Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree Advocates For Better Striped Bass Fishing

Below is a cut and paste of a post Maine's Matt Boutet put on several web sites today.

I just received a copy of this letter that went out from Rep. Pingree's office today ahead of next week's ASMFC meeting:

Robelt H. Boyles
Chair, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
1444 I Street, NW
Washington DC, 20005

Dear Chair Boyles,
Thank you and the rest of the Commissioners for your hard work protecting some ofthe most important fisheries on the East Coast. The ASMFC is a true model for how states can work together to manage interstate resources in ways that recognize each state's particular needs.

I know how difficult your job as Commissioner must be and I understand the tough trade-offs that you must make in setting fisheries policy. As you well know, your decisions can have an enormous impact on the jobs, livelihood and culture of our coastal commlmities. The striped bass populations off of Maine have decreased dramatically over the last few years and today I am writing to you to highlight the impact of increasing the commercial harvest of striped bass on Maine's coastal communities and to urge you to consider strong conservation measures.

While Maine has a long history of commercial fishing, we do not currently allow commercial fishing for striped bass. Affectionately known to Maine fishermen as stripers, these fish provide one of the few easily accessible saltwater sport fishing opportunities for coastal anglers.

Striped bass start arriving here in early summer and usually leave in October. When they are residing off our coast, striped bass provide a valuable recreational fishery, supporting tackle shops, fishing guides, charter boats and tourism.

Even though there have been many improvements in the management of striped bass and stocks are healthier than they were 30 years ago, recent data shows some disturbing trends for the health of the stock as well as for the viability of Maine's recreational striped bass fishing industry. Anecdotally, the fishing is poor compared to the quality of Maine's fishery in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The most disturbing trend is the continued lack of smaller schoolies Maine -- anglers are not seeing these fish.

I have heard from former fishing guides who are no longer in business because ofthe decline in stocks. I have heard from guides whose business is way off. One guide says, "Up until five years ago I had a waiting list of people wanting to fish with me. No longer does that list exist and my business has dropped 40 percent in the same time frame." Another guide says "the fishing is so bad that my son is afraid to start up a guide business and carry on the family tradition." A third guide writes, "It used to be common for my customers to catch 10 to 15 Striped Bass per half day trip. Now I am lucky to catch one or two. There have been more trips that have gotten "skunked" in the past two years, than all my previous fifteen seasons combined."

These anecdotal observations are reinforced in NOAA data about fish landings in Maine. In 2006, there were over 4 million striped bass landed in Maine. In 2008, this dropped to about 520,000 fish, further dropping to 300,000 in 2009 and early reports indicate 2010 will not be any better. While this decline may not trigger formal management actions as it does not reach the critical level of overfished, it should be cause for concern.

Additionally, Maine is on the northern edge of the range ofthe striped bass, and the significantly decreased catch here and in the southern edge of the range indicates that the range of the fish has contracted. One guide in the Penobscot Bay area used to fish in his home town but now he has to drive several hours to find stripers. It is not clear at all that any management action would be triggered if there were no striped bass caught off of the Maine coast and this seems to be a fundamental failing of the current management plan.

At the same time, what happens in other states has a significant impact on Maine's fishery. The striped bass that come to Maine are almost all from the Chesapeake stock. Maine's small breeding population of stripers in the Kennebec River enhances the fishery but does not sustain the populations. In the Chesapeake, the Young-of-the-Year numbers are falling, indicating that in future years there will be fewer stripers migrating up the coast. There have been disturbing repmts about poaching in the mid-Atlantic areas and also reports of significant year class mortality due to bacteria infections. It is my understanding that the current fisheries models do not account for either of these sources of mortality and because of that, the models could greatly increase the number of paper stripers without those fish actually being present in the wild.

In Maine, we are still seeing some big fish, but the absence of small fish makes me concerned for the future of the resource. The anecdotal data, taken together with the information about landings, and the models as well as the importance of recreational striper fishing to Maine's coastal economy, lead me to urge you to support strong conservation measures for stripers. We have seen in so many fish stocks that when we fish hard on a particular species, we ultimately end up destroying a once valuable fishery. Removing the big females in the brood stock at the same time as not having good year classes of younger fish is a recipe for collapse.

When you are making your decisions about increasing the commercial catch in the Chesapeake and elsewhere along the east coast, please keep in mind that such an increase has a direct and adverse impact on Maine's recreational striper fishery. I look forward to working with you to maintain a healthy striped bass population that can support all our coastal communities.

[Chellie Pingree]
Member of Congress

Note: the original file was a pdf, so this is a grab from that - any typos/oddities are my fault.

It's time someone in Washington took notice as to what's happening to stripers.