Conservation Group Opposing Rockfish Change

OCEAN CITY — Despite the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announcement to increase the allowable harvest of striped bass, or rockfish, in state waters in 2014, a coalition of recreational anglers is calling for a voluntary “set-aside” to protect, rather than put at risk, the perceived population increase.
The DNR recently announced the allowable harvest limit for striped bass in Maryland waters would be increased by 14 percent in 2014, despite conflicting scientific data about the health of the species’ population. The decision was based on a 2011 stock assessment of stripers in state waters that appears to indicate the species is flourishing again after years of decline.
However, several advocacy groups, including the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland (CCA) have called for a review of the state’s decision to increase the harvest allowance and are pushing for a voluntary 14-percent “set aside” for 2014 until further data can be assessed. With projections by the updated 2013 stock assessment that striped bass spawning stock will decline, the CCA has asserted the future of striped bass fishing in Maryland may depend on immediate actions to conserve the stock. The CCA sent a letter to DNR Secretary Joseph Gill on Monday and reinforced its position.
“CCA Maryland is intensely concerned with the projected decline in spawning stock biomass,” said Executive Director Tony Friedrich. “These projections are particularly troubling in light of the fact that we have recorded only one good spawning year out of the last six. The 2011 class of stripers, which has been our best recent spawning class, will play a critical role in future spawning. These fish are the future of striped bass fishing and must be protected.”
In its letter to Gill, the CCA calls on the DNR to better protect and conserve future striped bass stocks by implementing a 14-percent conservation set-aside applicable to both the commercial and recreational sectors, rather than allow a 14-percent increase in the allowable harvest. The CCA points out both recreational and commercial anglers have shown a willingness to set aside the 14 percent for conservation in the interest of protecting the fishery in the long term.
“This would, in effect, pay forward our commitment to the striped bass spawning stock, provide a stronger buffer against uncertainties and better position the state for possible mandated cuts in 2015,” the letter reads. “We believe the department should reserve ’14 for the Fish.’ The future of striped bass fishing for all of us may depend on it.”