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Mar 19, 2019 10:20 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

More On What Should Be Done With Striped Bass

Bryce and Lisa Poyer of White Water Outfitters trailered their 23-foot Parker to the Florida Keys and decked this nice swordfish while on vacation this week. Bryce Poyer
Mar 19, 2019 11:48 AM

More on ways to cut down on the number of stripers that are killed each year—this is about to become the biggest debate in the sportfishing community, so it’s worth getting some ideas in our heads to flesh out.It will probably be at about this time next year when we can expect fisheries managers to propose the sort of controls that will start what I expect will be a too-gradual tightening of the regulations on striped bass fishermen.

There are a number of steps that certainly seem like obvious changes to make to easily whittle down the mortality rates of striped bass: a slot limit in most states and larger minimums in those whose fisheries focus mostly on smaller fish, coastwide seasonal restrictions, changes to regulations in fishing gear (like requiring circle hooks for bait fishing and banning the use of gaffs), etc.

Criticism-wary and politically sensitive managers will no doubt be loath to introduce more than one such idea at a time, unfortunately, but if anglers make it clear that they welcome more sweeping change then it will smooth the way.

As discussed previously, the total waste of striped bass that come from fish caught-and-released by recreational anglers, only to die from the wounds of battle, will be the most vexing and difficult to deal with, but also probably the most inevitable. So the reductions are going to have to come from elsewhere.

I wasn’t always as convinced that a slot limit is a must for stripers as I am now. There is some scientific debate on slot limits, because when you limit a major fishery that kills millions of fish a year, focusing almost all of that mortality on one size class of fish can put a heavy burden on a large year-class that is the future of a fishery.

But recent studies have shown that larger fish are indeed disproportionately important to breeding stocks—and that has tipped the balance for me.

If you look at the striped bass population we are fishing now, which is trending as very large (large numbers of fish over 40 inches) and very small (huge numbers of fish under 26 inches), a slot limit would be an instantly enormous reduction in mortality and a quick stabilization of the breeding stock.

It would be frustrating for a lot of anglers for a few years, because one might have had a hard time finding a fish between 28 and 40 inches to keep. And this would be where the slot limit gets sticky, scientifically. When the good numbers of fish that are under 28 inches right now grow into that magical minimum size, they are suddenly going to suffer very high rates of mortality from anglers who are catching and releasing plenty of big fish but struggling to find fish for the dinner table. If fisheries managers do not adopt a slot limit, despite overwhelming public support for it, this will be why.

If a slot limit becomes law, I do think that it makes sense to have a trophy-tag allowance that would let an angler take one fish larger than the slot maximum per season. This serves the dilettante and the sharpy equally.

For charter and party boats, allowing a charter boat to take one fish outside the slot per trip would be a reasonable compromise that would allow an occasional angler to take home what for them is the fish of a lifetime when a 35-pounder comes over the rail, but still eliminate the gross displays of six or eight dead 30- and 40-pound class fish.

I’m sure I will get an earful for such a suggestion, from both sides of the dock. There is a lot more debate to be had on all this. Fingers crossed that it ends in effective rule-making.

In the meantime, catch ’em up. See you out there.

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