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December 05, 2012

Tag a Striper

Getting serious about eliminating commercial abuse of striped bass.

The investigation determined that more than 1 million pounds of illegal striped bass were caught. The ­investigation resulted in 19 individuals and three corporations being convicted, 140 months of cumulative prison time, 41 months of cumulative home detention, $1,628,352 worth of fines and restitution, and 58 years of ­cumulative supervised release. Hardly a trivial matter. One of the schemes uncovered in the investigation was the ability of fishermen in Maryland to take advantage of loopholes in the state’s tagging system.

All of this led the task force to make some good recommendations to the ASMFC Enforcement Committee and the ASMFC as a whole. The primary recommendation was to put in place a uniform commercial tagging ­system for all states where striped bass are caught and sold. The tags — uniform in color, style, year and inscriptions — would be valid for one year only. Inscriptions should include date, size restrictions, state of issue and a unique number. The next recommendation was to require that all fish be tagged at the time of capture, which I think is one of the most important components. They also said that states should issue a set number of tags based on average weights and historical catch; require all unused tags to be returned annually or seasonally with a restriction of issuing the subsequent year’s only after all unused tags have been returned; and ensure that a reporting system for used tag numbers by the dealers is in place, granting enforcement officials real-time access to tag numbers issued to individual fishermen. These are all components of a well-thought-out ­tagging system.

I applaud the members of the ASMFC for taking this important step, and I suspect that most states are ­scrambling to get the system up and running for the 2013 fishing year. Exactly why ­Massachusetts and North Carolina got a year’s slack, I don’t know. This is particularly curious in Massachusetts, since their fishing year does not start until July.

Like many government programs, there will likely be unanticipated problems and a need for additional changes as the system becomes operative. Recreational fishermen should keep an ­eye on how it is working in their own states. Just such concern over Maryland’s tagging system by a vigilant recreational fisherman turned up a ­multiple-year misuse of Wallop-Breaux funds by the state of Maryland in its management of the commercial fishery. Let’s all make sure that the tagging system, with all the recommended elements, gets in place as soon as possible.