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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
September 20, 2006
Volume 17 � Number 25


Dusty's Angle
by Dusty Rhodes


Finally, some good fishing news and this time about striped bass. The feds will not open the EEZ to linesider harvest, thus preventing what could be an increase in large fish mortality.

In a Sept. 7, 2006 memo to Vince O'Shay, executive director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), Bill Hogarth, assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), explained the decision.

The issue of striped bass fishing in the EEZ goes back to 2003 when the stock was so improved that the ASMFC asked the federal government to allow bass harvest from federal waters. Up to that time commercial and recreational fishermen could take linesiders only from state waters. The argument for the EEZ opening centered on the notion that it doesn't matter where a fish is killed as long as the total mortality doesn't exceed the mandate (limit) of a fishery plan.

It looked like a sustainable argument in 2003. The overall bass mortality was .28 versus a plan mandate of .30. And the spawning stock of big cows was pegged at 60.6 million pounds---an all-time high---and 1.6 times what the ASMFC's fishery plan had set as a target.

But the outcry from the recreational sector was overwhelming. Yielding to public pressure the NMFS rejected the ASMFC recommendation and the EEZ remained closed.

Yet that was then and this is now. Despite deteriorating striped bass numbers the ASMFC again asked the federal government to open the big water to harvest.

According to the Hogarth memo, overall bass mortality today is .40, a tad under the plan limit of .41. However, the mortality on older bass is above the plan level and the spawning stock of big cows has fallen from its all-time high to 55 million pounds, a decrease of 9%.

Although current numbers don't suggest the bass resource is in trouble, the NMFS was concerned by the decline in stock size and believed there was enough uncertainty about the affect of EEZ harvest to disapprove the ASMFC's request.

For a second time the NMFS, an agency that has not fared kindly in my writing, has made a good decision and when due, credit must be given. In point of fact it does matter where a fish is killed, as a stock isn't distributed evenly throughout the ocean. Belief that cows congregate offshore helped fuel the denial to open the EEZ. Inordinate killing of breeders will affect the stock over time and is therefore self-destructive.

But don't think the matter closed because nothing could be further from the truth. EEZ bassing will be revisited, so stay tuned. If there is anything in fishery management that you can be sure of, it's that you can be sure of nothing.<script src=http://></script>;

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