On Thursday night, the Maine Dept. of Marine Resources held a rule-making hearing in Yarmouth to collect public comment on proposed changes to striped bass regulations in Maine. The Dept. is required to collect input because they are changing the regulation in Maine to adopt the max. size of under 35" but the draw to attend wasn't only about what they are proposing to do here. Striped bass are managed collectively by all of the states where there is a fishable population through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission or ASMFC. Many of the 38 people in attendance turned out to also speak about what some of the other states are proposing to do with their own striper rules. Maine has an equal vote with other states on the ASMFC Striped Bass Board, which meets next Tuesday, Feb. 4 to approve or disapprove of each of these proposals.
Here is the comment that I read into the public record on Thursday night. You'll find a recap of the Thursday meeting below along with a link to a helpful article from the American Saltwater Guides Association with more info.
My name is Peter Fallon. I’m here representing my charter business and the American Saltwater Guides Association. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I hope others here in the room tonight will also comment on our fishery and our expectations.
While I had advocated for 1 fish greater than 35 inches, I am pleased to see Maine supporting the decision of the ASMFC Striped Bass Board to move to a coastwide slot limit of 1 fish between 28 and 35 inches and not submitting a Conservation Equivalency proposal.
The current striped bass management system is broken. We should have better fishing, much better fishing – more bass and larger bass -- and we would if ASMFC had been responsibly managing this fishery.
The current use of Conservation Equivalencies, or CEs, is one fatal flaw. ASMFC has repeatedly stated that they want consistent regulations on the Atlantic coast and in Chesapeake Bay and yet they continue to approve Conservation Equivalencies that result in a mishmash of regulations and overfishing. States get to do what they want and there are zero consequences when they overfish. And they do overfish. No payback. No required adjustments to size, bag, or season limits. No constraints on future CE proposals from those states.
Recreational anglers in New Jersey harvested almost five and a half million pounds of fish in 2016. To put that into perspective, the recreational harvest in Massachusetts that year was just over two million pounds and here in Maine, about 125,000 pounds. New Jersey has a huge impact on this fishery and now they want to target fish 24 to 29 inches (which includes the 2015 year class) and fish over 42 inches through their trophy bonus tag program.
Have we forgotten what happened to the once robust 2011 year class as the result of an ill-conceived Conservation Equivalency from Maryland, a habitual offender of overfishing? Now New Jersey is about to decimate the 2015 year class if they are allowed to set their slot limit to take fish starting at 24 inches. Is Maine ok with that?
Maryland is also pushing a proposal that includes a continuation of their trophy fishery for bass over 35 inches and a 2 fish a day allowance for charter and party boat anglers – both of which go against the decision at the October ASMFC meeting to move to 1 fish a day at 18 inches for all of Chesapeake Bay, which was supported by 84% of the public comment.
Some Conservation Equivalency proposals look good on paper but fall short in meeting the desired results. All of these CEs have met the requirements of the Striped Bass Technical Committee but so have all of the past proposals and many have been a disaster. The Technical Committee has said that there is a high degree of uncertainty that these measures will meet mortality reduction goals. They say clearly that they have no idea how much overall striped bass mortality will be reduced by such disparate regulations.
This entire plan to reduce overall striped bass mortality by 18% was built with the assumption that the new regulations would be effective coastwide and baywide. It was presented to the public in the same way. It was supported by a huge percentage of the public input and approved by the ASMFC Striped Bass Board this fall. It’s no wonder that so many people have lost confidence in ASMFC.
Maine has often been a leader in striped bass management and conservation. Our adoption of mandatory circle hook use ahead of any ASMFC requirement is but one example of such forward thinking. I hope the Maine board members and ASMFC Chair, Commissioner Pat Keliher, will continue to lead by holding New Jersey and Maryland to the decision of the board and the expectations of the overwhelming majority of the stakeholders.
At next Tuesday’s ASMFC meeting I urge that Maine vote to approve only those CEs that would give us all one consistent slot limit coastwide and one consistent slot for all of Chesapeake Bay.
Here's my recap of the Thursday meeting:
To all of the passionate striped bass anglers, guides, and tackle shop owners who showed up in Yarmouth for the DMR hearing on Thursday - thank you. I've heard from a couple of you that the crowd was decidedly larger than the group that gathered this fall to provide public input into the proposed Addendum VI options. It's encouraging to see rising involvement as the challenges to responsible management grow.
Having Commissioner Pat Keliher present to hear discussion, questions, and on the record comments was incredibly important for our objectives. When Pat joined in, providing context, history, explanations and a patient ear it served to make our investment of time even more worthwhile. What was scheduled to be a routine rule-making hearing quickly evolved into an hour plus question and answer session. The questions and comments were excellent, across the board. And Pat's statements about the cascade of Conservation Equivalencies precipitated by the decision of the striped bass board to allow each state to target an 18% reduction in mortality were telling. The ASMFC meeting next Tuesday will be interesting for sure.
One thing that is not in doubt is that the Maine delegation heard us, loudly and clearly. Our expectations of them can not be misconstrued and they know that we will be following up with them after the meeting.
The number of people who stepped forward to comment on the record was impactful. It's not an easy or comfortable thing to do, especially the first couple of times, but it is critically important and needs to become our habit for future public hearings. I've spoken with a number of people in attendance who submitted their comments in writing prior to the event. This too becomes easier and more comfortable over time. I know of other folks who wanted to attend the meeting but couldn't make it fit into the schedule of life. They have or will comment via email and hope to join in person at the next go-round. And there will be a next-go round, and one after that, with more to follow.
I suspect that the results of the meeting on Feb. 4 will be mixed, with some news to cheer and other decisions to fight. We can't afford to wait until the next round of rule-making hearings to express our concerns, offer our suggestions, learn more about the process and hold our fisheries managers accountable. I don't know what form or forum that will be, but the need and interest is clear.
And here's the link to the article with more info on CE's and what lies ahead:
It's not too late to participate in this process. The article above gives good guidance on what you can write and how to get your view point to the people who are deciding the fate of this fishery.
Capt. Peter Fallon
Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC