Striped bass is an important natural resource in Maine’s coastal waters and in a handful of its major tidal rivers.
The fish provide great action for recreational anglers and also give saltwater guides a target species that can produce fish in good numbers, and with considerable size, for their clients.
That’s why some striper anglers in Maine and New Hampshire are concerned a proposal before the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission could jeopardize the health of their recreational fisheries.
A rule change could allow the 15 states operating under ASMFC rules to transfer commercial quotas of striped bass between states in the ocean region.
At issue is whether allowing states that catch the maximum amount of striped bass to be sold to continue fishing using unfilled quotas from other states would significantly increase the overall harvest on the East Coast and thus reduce the number of fish reaching Maine.
“This is a concern to the Maine angler, because it affects the amount of big fish that we see in the summer,” said fishing guide Ian Sawyer of Lyman. “For hire charter services and guides depend on good fishing to make good money. If we don’t have that many fish to catch, it affects everybody.”
The ASMFC’s 2022 stock assessment for striped bass is that the species is “overfished,” but that it is no longer experiencing overfishing relative to the updated information it uses to measure populations.
The commission reported that under the current regulatory framework for mortality rates, there is a 76.8 percent chance the striped bass stock will rebuild to the desired level by its deadline in 2029.
Anglers report that striper fishing was excellent last year in Maine. However, the numbers of stripers arriving farther north along the coast, and the size of those fish, had previously been inconsistent for several years.
Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey do not allow commercial fishing for striped bass, but the other states are allowed to harvest a combined 2.17 million pounds for sale every year.
Massachusetts and Maryland both maxed out at 100 percent of their quota in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, while New York, Delaware and Virginia were at or above 96 percent of the allowable harvest. Rhode Island checked in at 88 percent but North Carolina registered 0 percent, as it has since 2012.
Since North Carolina is allowed 295,495 pounds of commercially harvested stripers per year, but catches none, under the proposed changes other states could harvest more stripers using that unfilled quota.
Sawyer said Massachusetts is a critical piece of the puzzle when considering the potential effect of increased commercial quotas on recreational fishing in Maine.
“Massachusetts is the key state in the fishery because of its geographic location and potentially could wipe out many more stripers than any other commercial fishery in the range,” Sawyer said.
Massachusetts’ commercial quota is 735,240 pounds of striped bass annually. It is the largest amount allocated among the states operating under ASMFC jurisdiction. New York is second at 640,718 pounds.
The ASMFC points out that there is uncertainty related to transfers between states, because states catch different size bass due to variations in size distribution along the coast, fishing size limits, gear used and the length and timing of seasons.
“It’s a huge problem and it feels to many that we shouldn’t even be dealing with this based on what was passed in Amendment VII (in 2020),” Sawyer said, “in that it was figured out that the species is overfished, and we need to be in a rebuilding phase, not adding to killing thousands of breeders which seems counterproductive.”
The public comment period for any potential changes under Addendum I is closed and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is expected to consider quota sharing during its February meeting.