Long-suffering Chesapeake Bay striped bass sport fishermen may get a boost next year if the Maryland legislature follows recommendations of the State Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR's fisheries administration is concerned about gill-netting on the bay in the summer. The netters manage in a number of ways to reduce sport anglers' chances of landing stripers, the most prized game fish and the most profitable commercial fish in the Chesapeake.
The DNR has passed along two key proposals to lawmakers, both of which, if passed, would benefit sporting anglers. One would ban gill netting on tidal waters of the Bay altogether from June 1 to Sept. 30. A second would outlaw gill netting all year within 400 yards of the two Chesapeake Bay Bridge spans.
Other DNR proposals would ban gill netting in a 500-yard zone around the Turkey Point section of Elk Neck State Park above Baltimore, another popular striper fishing hole, and set a maximum mesh size of seven inches for gill nets used anywhere in Maryland portions of the bay, which would reduce the number of large striped bass killed.
The man who framed the proposed legislation is Benjamin Florence, the fisheries administration's program director for tidewater finfish.
He said the agency is concerned with two factors: allocation of fish and conservation of fish. "People are just now starting to realize that the striped bass population is finite." he said. "They ask me. 'How come we don't have more?" The answer is that we harvest the hell out of them."
The proposals to ban gill nettingg around the bridge and Turkey Point are allocation measures. Florence said. The idea is to set aside these popular spots for hook and line only, and let the netters pick from the rest.
Presumably it would also defuse a potentially explosive situation around the bridge, where netters and anglers spar for position when the stripers and in and where threats are common and violence has been reported.
The proposal to close all tidal waters to gill netters in the summer is a conversation measure. Florence said. While the summer months account for only 3 per cent of the total commercial striper harvest. Florence said the DNR tears many large bass may be killer or wounded by the netters in that period.
Commercial fishermen are barred from taking stripers over 32 inches, but Florence said that when these fish are trapped in gill nets in the summer they usually die before they can be released. He said high water temperatures foster greater stress and shock reactions and the fish may drown before they ever get in the boat.
That can lead to dumping of dead oversized stripers that are legal take, in fact trophies, for short fishermen.
The gill netting problems have mushroomed over the last five years. Florence said, with an increase in the number of netters and an increase in their incentive to work during the summer as the price of rock-fish climbed. Adding to the problem is the general decline in striped bass population after years of bad spawning seasons.
The summer commercial harvest, while still a modest 3 per cent of the yearly total, is twice what it was in the early 1970s, he said.
The DNR proposals go first to committee - the Environmental Matters Committee of the House of Delegates and the Economic Affairs Committee of the state Senate. Florence expects them to reach the floor early next spring.
For Maryland sport fishermen concerned with the state of the striped bass population, now is the time to write to your legislator.