Well, the fall run has come and gone. Based on reports, some regions had stellar fall fishing, while other regions felt the bass just passed them over and/or vanished overnight. For example, parts of NY and NJ had flat-out epic striper fishing, partly due to the abundance of inshore menhaden. Based on this, some might think that things with striped bass are A-OK, and the stock has recovered from its overfished and subject to overfishing status. Fortunately, it’s progressing in that direction, which is good, but there remains room for caution.

Much of this fall and late summer, striped bass advocates waited for the release of a new stock assessment, which would have big implications on rebuilding and potentially trigger additional reductions for the fishery. At a November striped bass management meeting, the new stock assessment was unveiled, producing a response of cautious optimism. The assessment found that actions taken two years ago to end overfishing (the management change to a 28-35″ slot limit) were proving effective at reducing fishing mortality, and the stock’s biomass (how many spawning sized fish) was increasing. However, biomass is not at the target level, but projections indicated a 76% of successfully rebuilding by 2029 under the current fishing morality rates.

The cause for concern, however, is that that low fishing mortality rate may not be realistic. The current rate is lower (killing less fish) than the target and threshold set by management. So, the chances of successfully rebuilding decreases as fishing mortality increases.

According to a blog by the American Saltwater Guides Association, “If F increases to the threshold (F=0.20), we have less than a 50% chance of reaching the target SSB in any year. If the history of the striped bass fishery and its management has told us anything it’s this: when there are more fish out there, more people go fishing. How effort and F might change with increasing availability of slot-sized fish is something we need to watch very carefully.”

At the November meeting, striped bass managers acknowledged caution about fishing mortality and recruitment, but chose to not take immediate action. In stead, they will look at catches in 2023 to see if they are tracking with projections and rely on upcoming stock assessments ahead of the 2029 rebuilding deadline.

Then the Striped Bass Board moved forward on an addendum to consider commercial quota transfers. The idea behind this action was that some states’ commercial fisheries do not catch all of their allotted striped bass, so this surplus should be transferred to those that do catch all of their quota. The striped bass fishery is a predominantly recreational fishery (87% according to the 2022 assessment); the commercial sector accounts for 13% of total removals.

However, even though the commercial sector accounts for a far lesser portion of removals, this effort should be opposed, contends ASGA. “Now is just not the time to increase commercial landings, which would increase total removals,” said ASGA Policy Director and VP, Tony Friedrich. “We need to focus on rebuilding the striped bass stock by 2029, not injecting more uncertainty into that process by maximizing commercial harvests.” ASGA is supporting Option A, no commercial transfers for this Addendum.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is accepting public comment on this draft Addendum until January 16th, 2023. If you want to provide a written or online webinar comment be sure to check out ASGA’s comment guide blog.

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