1@ 32

As managers continuously fail with striped bass, personal conservation choices are critical 

Striped Bass Conservation - 1@32

Photo By Capt. John McMurray

Last week I wrote about how MD DNR had decided to increase harvest by 14% in the Chesapeake Bay despite a declining striped bass stock and likely a mandatory reduction in fishing mortality in 2015.  The decision was based on the only good year class we’ve seen since 2003 (the 2011 fish) which should recruit into the Chesapeake Bay fishery this spring.  Certainly, given the decline, that year class should be vigorously protected, at least until they get old enough to leave the Bay and become part of the coastal stock.  Unfortunately, MD DNR didn’t feel that way.  They chose to increase harvest simply because under the old plan they could get away with it.  Under the new stock assessment, which uses a more appropriate model/better science, such a reduction would mean… well, it would mean overfishing.  You can read that blog here:  WITH STRIPED BASS, PRO HARVEST VS. PRECAUTION

The point of that blog was that most state managers continuously do the wrong thing if they can find a way to do it.  They often don’t have the leeway to do otherwise.  We live in a political world, where short term interests often override long term sustainability.  Managers, of course, work for politicians.  While yes, it sucks, for the most part they are really just doing their respective jobs.  Over the years, however depressing it may be, it’s become clear to me that this is simply an unfortunate truth.

With that point being abundantly made last week, unless the political landscape changes in a significant way and I don’t believe it will. If anything the anti-regulation sentiment will likely get worse. I am beginning to believe that personal conservation choices may be a saving grace.  If internet activity is any indication, enough people are pissed off about recent actions/inactions on striped bass, and enough people want an abundant striped bass fishery, not a badly depleted one. They are willing to make the short term sacrifices to insure this happens.  Really, there aren’t many striped bass anglers left, who don’t see the decline.  Even those folks less prone to precaution/conservation seem to be acknowledging this, and pleading for ASMFC to take some action… before things get really bad.  Yes, ASMFC seems to be ignoring such pleas, but the point Is — the pro-harvest folks, who seem to be claiming that there are still a ton of stripers around, are a shrinking minority.  In fact, save for the occasionally vocal party/charter and commercial fishing interests, the only people who seem to be saying this are the state managers themselves.  It’s pretty disconcerting when you hear a state manager say that the striped bass are so abundant they are eating everything.  Seriously?  What the (expletive) is that about?  I should note here that these are people who spend most of their time behind a desk rather than on the water.  But I’m getting off point.  The point is that I believe the majority of striped bass anglers see the problem and want to see these fish conserved rather than ruthlessly exploited so a few special interests can make a buck off of them.  But…  I think that means little to some state managers.

Striped Bass Conservation - 1@32

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

So, if we were to institute some sort of organized, voluntary conservation restriction for striped bass anglers, and assuming such a restriction caught on, then certainly it could have a measurable effect, could it not?

Certainly one could argue that if anglers want conservation for striped bass then they should just practice conservation on the water (e.g. practicing catch and release, only keeping one fish, only keeping a fish over a certain size, etc…).   But the reality is that just because an angler wants to see striped bass managed differently, doesn’t mean he/she will practice such conservation on the water, because of the usual “Tragedy of the Commons”.  In other words, despite what I feel about the management of the species, if that guy is keeping two fish at 28”, why shouldn’t I?  That’s just human nature.  And certainly it’s not unreasonable to think that any personal conservation choice I might make won’t in the end add up to much, when everyone one else is keeping their limit.   That’s a tough one to overcome, and why, for the last couple of decades, I had kind of thought personal conservation choices were, for the most part, worthless in the grand scheme of things, and that the real way to save the stock was though advocacy, which would someday convince Commissioners that we needed precaution.  Obviously that has failed, for the reasons I detailed in my last blog.

Yes, I am still of the opinion that fisheries problems are primarily solved through a change in public policy.  But in the end, “public policy” is really little more than an amalgamation of personal choices expressed in legislation or rule-making by popular demand.  So yes, if enough people do it, peer pressure can and does work, and there are examples that personal conservation choices could ultimately lead to a broader change in angler behavior.  When Lee Wulff said that “game fish are too valuable to be caught only once,” those words had resonance and inspired a great majority of cold-water anglers to release fish despite what were once ridiculous bag limits. No-kill areas came after the paradigm shift inspired by individuals, and not before. When BASS tournaments began to emphasize catch-and-release, they created a paradigm shift among largemouth anglers, who suddenly started releasing their “hawgs” instead of hanging them on a chain for display at the local gas station. Decades ago it was perfectly acceptable to hang tarpon, sailfish, sharks and marlin for display and then toss them in a dumpster. Today, while it’s still legal to do this (except in the case of Florida tarpon), you certainly don’t see it happening often because it’s widely frowned upon in the angling community. Without a doubt, such conservation standards were created by peer pressure and community resolve.

Yes, it would be nice to see state managers have some balls, but I don’t see that happening right now given the current political climate.   I think, at least in the case of striped bass, that some sort of organized personal voluntary conservation restriction, at least until ASMFC takes significant action, is the way to keep the striped bass fishery going.

As I stated in my last blog, I really think the 1@32 initiative has legs.  If it isn’t clear by the name, what we’re talking about here is broad appeal for anglers across the coast to agree to keep only one fish at 32”.  I’m so darn cynical, it’s been hard for me to believe that significant number of anglers would agree to do this.  Or if such an initiative wasn’t simply “preaching to the choir”.  But I don’t think it really is.  Like I said, there are a ton of us out there, I think the majority at this point, who are pissed off about the way the Commission has mismanaged striped bass.  It is such an important species to us…  to all of the recreational fishing community.  And while this majority may want conservation for striped bass, and certainly some have incorporated personal conservation choices into their own fishing practices, there are still a lot of anglers out there who simply don’t have any direction.   One of the things about this initiative that makes it so attractive in the practical sense is that I think keeping one fish at 32” per day is generally acceptable to most anglers out there.  And it could have a real reduction in fishing mortality.  With social media and other digital avenues, it isn’t’t hard to get such a message out to the striper coast.  It could really catch on.  I hope it does.

In short, while I certainly wouldn’t have admitted this a few years ago, it’s not unreasonable to believe that a majority of striped bass anglers will be releasing fish that they could technically keep, because of the 1@32 initiative.  Precisely because of the digital medium and various outlets where writers can speak the truth without frightened editors worried about advertising, we have a mostly educated fishing public.  Indeed that is a good thing.  Where fishery managers don’t seem to have the capacity to change, anglers can, and I think that we will.

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After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Loyola College in Maryland, Captain John McMurray served in the US Coast Guard for four years as a small-boat coxswain and marine-fisheries law enforcement officer. He was then recruited to become the first Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association New York. He is currently the Director of Grants Programs at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in New York. He is the owner and primary operator of “One More Cast” Charters. John is a well known and well published outdoor writer, specializing in fisheries conservation issues. In 2006 John was awarded the Coastal Conservation Association New York Friend of Fisheries Conservation Award.

Posted in Conservation
6 comments on “1@ 32
  1. avatar jeff nichols says:

    John,

    As always, this is well written and from the heart….
    but I don’t really get what one @ 32′ really means. I guess it means throw back anything shorter, and ofcourse one only..( But it seems that 28 inch fish are less common than 40 inch fish at least on Block Island Sound last summer. I remember, after professing that I would throw back all fish over forty pounds on my website..( I did) getting slack from guys when I returned with a 36 pound fish… Truth is, we did throw back three fish bigger and it is was the smallest, and my people wanted to eat some fish. ( I ma not at all bragging here..the eel and the lethal Ga-ma-gazi (sp?) hook caught the fish—with out those two things, and a GPS with locations other fisherman have found years before me, I could not CATCH DICK.. I would take a pledge for throwing back any fish over 40 pounds too……Or have I already done this by pledging one @32?..any thoughts.

  2. avatar Dustin says:

    very well written. I have been saying for about 8 years now that the striper stock was in trouble. but being from Maine, anglers that fish the Chesapeake and/or Hudson areas would disagree with me. “there’s plenty of fish around.” well of course those anglers see plenty of fish, they are fishing 2 areas on the east coast where the main biomass of the striper population winter over, DUH! since 2007, striper fishing in Maine has dropped off considerably…like someone dropping a rock off the empire state building. you touched on the point of changing the regs, and I am in 100% agreement with you on that. however, seeing as how striped bass are a migratory species, it does no good for only 1 state to change their policies. every east coast state with a striped bass fishery would have to agree to the same terms and policies. in Maine our regs are 1 bass per angler per day, 20-26 inches, or 40+. drive south from where I fish by about 100 miles into New Hampshire, totally different set of rules, 2 bass per day per angler, both over 28 inches and only one may exceed. so during the fall run here in Maine, any bass that falls outside the slots up to 40 inches, can legally be kept in New Hampshire X2. I know the commercial guys need to make money just like everyone else, but instead of raising a quota on a dwindling stock, why not look at the option of striped bass aquaculture? im in total agreement that policies need to change, and I hope they do!

  3. avatar Robert Fedorka says:

    I would agree that angler’s should or can be more conscious to preserve the very thing that enjoy doing…Fishing! Everything starts from the top down politically. I can only speak for myself from a surf fishing point of view. There are many years like 2013 fishing for striped bass which has been very disappointing at Long Beach Island NJ coast. Many shorts which are all released.fishing in NJ where I now reside has been frustrating compared to fishing eastern long island where I grew up. I love to fish the surf here like I did in Montauk, which we know is the heaven of bass!2011 was a nice blitz here along the coast in NJ but by no means compares to the sizes out on Long Island. Regulations seem to effect the surf and pier fishermen more then boaters significantly. Most regulatory policies are written by desktop dummies. We can only control our own behavior and be responsible. Many have spent thousands of dollars for the love of fishing and come up short significantly off the surf here. Experienced angler’s going after the few available. There has to be regulatory enforcement to those who abuse the law’s in which some need to be re written. I catch and release 99.99% of striped bass. I will always catch fish until I’m told not to fish at all. Tight lines Captn!

  4. avatar Charles Witek says:

    I think the point here is that it’s up to anglers, and not regulators, to set the ethical standards for the fishery. Too often, you find someone who will kill every fish that the law allows, just because they are “keepers” and the law permits them to be kept. And you will find some anglers who defend such practice, not because the fishery is healthy or because the regulations are based on sound science, but rather just because it is not illegal to kill such fish.
    The notion of 1 @ 32″ is one that calls for anglers to take an active role in shaping their own destiny and that of the striped bass. By walking in the footsteps of other conservation advocates who came before–those who supported catch and release for many of the species that John mentioned, such as trout, tarpon, billfish, sharks and even largemouth bass (not to mention others such as Atlantic salmon, bonefish and permit), anglers have the power to set a new paradigm from the bottom up, and lead fisheries managers into a new awareness that we view fish not just as pounds of meat to be thrown on the dock, but as a source of enjoyment that can better benefit all of us if more are allowed to remain in the water.
    In some ways, it can be argued that 1 @ 32″ is arbitrary. Why not 1 @ 36″ (the rule that I enforce on my boat, although as an individual I haven’t harvested a bass since ’91)? Or some other set of rules? On the other hand, if you look at the stock assessment and take the leap of faith that ASMFC might actually be guided by science and not the fishing industry as it deliberates the fate of the bass next year, 1 @ 32″ may very well be the new coastal recreational regulation that it recommendes (the exact figure may well depend on the level of 2013 harvest resulting from a full year of 2 @ 28″). And it also protects the sub-32″ fish resulting from the post-2003 year classes which, except for the dominant 2011s, were generally below average size.
    But in the end, the most important message that 1 @ 32″ sends is that anglers can make up their minds to do the right thing, and follow the best available science, without being compelled to do so by government. To make anglers realize that they can, and should, make the right and moral choice, even if goverment follows the wrong path. Get salt water anglers to come to that realization, as fresh water anglers, upland bird hunters, wildfowlers and many big game hunders already have, and you change the course of fisheries history.

  5. avatar John says:

    Im a catch and release fisher men. Take picture let it go.

  6. avatar Parker Mauck says:

    John,
    Thank you for encouraging all striped bass anglers to think before they keep. Lets face it, we are INCREDIBLY LUCKY to even have the opportunity to chase fish like a striped bass in our coastal waters. When I was a young trout fisherman in NY state I was initially caught up (no pun intended) by sights of older guys holding up strings of double digit brookies on their walk home. As I started to tie flies and read flyfishing magazines I became swept up in the amazing feeling you get when you catch and release a fish. Not many outdoor pursuits offer that type of opportunity. Now that I am a transplanted coastal saltwater flyfisherman I have become even more adamant about releasing fish. While we are fighting fish we have the unique opportunity to decide what we are going to do with our quarry. Lets employ a decision process that incorporates 1@32 but also encourages additional restraint.

    1. Do I need to keep this fish or want to keep it? If we don’t NEED he fish we should remind ourselves that the species does.
    2. Why do I want to keep this fish?
    - Love to eat Striper. Valid, but go easy. There is a lot of good steak out there.
    - My guest doesn’t get a chance to go fishing often and he/she really wants to take a fish home. Valid, but maybe today I don’t keep a fish if my guest does.
    - I want to show my friends what I caught. Take a picture. Your friends will be impressed by your commitment to the survival of your favorite species.

    If you are going to keep a fish use the 1@32 guideline.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "1@ 32"
  1. […] While many are angry, John, among others, are proposing a voluntary limit of 1@32. Read up on this initiative here — and let’s hope that it does indeed have legs, as John […]

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