Maybe some context is appropriate. Here's the Maryland Historical Young of the Year results, the results of multiple seinings in the bay during the fall where they physically count the number of baby bass in the net. As you can see 2003, 2011 & 2015 were the only "Way Over the Average" counts since the whopper year of 2001. Our other recent "Well Over the Average" year was 2017, more on this later. The sad story is that since 2000, we've have 12 under average years.
Of course, bass reproduction isn't at all linear in that a huge amount of spawning fish can have a crappy spawn, just like a small spawning population can produce a banner YOY result because of important environmental factors in the spawning grounds, one of the most important being the salinity of the water. Striped bass eggs need to bounce along the bottom as they develop prior to hatching. Low salinity and the eggs stay on the bottom and get covered by silt, resulting in the eggs not hatching. Too much salinity and the eggs float on the top of the water, not getting the proper agitation which is fatal, along with subjecting them getting fed on by birds, fish. Salinity:Striped Bass = Porridge:Goldy Locks.
Unfortunately, the recent trend, including this spring I believe, has been rainy weather, so nobody is optimistic about the 2023 YOY result also.
OK, so how does this translate to catch? Let me share my 2021 & 2022 size distribution data. The "good thing" about my data is there are few variables. I catch 99% of my fish using poppers and I fish the same areas year after year. If I suddenly started live lining bunker one year we'd be looking at an "apples to oranges" to scenario if these data were compared to previous years, but we're not so it's a good comparison.
Here's 2021, where my mean size of fish caught was identical to both 2019 and 2020, at 21". The number of fish started climbing at 16", and there was a good peak at 20", the 2017 YOY class.
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In 2022 my catch had a definite shift to the larger sizes with a mean of 23"! The real bad news for the future is the almost total absence of 16" fish!!. All those crappy spawns since 2019 are showing themselves, and those 2017 fish are certainly growing. Additionally, like many of us, I caught more 28-<
35" slot fish in 2022 than ever up here, most of which were part of the 2015 YOY class.
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OK, one more slide, this from ASMFC regarding the differences between 2021 & 2022. You can ignore the statistical mumbo jumbo in the table. The bottom line is that Recreational Fishing killed far more bass in 2022 than was predicted in the models that supported a 2029 stock recovery.
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So regulators looking at the historical YOY data, the historical population distribution and the 4X increase in the 2022 Recreational Harvest determined that the prediction for the 2029 recovery was in totally in jeopardy.
So what do they do?
- Reduce the recreational release mortality: Like it or not, the 9% recreational mortality seems to be a fact, a current study in progress seems to bear that out, just like the original study. The only way to lower that number is to shut down targeting striped bass, a C&R option would still have that huge mortality number.
Proposed options for this centered around having each state shut down their striped bass fishing during PRIME TIME! Needless to say a loud, smelly fart in Church would go over better than this one, impossible to enforce, and totally disruptive to all aspects of recreational fishing.
- Improve the spawn: Since the environmental factors of spawning are beyond human intervention, the only logical solution is to protect the best YOY classes available to maintain as large of a spawning biomass as possible, increasing potential spawn.
The current 28-<35" slot, that is pretty much populated with the 2015 fish. With the average 2015 fish is estimated to be 31.5" this year, they could protect at least 1/2 that population from being harvested, so this was the impetus for this change. So yes, there was some method to their madness
- HOWEVER, ASMFC has clearly stated that if the narrowing of the slot doesn't help the 2029 recovery, future, more Draconian measures will be taken, including retention moratoriums on harvest, adjusting things to protect the 2017 fish as they come of age, those horrible targeting striped bass closed seasons during prime time, etc., etc., etc.
OK, I've rambled enough. See what happens when the weather shuts me out from my morning prayer session at the Altar of Morone saxatilis?
Crap, now I have to proofread and edit this...