Striped Bass Conservation
Every year, it seems especially during the winter, striped bass populations are a big topic online and at fishing shows. I’m guessing part of the reason is because everyone has a little cabin fever, so we’re spending more time online and therefore discussing the topic more than usual. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be discussing the topic of striped bass conservation, but quite the opposite. I’m suggesting we should be discussing it MORE, especially during the fishing season (when we tend to ignore the topic a bit).
There’s unforunately not an immense amount of real data out there for us. To be fair, it’s pretty hard to count the number of stripers, when the vast majority of the population is constantly on the move. It’s not nearly as easy as counting the number of salmon that come through the Salmon River hatchery. Point being, we’re at the mercy of the organizations that are managing the population and the fishery. In this case, the organization “in charge” is the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission. They’re the folks that survey the population, collect and organize the information, and advise each state on the suggested regulations.
In my opinion, the fact that all the data regarding the striped bass population comes directly from the the organization in charge is a slippery slope. That’s sorta like asking the the contractor that painted your house “hey man, what do you think of that paint job?” Data can be skewed a little to look the way they want it to look. I’m not at all suggesting that they would do such a thing maliciously, but sometimes you can adjust the ways you compare data to look a certain way for the sake of presentation. One of the guys that does a pretty good job of sorting through all the available data and explaining it made a video for YouTube, which you can see by clicking here.
Bottom line here, is that the striped bass population is suffering. Again. This chart is directly from the ASMFC website I mentioned earlier…
I’d like you to consider a few things here, in addition to the actual data that’s on the chart. Aside from the fact that it pretty easily depicts the decline of recreational striped bass landings, the Commercial impact has remained relatively stable. They work on a quota system that’s managed by someone way above my pay-grade, so all I’m pointing out is the general consistency across the past twenty years. The data from the ASMFC also assumes a 9% mortality of fish that are caught and released.
This number is the number that concerns me greatly! The 9% number seems incredibly high to me. Not that they’re wrong and overestimating the mortality, but that anglers in general could be “throwing back” striped bass in such a way as to cause the death of nearly ten percent of those fish!
Let’s for example say that you and I go fishing together one night. The tide and moon are both favorable and we have a pretty good night. Let’s say each of us catch ten fish between 30″ and 40″. Now both of us are pretty adamant for catch and release, so every fish is released pretty quickly. According to the data above, the ASMFC presumes that two of those twenty fish released will die.
The thought of this sickens me. I would hate to imagine that despite my best efforts, 9% of the striped bass I release are doomed to die anyway. I take pretty good care to fight fish quickly and get them off the hook promptly. Most of the time I’m fishing in a kayak, so I can revive a tired fish pretty thoroughly before I release them. So I’m going to presume then that maybe my fish are only dying 1% of the time, which would theoretically mean some other fishermen out there are responsible for the death of like 20% of their released fish.
By now I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s the point of all this?
The point is, if you’re reading this article, you have to be part of the solution! Knowing about the problem means you can help make things better. So what am I asking of you? Oh great savior of striped bass…
- Take more care to land fish quickly, so they aren’t terribly exhausted by the time you bring them to hand
- Take more care to handle fish properly, keeping them in the water as much as possible, and never lift them straight vertically by the jaw
- If you do remove them from the water (probably for a quick picture), make sure you get them back in the water quickly (and gently)
- Be sure to revive them before just letting the tide or current sweep them away
- Educate as many younger/novice anglers as you can, so that they too can be part of the solution, and not part of the problem
I’m hoping if you’ve made it this far, you’re still interested in learning more and getting involved in other ways. So I still have a few ideas for you…
- If you fish in any striped bass tournaments, encourage the organizers to switch to catch-photo-release formats instead of the old school “kill-it-and-weigh-it” format
- If you participate in the Striper Cup, make sure you’re part of the catch and release division, and encourage friends to do the same. There were a lot of stripers killed last year just for a few prizes
- Talk to your local fishing clubs and tackle shops about ways you can promote catch and release to other anglers, especially the novice and young anglers that don’t know any better
- Always remember that the breeder females are the biggest fish, so those 40lb and 50lb “trophy” fish are the ones we need to be the MOST careful with. These should ALWAYS be released carefully (more blog posts sure to follow on this topic)
Check out other conservation oriented organizations to learn more…
Thanks for reading