Hampton Roads Daily Press
Commercial fishermen asked state regulators Tuesday night to make recreational fishermen tag their striped bass the way commercial operators do, to make sure they’re not taking too many fish.
But the idea died when Doug Jenkins, president of the Twin Rivers Watermen’s group, in Warsaw, outlined his proposal to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s finfish management advisory committee.
“We’re losing our rockfish (striped bass) quota and losing our crab industry,” Jenkins told the committee.
He said the 20 percent cut in striped bass quotas imposed three years ago have hit commercial fishermen hard.
They believe they’re being discriminated against and that there’s a need to be sure recreational fishermen aren’t catching too many striped bass.
Jenkins said there are enough striped bass to allow commercial fishermen to catch more, and that striped bass preying on crabs is one reason why crab populations are down.
But the request comes at a bad time, when nobody seems to know for certain what the real state of the striped bass stock is, said Jeff Deem, chairman of the advisory committee.
A new assessment of fish populations, based on more detailed studies of where and how fish are caught, could upend everything fisheries regulators think they know about striped bass, said VMRC chief of fisheries management Rob O’Reilly.
On top of that, he said, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last year rebuffed the Virginia commission’s request for a 10-percent increase in the quota for striped bass.
“Ten percent, that’s all we were asking for and they voted it down,” he said.
“We get outvoted on striped bass all the time.”
In 2014, the Atlantic States fisheries commission cut Virginia’s quota by 24 percent, to 1.06 million pounds.
At the time, the state eliminated a quota for recreational fishermen, relying on daily catch limits to ensure they’re not taking too many striped bass. Jenkins saw the tagging proposal — which basically would mean fishermen could get a summons if a marine police officer found them with an untagged fish — as a way of enforcing limits on the recreational catch. That would make things fairer for commercial operators, he said.
“We don’t want to catch all the fish, we want to leave some for next year, just like you do,” Jenkins said.
Both the commercial and recreational catch are down from peaks hit last decade, the 2017 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission review of its striped bass fishery management plan shows.
Commercial fishermen caught about 129,500 striped bass in 2016, while recreational fishermen landed 110,500.
But the drop in recreational landings was far steeper — a 69 percent drop over the decade. The decline in numbers caught by commercial operators was 8 percent, as the average weight of fish landed declined.
The Chesapeake Bay is the main place striped bass from up and down the Atlantic go to spawn. The Chesapeake Bay Program says the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass is on the rise, including in the James, York and Rappahannock rivers.
The fishery nearly collapsed in the early 1980s, but it has come back to become one of the most lucrative in the state, though at levels far below peaks of the late 1990s and early 2000s.