ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 12 -- At Daubert's bait shop this morning, the early customers couldn't decide who to hang first: the Maryland natural resource officials who are unexpectedly closing the season for rockfish, or the governor who appointed them.
"All my customers were standing in front of my shop today and they were ready to tear the governor's mansion down," said shop owner Elmer Daubert. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and state officials abruptly announced Thursday night that the recreational season for rockfish would end Sunday, only nine days after officials lifted the five-year ban.
Daubert said angry anglers were even threatening to organize armadas to harass charter boats, which will be allowed to fish after the end of the season for casual anglers.
With war a possibility in the Persian Gulf, the price of gasoline climbing, the economy slowing and Schaefer running for reelection, the decision by Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey C. Brown to close the season has caused the biggest stir in the capital.
Brown said the tens of thousands of anglers who have pursued the once-declining rockfish -- an estimated 75,000 went during the unseasonably warm Columbus Day weekend alone -- quickly depleted the 318,750-pound quota allocated to recreational fishermen. The formula set limits for charter boats and commercial fishermen as well.
The decision to cut the season short drew praise today from environmentalists, who saw it as a sign the state has learned its lesson about conservation, criticism from frustrated anglers and grudging acceptance from some who said they understood the need for limits.
"I have never seen anything like it," Charlie Ebersberger, manager of Angler's sporting goods store near Annapolis, said of the rockfish rush last weekend. "People went bananas . . . . In my own mind I am going, 'Somebody has got to stop it.' "
This afternoon, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission followed Maryland's suit, announcing that its recreational and charter season for rockfish, also known as striped bass, will end Wednesday, almost a month early.
"It is another chapter in the lesson on limits," Brown said. "We are getting disappointed people . . . . The problem we always have is we are here to manage the fish population . . . . The fish are first." He noted that despite criticism, thousands of people had a good time fishing.
Still, the complaints were flying from people upset that, after a five-year ban on catching rockfish, the season was aborted.
Brown imposed the controversial moratorium in 1985 because of widespread concern about the depletion of the state's official fish. After biological surveys indicated that rockfish populations were climbing, Brown announced last year that a limited season would be opened, with separate catch limits set for recreational anglers, charter boats, and commercial fishermen. The last group's season takes place at various times in November, December and January.
Natural resources spokeswoman Frances McFaden said she and other agency officials have been besieged by hundreds of calls from people who felt cheated, and by bait store owners who have stocked rods, lures, and thousands of pounds of eel, the bait favored by rockfish.
"Irate telephone calls, nasty people, 'I'm going to go to the governor,' 'I'm going to have your job,' " McFaden said, characterizing the flood of complaints she and other agency representatives were fielding today. "There is one lady with 5,000 eels and a shipment of rods. They are madder than hornets."