The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group and Striped Bass Forever have sent letters to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that criticize a proposed regulation change that would allow commercial fishermen to catch more striped bass.

     Huge schools of stripers once migrated from the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson River areas to North Carolina's Outer Banks to overwinter, and fishermen had field days, landing fish from 15 to 50 pounds. The peak of the winter migration into North Carolina. waters occurred from 2001 through 2003, but numbers of fish have dropped in recent years.

     The groups oppose an ASFMC admendment that would allow commercial fishermen to "roll over" unused portions of their catch quota from year to year.

     "Stripers Forever thinks this is just a thinly disguised attempt to add to commercial quotas, and that it is a very bad idea," said Brad Burns, that group's president. "This means that if, in a given commercial state, the quota was 1,100,000 pounds, and only 990,000 was caught in 2011, then in 2012 the new quota could be 1,210,000 pounds." 

     Burns pointed out if a state's commercial anglers are not reaching their allowable quota of stripers, it probably means there are fewer stripers in the water.

     "Adding one year's deficit to the following year simply compounds unwarranted pressure on the fish," Burns said. "Fishery management needs to be more risk-averse, not more intent on vacuuming up every possible fish for the market."
Dean Phillips of the CFRG viewed the proposal as unscientific.

     "Striped bass cannot be stockpiled from year to year," he said. "Every season is different, and quotas must be developed and applied based upon the most recent status of the fishery - not upon what happened last year.

     "We should keep the quota system as it presently is until we know that the fishery can support an increase in harvest. We do not know this at this time, and evidence that is available seems to point toward maintaining harvest at or below its current level.

     "We don't even consider carrying forward of daily catch limits for good reason; we shouldn't consider carry forward of annual limits for the same good reasons.

     "Quota rollover isn't a sound management strategy for any fishery, especially one like the striped bass that is slow to mature and sustained by periodic, successful age-classes."

     Phillips also pointed out by allowing more stripers to be caught in the ocean, inshore reproduction could be harmed because stripers spawn in freshwater rivers, such as the Roanoke River, then return to the ocean.

     Commercial catches of herring, also a fish that spawns in freshwater then returns to the ocean, allowed that fishery to collapse in North Carolina. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission banned netting of herring three years ago. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries only allows a small catch for research purposes.