The good news on fishing came from Virginia. The bad news came from Maryland. They both were talking about the same fish in the same general waters - stripers in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science maintains that striped bass (rock-fish) had an excellent spawning year last spring and that small, pan-sized stripers "should be more plentiful in 1978 than they have been for the last four or five years."
VIMS based its findings on its annual trawl surveys, beach seining and commercial fishing statistics. Dr. John Merriner gave this explanation: "Since 1970 we haven't had a bumper crop of stripers and the catch in the bay has been declining.
"We had a fairly good (spawning) year in 1976," he said. "Now the 1977 spawn has produced a good-year class, I'm not saying it's as good as 1970, which produced a dominant-year class, but it appears to have exceeded anything since then."
The two straight years of improving spawning levels indicates to Merriner, and the survey apparently confirms, that pan-sized rockfish will be plentiful this year. "The pan rock should remain in the bay system for three years before joining the coastal migration," Merriner said.In that time they would grow to 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, no giants, but fine eating and sporting fish.
It all sounds great, but here's the catch. Merriner said the VIMS survey produces information that is "generally applicable to all-bay waters" (Maryland and Virginia), but he urged a call to Joe Boone, biologist at the Maryland Fisheries Administration, to get his views.
"I wish I could say the same," said Boone, "but I don't see any reason for predicting that. Bases on our survey, the abundance of young fish in 1977 was about the same as it has been.
"I'm saying, in effect, that there will be no noticeable change. We're still in a bit of a slide, and I see no reason to look for any kind of a turnaround in the near future."
Boone said the striped bass population has been declining for four straight years, ever since the effects of the 1970 boom year began wearing off, and he expects this to be the fifth straight decline.
"We've come to the conclusion that a 'good' reproduction year won't make any real diference" he said. "You've got to have a dominant year and we haven't had one since 1970. We're finding that dominant year is even more important than we had thought."
Boone cited the five dominant-year classes that graced the period from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s. He said those five superb spawning years appear to be responsible for the high numbers of rockfish caught over those two decades, which exceeded totals for any similar periods since Maryland began keeping records before the turn of the century.
"That may be the only time in recorded history that we had that many dominant-year classes," said Boone.
And, if Boone's information weren-t enough to knock the wind out of the VIMS findings. Merriner had received some disquieting late data. The most recent winter trawl surveys, taken in the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers before the ice set in, produced totals of younfg rockfish "lower than we had hoped," Merriner said. "Our optimism is guarded," he added.