Is the Striped Bass Fishery dead?

Reading about the state of the striped bass migration off the coast of New Jersey this morning, I’m again struck with a bit of discourse and melancholy for a world that I perceive we’re losing. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

Dying, yes. However, hopefully not dead.

Hope is a lousy strategy.

Of course, we know nearly all fisheries globally are declining.

If you haven’t read Mark Kurlansky’s book, Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World, you should start there. Mass scale decline is not a theory anymore. It seems the only real management option left is a moratorium on fishing.

The Decline of Striped Bass

But, the pain of seeing stripers on the decline is that this is a sacred sport fishery — primarily. Only about 10% of the take for striped bass is commercial. This means the impact is more personal and that the (now) old-timers are witnessing firsthand just how difficult fisheries management really is — especially for a migrating fish species.

What this means is that I fear the only thing left for some of these fisheries to recover is to eliminate (or, severely restrict) the annual catch.

Not to overstate the obvious, but the problem with striped bass management is that they move around and don’t care about political boundaries. Much of fisheries management, especially inshore, is left to state regulators unless a particular species has been designated as threatened or a federal restriction has been made.

The striped bass fishery isn’t dead, but there’s no doubt it’s declining.

It now takes a helluva lot more resources than a simple shore rig and surfcaster to land a 50 lb fish. Fisherman are forced further offshore, and to get there need faster and bigger boats. Look again at the video embedded above… triple outboards for striped bass targeting??

Who ever heard of having to pony $25,000+ for a setup just to get on to the fishing ground fast enough to make the day worth it? I’m afraid fishing is going to just get more and more out of reach.

This saddens me greatly because I perceive fishing is becoming an elitist activity which always forces status counting and the monetization of something we’re losing.

Sorry, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

The Role of States

States generally hate to have the federal government put a finger in their sauce. Especially true when we’re talking about a multi-billion dollar iconic revenue generator.

It’s true that fisherman and hunters are mostly responsible for the conservation of the very species that they target through tax money and fees that we gladly pay. In the case of striped bass, no money in the world is going to really replicate an enforced moratorium on sport fishing.

Magnuson-Stevens Act

But, then — all east coast states would have to agree. Good luck with that.

Enter the Magnuson-Stevens Act. You can read it here.

So, let’s say New Jersey decides to restrict and the fishery starts to make a comeback. This has happened before. Without federal protection, there would never be a quorum along the coastlines on the United States.

But, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is not globally adopted. Yet, we’re talking about global fisheries. Not easy.

We’ve learned that one of the best things we could do for any distressed fishery is to completely eliminate the taking of fish.

As much as I hate this and believe that commercial fishing has become unsustainable, it may be time to completely restrict the fishing of striped bass.

Update: November 14, 2019

Just saw this article from the Vineyard Gazette stating that regulators are taking action to stem the striped bass decline.

The decision was informed by a 2018 benchmark study that estimated the Atlantic striped bass female spawning stock biomass in 2017 was 68,576 metric tons, well below the SSB threshold of 91,436 metric tons. According to ASMFC data, the spawning stock biomass has been below the threshold level since 2013, and has been in steady decline since 2003.

from the Vineyard Gazette

This is good news and needed to happen. The article acknowledges the exact point I made above about the inconsistency between states.

It further states that the current limitations placed on the striped bass fishery haven’t worked. In order to help this fishery rebound, it’s going to have to get tougher.

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