing for wild striped bass is a tiny industry of largely part-time, seasonal work, and the damage it inflicts on wild stocks is way out of proportion to any benefit it may offer society.

There was a time when Amer­icans thought there was plenty enough wild game and waterfowl for everyone, commercial and personal users alike. That proved wrong, and ever since the Lacey Act of 1900, commercial harvest of most wild game and waterfowl has been against the law.

Wild redfish have been designated as a game fish along much of the Gulf Coast for many years. In fact, striped bass themselves are regulated as game fish, and commercial fishing for them is prohibited in nearly half the states of its East Coast range: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey and South Carolina.

It’s time to extend that prohib­ition to New York and the rest of the striper’s range. Even President Bush has endorsed the idea, traveling to the top commercial striper fishing state — Maryland — to formally ban commercial harvest in federal waters more than two miles from shore, and to urge the states to manage stripers as game fish for the personal use of the public.

“The time is now for responsible fishery management to recognize that the striped bass is no longer a fish that should be harvested commercially, and that the slaughter of the large breeding females that nature intended to live 20 years or more must cease,” Burns said. “Stripers Forever is confident that without the pressure of commercial quotas, the ASMFC would do as the recreational community has consistently asked, which is to manage striped bass at a much lower fishing mortality rate, and to preserve the quality of this fishery for the millions of people who find fishing for this creature such a compelling pastime.”

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