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Striped Bass – It's Always the Numbers

By Kastking | 22 January 2018 | 0 Comments

Is the striped bass population at risk? Here’s the thoughts of an experienced charter captain. 

 

I love fishing for the striped bass, and since my teens in the late 70’s I have been obsessed with catching the mighty striped bass. My belief is that all fishermen should have access to the striped bass, and all anglers should be allowed reasonable harvest in order to bring home fresh fish for dinner. That being said, I also feel that the time has come for harvest reductions in order to help restore the striper fishery from a clear downward spiral. However, I refuse to align myself in the doom and gloom crowd that are calling for a moratorium on the species, or that the size and bag limits must be 1 fish at 36-inches.

 

Now, let me explain why: The Chesapeake Bay is the main nursery ground for the striped bass. The Hudson River, and Delaware Bay also host significant breeding grounds important the striped bass. Striped bass are a highly migratory species that range from Florida to Canada, and during the spring, summer, and fall months the bulk of the population lives in the waters between North Carolina, and Maine.

 

Striped bass are a long- lived species of fish that can live past 30-years and can grow to over 100-pounds. A 28-inch striper, a size that is considered a keeper along much of the striper coast, is about 7-years old. At this size 75% of the females become sexually mature and begin spawning. When a female striper reaches 32-inches 100% of the females are mature and add to the spawn.

 

striped bass, YOY, Young of the Year

Striped Bass YOY — Young of the Year

 

Examining the Chesapeake Bay’s Young of the Year Index Surveys, which have taken place in the bay since the 50’s, is a pretty accurate way to determine the health of the striped bass stock.

 

The black line that lies on 11 in the above chart is considered an average spawning season. Average spawns are good, banner spawns are better, but average spawns go a long way towards keeping our striper stock healthy. The chart shows major fluctuations in the success of striper spawns. Much of this success is predicated on environmental factors within the bay that occur after the eggs are hatched and the larvae are most vulnerable. Warm dry springs are bad, cold wet springs are better for larvae survival.

 

The above chart also shows that recent spawns (let’s use the last 7-years because this is how long a striper needs to become 28-inches) have been below average, with the exceptions of 2007, and 2011. 2014 was just under an 11, so I’ll consider it below average, but in reality it’s pretty darn close to average. I believe the five below average spawns in the last 7-years is a big culprit to why the striped bass fishery is seeing a down turn. And yes, I also think we are over harvesting our resource, and I have stated this in my writings since 2010.

 

However, I also see hope in the chart that things are about to improve. This spring (2015) about 90% of the females from the above average 2007 year class will begin spawning. If environmental conditions are favorable this could result in a banner spawn. You can bet I have my fingers crossed that this will be the case, and every other striper angler out there should also be doing the same thing.

 

Striped bass, release

The author has released countless striped bass to over 50 lbs. in weight. (Photo courtesy Capt. Tom Mikoleski)

 

The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Council is the governing body of the striped bass stock. In 2015 this council decided that a 25% cut in harvest coast wide is needed to help restore the striped bass population. The council also recommended that the take for each state should be 1 striper at 28-inches, this would have resulted in a 31% cut in harvest. In my opinion this cut was too low. I firmly believe a more cautious approach should have been implemented with a fishery that generates revenues in the billions of dollars for fishing communities up and down the coast. That being said, I also believe that some cut is a hell of a lot better than no cut.

 

The ASMFC also allowed for Conservation Equivalency among the states as long as the cuts resulted in at least the mandated 25% cut. This allowed each state within the commission to work with size and bag limits to come up with a 25% cut in harvest. As a result, several options were worked up by the various Conservation Departments within the concerning Atlantic States and have been or will be presented to their anglers in the near future.

 

At a NYS DEC Marine Recreational Advisory Council (MRAC) meeting that took place on January 13, 2015 a vote was taken to recommend 2015 striper regulations to the reining body of the fishery that sits up in Albany, NY. It was decided by the council to allow all anglers in New York Marine waters a bag limit consisting of 1 striped bass between 28 to 34-inches and or a trophy fish 36-inches and larger, this results in a projected 28% cut in harvest. The MRAC council then asked the biologist in charge of striped bass to work up numbers to see if the trophy size was moved up to 38 or 40-inches could an additional savings in harvest be accomplished. A final recommendation will be made after these calculations are done. Note: I have been told that each percentage point results in about 210,000 pounds of fish.

 

I have attended many of these MRAC meetings over the years. I have learned that fisheries management is always about the numbers, and any tugging at the heartstrings be damned. For those that showed up at the MRAC meeting and were shocked because the majority of the councilors chose to go with an option that gave NY anglers a 28% cut as opposed to the required 25% cut is puzzling. The ASMFC wanted 25% they got 28% (maybe more.) I say take it for what it is, and hope this helps the striped bass fishery somewhat. However, any cut would not make the fishing better this season or the next for that matter. Look again at the chart above. We have to simply let the fish in the pipeline grow, and if the environmental conditions are agreeable to the fish, the fishery will rebound by itself, and any cuts we impose in the meantime can only help the situation out. That’s the road I choose to follow. If you prefer the doom and gloom path, then by all means to help out the striped bass the best you can…please stop fishing for them.

 

If you have attended any past MRAC meetings one would have seen that NY anglers have voted many times to be more conservative than bordering states in regards to their fishery regulations, and every time this has come back to bite them/us in the proverbial ass. Remember it’s all about the numbers. Note: As of this writing NJ has decided on regulations that will put them right at a 25% cut in harvest.

 

Will this coast wide 25% cut in harvest save the striped bass? Probably not, and more cuts will most likely come in the future. However, in my opinion, the bleeding has been slowed. The striped bass decline is now on the radar of many misinformed anglers that had no clue there was a problem to begin with. Let’s protect and cherish those fish now in the pipeline and hopefully Mother Nature will take care of the rest.

 

Personally, I have been preaching conservation of the striper on my boat for many years. Some anglers agree with me, some think I’m a putz… that’s life. Hopefully now, more anglers will get on board with conservation, and begin releasing more of their stripers to live and fight again.

 

Full disclosure: I’m a full time charter boat captain that sails for all inshore species of fish from Montauk, NY. I have no commercial fishing licenses. I’m also a retired NYPD Sergeant, so my sole income doesn’t come from my charter business (thank God). I have killed my share of striped bass over the years, but I also have released countless stripers to over 50-pounds in weight. I can remember the dark days of striper fishing during the late 80’s, and I don’t wish that experience upon any striper anglers.

— By Captain Tom Mikoleski

 

Captain Tom Mikoleski is the successful fishing charter captain of the Grand Slam and an outdoor writer who sails out of Montauk, NY for trophy striped bass, doormat fluke, jumbo porgies, humpback sea bass, and monster sharks. “Catch them big,” is his motto.

 

Captain Tom is a retired New York City Police Officer who held the rank of sergeant.  He has fished on New York waters for over 35-years.  Captain Tom received his USCG captain’s license in 1993.  In 2006 he personally oversaw the construction of his present vessel, the Grand Slam, a 35′ T-Jason custom Downeaster’ that was built to specifically target striped bass. This vessel is now a highly regarded charter boat on eastern Long island waters.

 

Captain Tom has been an Outdoor Writer since the 80’s, and has had more than one hundred of his articles published in various Outdoor Magazines such as The Fisherman, On The Water, and Sport Fishing Magazines.

 

He is the author of Bass Buff — A Striper Fishing Obsession Guide

 

ABOUT EPOSEIDON:

Eposeidon (www.eposeidon.com ) is an e-commerce company (Eposeidon Outdoor Adventure, Inc.) that brings a fresh, innovative approach to anglers by offering quality fishing tackle products at the best prices and no cost, or low cost shipping. Eposeidon’s goal is to exceed expectations through outstanding customer service and superior product value to their customers. Eposeidon is continually expanding its product lines, which include KastKing(r) fishing line, fishing reels, and fishing rods, MadBite fishing lures, Ecooda reels, and other fishing tackle products, to meet individual fishing equipment needs. Eposeidon is headquartered in Garden City, NY, USA and sells fishing tackle products globally. Eposeidon is the sole North American Distributor for Ecooda fishing reels.

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