Recreational fishermen told a Maryland House committee today that limits must be placed on bluefish catches to protect the species in the Chesapeake Bay.

"As far as sport fishing is concerned, 20 years ago rockfish were the main fisheries. Now it's predominantly bluefish. We estimate that 85 percent of all sport fishing now is blues because there aren't enough rockfish," said Mike Pivec, president of the Maryland Saltwater Sport Fishing Association.

"If commercial fishermen start on bluefish, we'll see what happened to the rockfish and shad if it's not regulated," he told the House Environmental Matters Committee.

The committee heard testimony on a bill that would designate bluefish a sport fish and ban bluefish catching with anything other than hook and line. But the bill does not include penalties for violators.

Pivec suggested that daily catches be restricted to 20 fish or fewer per person.

Larry Simms of the Maryland Watermen's Association argued that commercial fishermen "have to have all species in order to stay alive."

Simms blamed bluefish, which migrate into the bay from the ocean when their feeding grounds become overpopulated, for contributing to the decline of the rockfish supply.

"I don't understand the rationale that just because a species is overpopulated that it should be a sport fish," Simms said. "It appears what is happening is the Chesapeake Bay is being made into a playground."

Ben Florence of the Department of Natural Resources title fish division agreed with Simms that legislation limiting bluefish catches is unnecessary.

"The bluefish population is high and stable enough. We don't see a need or desire to limit the bluefish harvest," he told the committee.