Why was an Emergency Action taken?
The basis for taking emergency action was that striped bass recreational harvest coastwide nearly doubled in 2022. This unexpectedly high harvest greatly reduced the probability of rebuilding the currently overfished striped bass stock by 2029, which is the goal of the interstate management plan. Put another way, so many more striped bass were caught in 2022 than were expected that the current plan to ensure striped bass will remain plentiful for years to come no longer appeared effective. The main reason for the increase in harvest was that some striped bass from the abundant 2015 year-class, those fish born in 2015, had grown enough to be harvested under the 2022 slot limit (28" to <35"). Like people, fish grow at different rates and in 2023, the 2015 year-class will be almost entirely recruited into this size range. This means nearly all would be available for harvest if the slot remained 28" to <35", suggesting the potential for even greater recreational harvest in 2023 without swift action to amend the slot limit.
The 2015 year-class is important to the future of striped bass because it is one of the few large year-classes that has been produced in the past 20 years. Striped bass can survive more than 30 years and spawn more than 20 times, and this capability evolved in stripers (and many other fish) to compensate for years when the weather or other factors would lead to poor survival of their young. Since 2005, survival of newborn striped bass has been mostly below average, including the past 4 years which are among the lowest recorded (see figure). With fewer surviving striped bass born in the years before and after 2015, it is important for as many bass from the 2015 year-class to grow to spawning size and have as many opportunities to reproduce (and hopefully create additional strong year-classes) as possible if we hope to recover striped bass stocks and maintain strong striped bass fisheries in our coastal waters.
What is the rationale for a 31" maximum size limit?
The 2015 year-class is 8 years old in 2023, with an average size of about 31 ½" in length. DMF age data from recreational samples suggest that the new 28" to less than 31" slot along the coast will protect more than half of the 2015 year-class from recreational harvest in 2023 (compared to nearly zero protection with the 28" to <35" slot). This level of protection will increase in future years as these striped bass continue to grow.
The Board maintained a slot limit approach for several reasons, as opposed to transitioning to a higher minimum size (35" for example). When the Board originally went to a slot limit, the 28" minimum was maintained to make sure that shore-based anglers had opportunities to harvest striped bass, and this remains important. The application of a maximum size has had a lot of support among anglers as a way to protect the largest and most fecund female fish. Finally, beginning next year the 2015 year-class will begin to shift into the greater than 34" grouping, meaning a higher minimum size alone would not be a good way to protect the 2015 year-class moving forward.
If striped bass are at risk of not rebuilding, why was fishing so good last year?
Many anglers in Massachusetts enjoyed great success catching fish in the 28" to less than 35" slot in 2022, especially as compared to the first years it was in effect. This was directly tied to the highly abundant 2015 year-class, compared to the prior three years’ poor year classes. In 2022, a little more than half of the 2015 year-class had grown large enough to be harvested in the slot. DMF recreational sampling data from last year indicate that the 2015 year-class made up 55% of harvested fish.
Fishing can also be very dependent on how much and how consistently bait is in state waters. The extended presence of very large and predictable schools of menhaden in Massachusetts Bay last year led to great fishing, but high harvests and catches. With the coastal resurgence of menhaden, anglers in many other states enjoyed similar great fishing, contributing to the surge in coastwide recreational harvest.
Are recreational catch estimates reliable enough to justify this type of action?
Annual estimates of recreational harvest and catch of striped bass are regarded as being among the most reliable for all species because of a large sample size. For instance, Massachusetts DMF alone collects striped bass catch data from over 4,000 anglers each year. As a result, the measure of uncertainty in the estimate is the lowest of all managed species. Whereas recreational catch estimates may have precision issues when evaluated at finer levels (i.e., by state, by season, or by angler fishing mode), we have complete confidence that the large increase in coastwide annual harvest in 2022 compared to 2021 was real, and the emergency action to reduce recreational harvest was justified.
The survey methods of the national program used to estimate catch in marine recreational fisheries are constantly under review to enable continual improvement. The methods include two key components: a survey to estimate catch per trip and a survey to estimate fishing effort, which in conjunction can be used to estimate total catch. This August, NOAA Fisheries, which administers these recreational fishing surveys, announced the findings of a pilot study it conducted to evaluate potential sources of bias in the questionnaire design for the fishing effort survey. This study found switching the sequence of questions resulted in fewer reporting errors and fishing effort estimates that were generally 30 to 40 percent lower for shore and private boat modes than estimates produced from the current design. However, results varied significantly (by state and fishing mode) and because of the limited sample size, are not appropriate for management use. These results have prompted NOAA Fisheries to conduct a much larger-scale follow-up study over the course of 2024. Even if we were to assume that striped bass recreational catch was overestimated by 30 to 40% over the timeframe, it would likely only change the scale of the biomass but not the overall downward trend in the population that we have seen since 2010. It would not change the fact that, using the same survey methodology, recreational harvest estimates nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022. The striped bass assessment will be updated in 2024 and it will explore how the possible overestimation of recreational catch may impact biomass and the emergency measures that have been put in place to reduce fishery removals.
Why was this decision made without formal public input?
The information regarding the great increase in 2022 harvest only became available in March of this year. The only way for the Striped Bass Board to react quickly to decrease the harvest for 2023 was to implement an emergency action. All other avenues of rulemaking would have taken many more months and the opportunity to protect the 2015 year-class at its peak vulnerability would have been lost.
Prior to the May 2 meeting, the Striped Bass Board received thousands of public comments urging the Board to take swift and significant action to put the stock back on track to rebuild. Additionally, ASMFC subsequently held four virtual public hearings on the emergency action in May, and the comments collected were reviewed by the Board in August. DMF also held a state-specific public hearing in June on the state’s implementation of the emergency measures. Public comment collected through these processes, as well as forthcoming opportunities to provide input, is being considered in what the Management Board develops for possible measures moving forward (see What happens after 2023?).
Have all the states implemented the Emergency Action?
The Striped Bass Management Board allowed states up to two months to implement the 31" maximum size limit, as the states have different processes and requirements for enacting rule changes. All Atlantic coast states implemented the emergency action’s 31" maximum size limit by the July 2 deadline. In Massachusetts, DMF enacted emergency recreational regulations to change the maximum length limit for keeping striped bass on May 26, 2023, similar to the timing of other New England states.
Why didn’t the Emergency Action reduce the commercial quota?
In 2022, the commercial fishery, which is managed under a hard quota, had no increase in harvest while the recreational fishery harvest almost doubled. Therefore, the emergency action was directed at the sector that was responsible for the great increase from 2021 to 2022. The Board also initiated a new Addendum to the Striped Bass Management Plan to be implemented in 2024 (see What happens after 2023?). Changes to the commercial measures will be considered as part of this process over the next several months.
How does the Emergency Action affect the Chesapeake Bay recreational fisheries?
The 31" maximum size limit also applies to the Chesapeake Bay recreational fisheries. The minimum recreational size in the Chesapeake Bay is smaller than the ocean fisheries under a long-standing alternative management regime for this area and varies between 18" and 20" depending on jurisdiction (Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia, and Potomac River Fisheries Commission). While the resulting slot limit for the Chesapeake Bay will be wider, the 2015 year-class will be afforded the same protection by the 31" maximum size limit. There is a short, seasonal fishery for larger fish in the Chesapeake Bay (dubbed the spring trophy season) that was exempted in the Board’s emergency action motion for 2023 because it has a minimum size (35") that already protects the 2015 year-class and the timing of the fishery (5/1 - 5/15) made it irrelevant to any action taken by the Board at the meeting. The Chesapeake Bay rules will also be considered for revision in 2024 under Draft Addendum II (see What happens after 2023?).
Striped bass regulations in the Chesapeake Bay differ from coastal waters because of striped bass life history. The Chesapeake Bay is the main producer of young striped bass, and those fish gradually begin to emigrate from the bay as they grow, with almost all bass becoming coastal migrants by the time they reach 34". This leads to bass larger than 28", and especially bass larger than 34", only being in the bay just before and during the spring spawning season. The remainder of the year the Chesapeake Bay is largely populated by smaller, not-yet migratory striped bass and regulations are tailored to allow anglers to pursue these fish.
Won’t the new slot limit increase discard mortality?
Recreational discard mortality has become the primary component of overall striped bass fishing mortality in recent years so this is an important consideration. The new 28" to less than 31" slot limit will most likely lead to more fish in the 31" to 35" size range being released. However, only a small portion of those fish die as a consequence of being caught and released, whereas all fish die when caught and kept. Using the accepted 9% discard mortality estimate for striped bass, fish that would otherwise have been kept have a 91% reduction in mortality. While discard mortality may increase, it is likely that overall mortality will decrease as a result of less harvest under the reduced slot limit.
Additionally, anglers can—and should—play a part in minimizing discard mortality with proper fish handling and release techniques. DMF encourages anglers to educate themselves on best handling practices to maximize survival of striped bass after the catch. DMF has also been studying the post-release mortality of striped bass and is currently seeking participants for a citizen science project to improve estimates of post-release mortality in the striped bass fishery.
What happens after 2023?
In May, the Striped Bass Board also voted to initiate an Addendum to the management plan for 2024 to reduce fishing mortality so that the stock can stay on track to rebuild by 2029. This more typical regulatory pathway provides for multiple options to be considered and public comment to be solicited and incorporated into decision making. Changes to both the commercial and recreational fishery measures are being considered. The Board used both its August and October meetings to refine the range of alternatives; the text of the Board’s approved motions can be found at the bottom of this FAQ.
The Board approved Draft Addendum II for public comment at their October meeting. Public hearings will be held coastwide during November and December, including two in Massachusetts on December 5 (Bourne) and December 19 (Gloucester). Refer to the ASMFC “Public Input” page for details or DMF’s Advisory. For the recreational fishery, the Draft Addendum proposes recreational bag and size limit options for the ocean and Chesapeake Bay regions, including options with different limits for the for-hire modes. To address concerns about recreational filleting allowances and compliance with recreational size limits, the Draft Addendum includes an option that could establish minimum requirements for states that authorize at-sea/shore-side filleting of striped bass. For the commercial fishery, the Draft Addendum proposes a quota reduction option. The Draft Addendum also proposes an option that would enable the Board to respond to the results of the stock assessment updates more quickly, via Board action, if the stock is not projected to rebuild by 2029.
The Management Board is expected to take final action to select new management measures in late January 2024. During final action, the Management Board will establish the deadline(s) for the states to implement new measures, which may span 2024-2025.
Motions approved by the ASMFC Management Board
Motion to implement Emergency Action for 2023 management (May 2, 2023):
Move that the Striped Bass Board, by emergency action as outlined in the Commission’s ISFMP Charter, implement a 31" maximum size to all existing recreational fishery regulations where a higher (or no) maximum size applies, excluding the Chesapeake Bay trophy fisheries. All other recreational size limits, possession limits, seasons, gear restrictions, and spawning protections remain in place. Jurisdictions are required to implement compliant measures as soon as possible and no later than July 2, 2023.
Motion to initiate Addendum II for 2024 management (May 2, 2023):
Move to initiate an Addendum to implement commercial and recreational measures for the ocean and Chesapeake Bay fisheries in 2024 that in aggregate are projected to achieve F-target from the 2022 stock assessment update (F = 0.17). Potential measures for the ocean recreational fishery should include modifications to the Addendum VI standard slot limit of 28-35" with harvest season closures as a secondary non-preferred option. Potential measures for Chesapeake Bay recreational fisheries, as well as ocean and Bay commercial fisheries should include maximum size limits. The addendum will include an option for a provision enabling the Board to respond via Board action to the results of the upcoming stock assessment updates (e.g., currently scheduled for 2024, 2026) if the stock is not projected to rebuild by 2029 with a probability greater than or equal to 50%.
Motion to extend the Emergency Action (August 1, 2023):
Move to extend the Board’s May 2, 2023 emergency action of 31" maximum recreational size limit for one year or until the implementation of Addendum II, whichever comes first, effective October 28, 2023.
Motions to refine the drafted range of options for Draft Addendum II (August 1, 2023):
Move to amend Chesapeake Bay Recreational Options B, D and H to include maximum size limit options ranging from 23" to 26" in 1" increments and remove all other options.
Move to add new options to section 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 to Draft Addendum II that allow for mode splitting. These are options B, C, and D as defined in the PDT memo to the board dated July 17, 2023 for section 3.1.1 and options H as defined in the PDT memo to the board dated July 17, 2023 for section 3.1.2.
Move to replace Ocean Recreational Option B with the slot limit of 28" to 31" with no seasonal harvest closures and remove Option C and D.
Move to remove Options sets B and C from Section 3.2.1 (Options for Implementing a Commercial Maximum Size Limit) from Draft Addendum II. Task the PDT with conducting spawning potential analysis to determine quota reductions, using 2022 as the starting point, associated with each Option in Option sets D (Ocean Commercial Maximum Size Limits) and E (Chesapeake Bay Commercial Maximum Size Limits). Add an option to require maximum mesh sizes for gillnets and exempt them from maximum size limits. Add a new Option Set to Section 3.2.1 containing the following options for reductions to commercial quotas:
- Option A. Status Quo. All commercial fisheries maintain 2017 size limits (or Addendum VI approved CE plans) and Amendment 7 quotas (or Addendum VI approved CE-adjusted quotas).
- Option B. Commercial Quota Reductions. Quotas for all commercial fisheries will be reduced up to 14.5% from 2022 commercial quotas (including quotas adjusted through approved Addendum VI CE plans).
Move to add the at-sea filleting options from the PDT memo.
Motions to further refine and approve Draft Addendum II for public comment (October 18, 2023):
Move to remove from section 3.1.2 (Chesapeake Bay Recreational Options) of Draft Addendum II, Alternative Set B (B1 - B4), Alternative Set C (C1-C4), E4, and E3.
Motion to add the following options to section 3.1.1. Ocean Recreational Fishery:
- Option D. 1 fish at 30” to 33” with 2022 seasons (all modes) (12.8% overall reduction, 45% harvest reduction and 2% increase in release mortality)
- Option E. 1 fish at 30” to 33” with 2022 seasons for private vessel/shore anglers; 1 fish at 28”- 33” with 2022 seasons for the for-hire mode.
Move to add an option that any for-hire mode specific limit optioned in Section 3.1, Recreational Fishery Management, applies only to patrons during a for-hire trip; captain and crew during a for-hire trip are subject to the private vessel/shore angler limits.
Motion to remove section 3.2.2 Commercial Maximum Size Limit options and 3.2.3 Gill Net Exemption options from Draft Addendum II.
Motion to approve Draft Addendum II for public comment as modified today.
Contact for Striped Bass Emergency Action Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
|May 9, 2023