The 2017 commercial striped bass season in Massachusetts started on June 26. It is six weeks later on August 8 as I write this brief post and according to Division of Marine Fisheries 49% of the 800K pound quota has been landed.
A little perspective as to why that is important.
At this pace the commercial season is likely to run well into September.
My observation isn’t scientific, but the numbers and conclusions are consistent with what I’m hearing from the field. While there was early optimism because of the arrival of smaller schoolies running closer to shore than in years past, by the time the commercial season opened it seems there the market-sized fish (34”) have been fewer in number.
The keepers that are being landed are of good size, and for the casual angler who lacks historical perspective, it might seem like the fishing is great. Prior to the collapse of the striper fishery in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s the run of big fish was strong and then, suddenly, they were gone.
The 2011 year class that was supposed to be the salvation of the stocks has not been in evidence at expected levels. The 2015 year class probably accounts for the smaller fish this year as they’ve made their first migration beyond the Chesapeake. But the long-term prospects for the 2011 and 2015 fish to keep the pulse going is dwindling. Between the commercial and recreational harvest, mycobacteriosis, lack of abundant forage (namely menhaden) and a diminishing and inconsistent quality of spawning conditions, we’re pressing our luck. In between the modest spikes of 2011 and 2015 the spawns have largely been a disaster, including two of the worst years ever recorded (2012, which was the lowest recruitment year in history and 2016).
The trend is pointing downward, but the politicians and appointees entrusted with making decisions refuse to accept that drastic measures are needed to salvage the stocks and fulfill their mission of managing striped bass for the greater public good.
That public is the hundreds of thousands of anglers who travel to the Atlantic coast and (used to) spend billions of dollars fishing for striped bass. It is not the handful of part-time commercial striped bass fishermen who (in Massachusetts) have traditionally used the low cost of entry to defray the cost of gear, gas and grub by selling their catch at the dock.