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Catch limits debated in attempt to rebuild striper stock in local waters

There’s a serious divide among Long Island’s striped bass fans these days. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the regulatory body which manages saltwater fishing in coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, has determined stripers are being overfished and cuts are necessary to rebuild the stock. How we get there has been a source of friction.

In short, the ASMFC has proposed three different scenarios to bring New York’s recreational catches into compliance. Option one is status quo, which fails to address the need to reduce striper mortality and is therefore of no use. Option two calls for an equal reduction of 18% for both the recreational and commercial sectors of the fishery. Option three calls for a 20% reduction by the recreational sector and a 1.8% percent reduction on the commercial side. (Recreational fishing accounts for roughly 85% of the total New York harvest.)

Under each option are several sub options to consider, two of which — both under the equally shared reduction scenario — have received much attention. On the recreational side, one sub option would institute a minimum size limit of 35 inches. The other incorporates a slot limit in which only fish measuring between 28 and 35 inches can be harvested. Both plans allow anglers to keep one striped bass per day. (Different measures would be used to regulate the commercial industry’s 18% reduction.)

Each plan has pros and cons, as you might expect. A minimum size limit of 35 inches closely parallels the 36-inch minimum size imposed in the late 1980s and early 1990s that helped bring decimated striper numbers back to healthy levels.

Proponents contend a large size limit, having proven effective previously, makes the most sense.

Some charter and open boat captains support the slot limit proposal. They say their businesses will suffer substantially if their customers can’t catch a fish big enough to take home.

Similarly, many anglers who fish in waters where school bass dominate the catch feel a 35-inch minimum size limit may eliminate any chance they have of keeping a striper for dinner.

There is also concern about catch-and-release mortality when it comes to the larger size limit. An estimated 90% of the recreational striper catch is released alive, but 9% of those eventually die as a result of being caught. Would it make more sense to catch a slot-sized keeper quickly, and then switch to targeting another species like porgy, sea bass or fluke rather than risk harming more shorts?

There are other measures that the ASMFC can consider in trying to bring the striper catch into compliance as painlessly as possible. Among these are mandatory use of circle hooks for those using bait to help lower release mortality and/or shortening the season by pairing April and December dates.

It might also make sense to manage the for-hire fleet under a special permit and a separate set of rules rather than as individual anglers. Perhaps combining two options to create a slot season and a trophy season is worth consideration? No matter how you slice it, there are no easy answers.

Wherever you stand on striper management issues, it’s time to have your final say. The ASMFC is accepting comments through Oct. 7. Send them to: comments@asmfc.org with “Striped Bass Draft Addendum IV” in the comment line.

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