ARLINGTON, Va. (WFXR) — A recent report from the Striped Bass Technical Committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) found higher-than-expected harvest rates for Atlantic striped bass in 2022. Those numbers show a management effort to restore striped bass stocks to 1996 levels by 2029 is in jeopardy.

So, why is that 1996 number so important?

“That is important because that ’96 metric is the apex of the population in recorded history,” said Martin Gary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission. “It’s a really lofty goal.”

The various states that belong to the ASMFC had set 2029 to meet that goal, and the effort looked to be on track until the latest harvest numbers came out.

Part of the issue is the last above-average Atlantic striper spawning class was in 2015. Many of those fish are of harvestable size. With a large number of fish now catchable, they were targeted more.

When the ASMFC meets next month, action could be taken on harvest regulation or on slot regulation.

Slot regulations require fish to be of a certain size before they can be harvested. In Virginia, the legal slot to harvest Atlantic striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay from January 1 through March 31 is 28 to 36 inches; from May 15 to June 16 the slot is 20 inches to 28 inches; and from October 4 to December 31 the slot is 20 inches to 36 inches. Coastal slots are 28 to 36 inches, and the seasons run from January 1 through March 31 and May 16 through December 31. All other fish not in the appropriate slots for the season must be returned to the water.

Because those 2015 fish are now in the prime harvest range, slots could be set to protect them.

The American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA)favors reasonable regulations to sustain the fishery, and to allow the stocks to recover.

“Our motto is ‘better business through conservation, which in a nutshell, the healthier the resource, the better everyone’s business will be,” said Tony Friedrich of the ASGA. “This is something that we can fix, and if we fix it now, it’ll be a small course adjustment, and if we wait too long, we have the potential of some pretty draconian measures coming down.”

Atlantic striped bass is one of the most iconic species in North America. They live much of their lives in the ocean, but fish of reproductive age return to streams and estuaries every year to spawn.

Alex McCrickard of the VDWR holds a trophy striped bass just before releasing it

While new harvest regulations may be coming, there are things anglers can do now to help ensure stocks.

“The recreational release mortality is nine percent,” said Alex McCrickard of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. “Catch and release best practices are essential for anglers to embrace to promote and ensure conservation of the resource.”

Here is a list of some of those best practices:

  • Use non-offset, corrodible circle hooks to eliminate chances of gut or gill hooking a fish
  • Use soft nylon or rubber nets to land fish
  • Use gear heavy enough to keep fights to a minimum
  • Wet hands before handling fish to keep the fish’s protective slime coating intact
  • Release the fish as quickly as possible
  • If needed, face the fish into the current to allow water to pass over its gills to revive it

The ASMFC will meet during the first week of May to discuss what steps to take next. While striped bass stocks are currently strong fisheries experts expect action to be taken to preserve stocks and to allow restoration efforts to continue. By some estimates, commercial and recreational striped bass fishing has a more than one billion dollar economic impact every year.