Editor’s Note: This is an evolving story. We will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.
States have until July 2, 2023 to implement tighter striped bass bag limits. At the May 2, 2023 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting an emergency measure that would prohibit the harvest of striped bass over 31 inches in length by recreational anglers was passed.
Maine Issues Emergency Regulations
Maine is the first state to implement the new regulations. The Maine Department of Marine Resources issued the following statement on their website:
“For 2023: On May 18, DMR is implementing an emergency rulemaking to adopt a 31-inch maximum size limit in the striped bass recreational fishery. As a result, the slot limit for striped bass in 2023 will be 28-inches to 31-inches. This means striped bass from 28.0-inches to 31.0-inches may be harvested.
“This change is made in response to action taken by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to implement a 31-inch maximum size limit in the recreational fishery. Recreational removals substantially increased in 2022 as the 2015-year class moved into the previous slot limit. This higher level of fishing mortality significantly reduced the probability of rebuilding the striped bass stock by 2029. In order to provide better protection to the 2015-year class in 2023 and support rebuilding by 2029, the Commission implemented a 31-inch maximum size limit in the striped bass recreational fishery where a higher, or no, maximum size limit applies, excluding the Chesapeake Bay trophy fishery. A press release of the Board meeting can be found HERE.”
Overwhelming Passage of New Regulations
The motion was brought forth by Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Dr. Michael Armstrong, and seconded by David V.D. Borden, of Rhode Island. After the votes were tallied, the measure was approved 15 to 1, with the sole nay coming from representatives of New Jersey. The motion exempts the Chesapeake Bay trophy fishery.
The decision gives states less than a month to enact new regulations that would effectively make the striped bass slot size 28 to 31 inches, though the official motion states that they should be put in place as soon as possible. Once enacted, the regulation is to extend for 180 days. It may be extended for another 180 days if such an extension is approved at the October ASMFC meeting.
The commission issued a press release on May 3, outlining the changes: “The Commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board approved an emergency action to implement a 31-inch maximum size limit for striped bass recreational fisheries, effective immediately for 180 days (through October 28, 2023). This action responds to the unprecedented magnitude of 2022 recreational harvest, which is nearly double that of 2021, and new stock rebuilding projections, which estimate the probability of the spawning stock rebuilding to its biomass target by 2029 drops from 97% under the lower 2021 fishing mortality rate to less than 15% if the higher 2022 fishing mortality rate continues each year.”
Public Input Welcome
The ASMFC is seeking comment through a series of virtual public hearings to take place in the upcoming weeks. From a release issued on May 9: “The Commission will conduct four virtual public hearings via webinar to inform the public about this action and identify next steps for management. A summary of these hearings will be provided to the Board at its next meeting. Additional details on participating in the webinars can be found later in this release. All hearings are open to anyone from any state. If you are planning to attend multiple hearings, staff requests that you provide comments at only one hearing to allow time for all hearing participants to provide comments.”
Dates and Times of the ASMFC Virtual Public Hearings
- Wednesday, May 17 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
- Monday, May 22 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
- Tuesday, May 23 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
- Wednesday, May 31 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
To have your voice heard, please follow these instructions provided by the ASMFC:
“For all virtual hearings, please note that in order to comment during virtual webinar hearings you will need to use your computer or download the GoToWebinar app for your phone. Those joining by phone only will be limited to listening to the presentation and will not be able to provide input. To attend the webinar in listen only mode, dial 914.614.3221 and enter access code 424-938-669.
“For all virtual hearings, please click HERE and use the dropdown menu to select the hearing date you plan to attend to register for a public hearing webinar. Hearings will be held via GoToWebinar, and you can join the webinar from your computer, tablet or smartphone. If you are new to GoToWebinar, you can download the software by (clicking here) or via the App store under GoToWebinar. We recommend you register for the hearing well in advance of the hearing since GoToWebinar will provide you with a link to test your device’s compatibility with the webinar. If you find your device is not compatible in advance of the hearing, please contact the Commission at [email protected] (subject line: GoToWebinar help) and we will try to get you connected. We also strongly encourage participants to use the computer voice over internet protocol (VoIP) so you can ask questions and provide input at the hearing.
“For more information, please contact Emilie Franke, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at [email protected] or 703.842.0740.”
Differing Opinions on Rebuilding Striped Bass Stocks
Though everyone is agreement that striped bass stocks need to be protected to ensure the long-term health of the fishery, there are different opinions on the best way to do so.
“The board has signaled they are ready to be very conservative on striped bass management, using emergency action to enact regulations without a plan to implement a mid-year change,” Michael Waine, Atlantic Fisheries Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association told Salt Water Sportsman. “We know that something has to be done to reduce mortality. ASA is committed to work with industry and conservation groups to reduce mortality through education and messaging.”
Some organizations were pleased with the ruling. In a press release, the American Saltwater Guides Association expressed gratitude for the emergency measures: “The conservation community spoke, and our voice was heard,” said Tony Friedrich, ASGA’s VP and Policy Director. “Fisheries management is a long arduous process. Science informed us that there was little to no chance of rebuilding the stock under the current system. We unified the community with one voice that demanded a better future for the resource and our children. Thanks to every angler, brand, and guide who spoke up and to the conservation-minded Striped Bass Board members who voted for the health of the resource.”
New State Regulations Expected
How and when these new regulations will come about is still up in the air.
When reached for comment, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued the following statement to Salt Water Sportsman: “DEC will continue to work cooperatively with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to sustainably manage Atlantic striped bass. Emergency regulations to address the finding of the ASMFC Striped Bass Management Board will be reviewed and implemented in New York State to remain in compliance with ASMFC requirements of the Fishery Management Plan taken on May 2, 2023.”
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection provided Salt Water Sportsman with the following statement: “On May 2nd 2023, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Striped Bass Management Board (Board) voted to take emergency action to implement a one fish at 28 inches to less than 31 inches size slot limit on the recreational striped bass fishery coastwide. States must implement compliant measures by July 2, 2023 or risk being found out-of-compliance. The emergency action will be in place for 180 days but could be extended by the Board. The emergency action will not affect the Striped Bass Bonus Program, which requires a permit to participate.
“Until a new regulation is formally adopted by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, the current striped bass regulations remain one fish at 28 inches to less than 38 inches. The public and media outlets will be notified once the new regulation is formally adopted.
“The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council will discuss these regulations during their meeting on May 11, 2023. To attend virtually, please register via https://dep.nj.gov/njfw/marine-council-meetings/.”
Rhode Island is diligently trying to come up with a plan to enact the new regs. Michael Healey, Chief Public Affairs Officer with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management told Salt Water Sportsman, “We are working on this right now. We should hopefully have an update for the angling public by the end of next week.”
The ASA has concerns directly related to the rollout of these measures, with the short timeframe to get the angling community up to speed. “This is a missed opportunity for the ASMFC and the states to come together and form a plan that will accomplish a mid-year regulation change that will actually deliver a conservation benefit,” said Waine. He hopes that the relevant agencies can find a way to get the word out as striped bass seasons are already underway in much of the Atlantic.