Today was a good day if you’re on the side of striped bass conservation. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation voted on new regulations for striped bass possession for recreational anglers: in previous years the limit was 1 fish over 28″, and 1 fish over 40″ for most recs, and 2 fish over 28″ for the for-hire crowd, meaning party boats and charters (fishing above the GW Bridge in the Hudson has slightly different regulations). For 2015, the new regulation is one fish at 28″ for all recreational fishing, including the for-hires—which conservationists hail as a big step in the right direction for the shrinking population of striped bass. New York joins Connecticut and Massachusetts with 1 fish @ 28″, while Rhode Island’s Marine Fisheries Council voted last week to a split regulation of 1 fish @ 28″ for most recreational fishing, while the for-hires get 2 @ 32″. This was lobbied vociferously by the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat association as well as its president Captain Rick Bellevance, according to Charlie Witek, an attorney and conservationist who writes the One Angler’s Voyage blog. Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management has the final say regarding limits. New Jersey, long seen as an adversary of striped bass conservation due to its unique position regarding commercial reallocation of its fishery (NJ doesn’t have a commercial fishery, but has measures to make those fish not killed in a commercial quota available to be kept by recs and for-hires, such as their bonus tag system that anglers can buy to keep more than the usual limit) has yet to finalize their decision. It’s universally expected they will go for a slot limit (from what I’ve read they’re looking at 1 fish at 28″ and a trophy slot 1 fish at 44″+) and include bonus fish tags.
All of this is still not set in stone after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council’s decree of a 25 percent reduction in striped bass harvest last year. While states have to conform to the ASFMC reduction, each state is allowed to determine how exactly to achieve it, hence the voting and the varying limits from state to state, in a process called “conservation equivalency.” It’s expected the states will want to adopt the same measures, so while the 1 fish at 28″ was hard fought for by the environmentally-minded, and fought against by, among others, lobbies with financial interests in harvesting striped bass, it’s still one step in the direction of conservation. The fear among conservationists is that states like Rhode Island and New Jersey opening up their for-hire industry to 2 fish at 32″ (or whatever NJ decides) will force other states to adopt the same limits for fear of keeping that money in state—the theory is people seeking for-hire boats will go to out of state so they can keep more fish. It’s a questionable theory, in my opinion, but may hold some weight. I’ll have more on this and striped bass conservation in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, Dave Cole sent me a link for this. I like the comment about Wile E. Coyote.