At the summer session of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an addendum to Amendment 6 of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass gave a whole new meaning to the concept of tagging striped bass. By a unanimous vote, members put in place Addendum III, which requires the tagging of all commercially caught striped bass. The new tagging regime must be in place for the 2013 fishing year for all states except --Massachusetts and North Carolina. This is a very big step toward keeping control of any illegal commercial catch and sales.
Some in the recreational industry will view this as the leading edge of a slippery slope. They will think that the result of the downward slide will be mandatory tagging of all striped bass caught, both commercial and recreational. While it might lead to that at some point, and while it might end up being a big hassle for recreational anglers, it would give a much better picture of what is actually caught and kept. In other fisheries, such as the Atlantic salmon fishery in the Canadian Maritimes, all kept fish must be tagged at the time of capture. When initially instituted, it was considered a royal pain by all, but now no one gives it a second thought, and hardly anyone would suggest doing away with it.
Many in the recreational industry have been vocal about the level of illegal catch in the striped bass fishery coastwide, urging regulators to do something about this problem, which appeared to grow with each passing year. I have reported on some of the illegal netting in the upper Chesapeake Bay, which was likely only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever can be done to give enforcement efforts a leg up is the right way to go in my opinion. As our coastal population continues to grow and saltwater-fishing effort increases, it will become more important that limited enforcement mechanisms have the tools available to help protect our marine fisheries.
Even though recreational interests campaigned for the development of a system to control illegal catch, it was the ASMFC itself that really grabbed this proverbial bull by the horns. An interstate watershed task force conducted an investigation of the Chesapeake striped bass fishery from 2003 to 2009. It presented the results of this investigation to the ASMFC at its 2012 winter meeting.