A HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
STRIPED BASS LANDINGS in MARYLAND
1928 - 1998
Prepared by Mitchell Tarnowski
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
CHRONOLOGY OF FACTORS AFFECTING STRIPED BASS HARVEST
(* Pounds shown next to years represent statewide landings.)
1920's Conservation measures for striped bass have been in effect for many years. Most recently, restrictions were placed on gear targeting this species and the minimum size was increased to 12 inches, while the maximum allowable weight was reduced to 15 pounds. More general conservation acts affecting fisheries included the banning of trawl nets from the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers in 1924 after it was found that they cause high mortalities of undersized fish and restricting purse seine operations to food fish only.
1928 The minimum size for taking striped bass is increased from 10 inches to 12 inches (except for hook and line fishing which has no minimum size limit) and the maximum allowable weight is reduced from 25 pounds to 15 pounds, effective in January.
First complete year that landing statistics are available for striped bass due to a new program instituted by the state seafood auditor in July 1927. Prior to this, the only fish harvest records collected by the state were for shad and herring. Because of some initial difficulties and the need for further refinement of the system, the auditor places a caveat on the accuracy of the finfish records.
1929 1,298,000 lbs.
The fish and fisheries laws in the State of Maryland are recodified in an attempt to eliminate duplication and inconsistencies.
Among the new conservation measures included in the codified Article on fisheries were:
- Purse seines prohibited in the tributaries; season shortened by one month (previously had been 15 June - 1 November). In the same act, the mouths of several rivers are legally defined, aiding enforcement. This act was specifically to help protect striped bass, which were targeted by this method.
- Nets cannot exceed one-third the width of streams or across the mouth of creeks and coves.
- In the Potomac River, sunken anchored gill nets are prohibited at all times to protect striped bass; floating and staked gill nets are also banned except during shad and herring seasons.
- Minimum mesh sizes for nets are established effective in 1932.
1930's Despite further restrictions and prohibitions on various fishing gears to protect striped bass, the landings sink to record lows. After a dramatic recovery, by mid-decade this species becomes the most valuable fish in tidewater Maryland, both commercially and recreationally. Because of the abundance of striped bass and the economic depression, hundreds of non-watermen become commercial fishermen, quickly depleting the fishery. In addition, with the disappearance of bluefish from the bay, striped bass becomes the most sought after species by the swelling ranks of anglers. Conservation of the shared Potomac River fisheries is an ongoing source of contention between Maryland and Virginia. With funding from the Conservation Department, the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory begins a comprehensive life history study of striped bass which would later prove valuable for management needs. The first young-of-the-year seine survey is conducted.
1930 1,228,000 lbs.
Virginia's less stringent fishery conservation laws regarding the shared resources of the Potomac River poses problems for Maryland. Virginia fishermen, using purse nets to capture menhaden for fertilizer, are allowed in the Potomac by their state despite the fact that it is a Maryland waterway and conflicts with Maryland law. (Recognizing the importance of menhaden as a prey item for striped bass and other species, Maryland banned purse nets in the Chesapeake tributaries and only allows them in the Bay to capture food fish). Furthermore, enroute to the Potomac, Virginia purse seiners habitually set their nets in Maryland's portion of the Bay in flagrant violation of Maryland law. There are also differences in size limits for taking striped bass. Maryland limits the allowable size of striped bass to greater than 12 inches and less than 15 pounds, whereas Virginia only has a minimum size limit of 10 inches. Enforcement is difficult under these circumstances, and there are issues of fairness for the Maryland fishermen.
The Army Corps of Engineers permits the use of sunken anchor gill nets in the upper Bay, since they are not a hazard to navigation and there are no Maryland laws against it. The Conservation Commissioner warns that such activity, along with the purse seine season, could have a deleterious effect on striped bass populations.
1931 634,000 lbs.
A number of fishing gear restrictions went into effect including:
- Purse and buck nets banned as of 1 November.
- Anchored gill nets prohibited in the upper Bay specifically to protect striped bass.
- Talbot and Dorchester Counties banned haul seines in their waters to protect fish seeking their spawning grounds.
- Gigging prohibited, making it statewide in effect (previously banned only in non-tidal waters).
The striped bass season in fresh water was extended to include June.
1932 433,000 lbs.
An important conservation addition to the Act of 1929 codifying the fishing laws of Maryland that went into effect this year is a provision to standardize the minimum mesh size of various net types, including pound nets, haul seines, drift nets, and fyke and hoop nets.
The great abundance of bluefish in the Bay is suggested as a possible cause for the sharp decline in striped bass landings.
A survey by the Conservation Department indicates that tidewater sportfishing has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Most of the activity was aboard hired boats, with anglers staying in the area overnight.
1933 314,000 lbs.
The harvest of striped bass is the lowest on record. Since 1929 the fishery has declined 65%.
The minimum size for keeping striped bass is reduced to 11 inches.
The prohibited zone for anchor gill nets in the upper bay is reduced with the addition of a northern boundary line. Previously there had been no such line, effectively making the entire upper bay off- limits.
A study on striped bass indicates the fishery in the upper Bay is so intense that spawners may not be able to reach their spawning grounds.
Although purse or buck nets have been prohibited in Maryland since 1931, legislation is passed specifically against their use in the Potomac River to encourage Virginia to do the same. It is not binding on the state of Virginia pending ratification by the Virginia legislature.
A catastrophic storm in August causes extensive damage to boats, equipment, and structures, particularly in the lower portion of the Bay in Maryland (this same storm created the inlet at Ocean City).
1934 333,000 lbs.
The first seine survey to monitor young-of-the-year fish is conducted. Although large striped bass are scarce, many young were noted.
1935 929,000 lbs.
The catch of striped bass almost triples, making it the second most valuable fish in the Bay. In addition to the large harvest of big striped bass, numerous smaller individuals were observed, despite large quantities of bluefish in the Bay.
The banning of menhaden catches for fertilizer in 1917 is attributed for the increase in bluefish and subsequent recovery of striped bass (menhaden is an important prey for these species).
The General Assembly allocates funds to the Conservation Department to survey the spawning grounds and investigate the migratory behavior and other life history habits of edible fish. In later years this work forms the scientific basis for many conservation measures.
1936 1,869,000 lbs.
Striped bass production doubles while other commercial species decline (especially shad and herring, along with bluefish, a popular sport species), making it the most valuable fish in the Chesapeake. It would not relinquish this ranking until the moratorium years in the 1980's.
Rockfish are so abundant that 45 tons are taken in one week.
A comprehensive life history study of shad and striped bass is initiated by the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) through funding from the Conservation Department as provided by legislation the previous year. Prior to this, little reliable information was available on the biology and habits of these commercially important species.
1937 2,011,000 lbs.
Commercial landings reach the 2 million pound mark. The high level of production over the past two years is due to the exceptionally strong 1934 year class, most of them just barely over the 11 inch size limit. Because of the abundance of striped bass and the poor economic climate, hundreds of non- watermen obtain nets and become commercial fishermen. In three years more than 70% of this single year class was removed from the fishery after attaining the legal size limit.
Pioneering striped bass studies conducted by CBL under the auspices of the Conservation Commission for use in fisheries management have focused on the locations of spawning grounds, growth rates, migratory behavior, feeding habits, and gear efficiency.
1938 1,719,000 lbs.
Another good harvest of striped bass, although not as high as the previous year as the 1934 year class begins to dwindle.
Mild weather allows sport fishing to continue into December. With the scarcity of bluefish in the Bay, striped bass becomes the most sought after fish by anglers. A study estimates that about 270,000 anglers in Chesapeake Bay, spending about $300,000 Depression era dollars on boat and guide hires alone, an increase of 67% from just two years ago. The total sportfishing industry in the Bay region is estimated to be valued at $1.5 million. The amount of fish caught is unknown.
1939 1,743,000 lbs.
Commercial production is virtually unchanged from last year.
Sport fishing for striped bass continues to grow, especially since large schools of bluefish continue to be scarce. Reportedly, 50 to 75 boats were observed daily in June on Hodges Bar, pulling in between 150 to 200 rockfish per boat of five anglers; the fish were in the 4 to 10 lb. range.
With the conclusion of the initial striped bass studies, a new cooperative investigation is initiated between CBL and the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.
1940's Despite the war effort, when many watermen left their boats for higher paying, defence related employment or to serve in the armed forces, landings continued to rise. During this period the Fish Management Law is passed, restricting the issuance of new commercial net licenses. At the conclusion of the war certain restricted military areas are opened to fishing. Sport fishing, which had been limited because of the war, begins to grow again.
1940 1,187,000 lbs.
Harvests drop steeply from the previous year. However, the young-of-the-year survey finds a very strong year class.
The Conservation Commission calls for more effective management of striped bass by increasing the minimum size limit from the current 11 inches, citing more pounds of fish at better prices in New York when the minimum size limit was raised. No legislative action is taken.
1941 1,228,000 lbs.
The landmark Fish Management Law is passed by the General Assembly. This law fixes the number of net licenses as well as number and size of commercial nets that could be employed in a fishery at 1941 levels, effectively limiting fishing effort. The law provides for additional licenses whenever a fish population increases enough to justify more fishing pressure. Prior to this there were no entry restrictions except a modest license fee. The act, resulting from striped bass growth studies at Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and meetings between biologists, full-time commercial fishermen, and administrators, was instituted to control wide fluctuations in harvests and gluts in the market and to avoid depletion of the resource.
The first meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is held in Baltimore. Many coastal states adopt a 16 inch minimum size limit.
1942 2,508,000 lbs.
After a slide of several years, production doubles to an all time high due to the strong 1940 year class.
Harvests climb slightly higher, but this year's brood is not very encouraging.
1944 2,674,403 lbs.
Striped bass production sets a record for the third year in a row. The Fish Management Law is credited with reducing fishing intensity on the 1940 striped bass year class, thereby increasing yields of that cohort over a longer period of time.
Catch records begin to be kept on a daily basis. This is a systematic collection of harvest data from all licensed commercial fishermen by the Department of Research and Education (Chesapeake biological Lab), with reports sent in at three month intervals. Previously, the data was obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on annual estimates, usually about a year after the season closed. While the old system gave a good picture of trends, it was not as detailed or accurate.
1945 1,544,555 lbs.
Although production slips by 1 million pounds, it is still a respectable harvest.
The striped bass juvenile survey finds good broods in 1944 and 1945.
Spring production from gill nets in the Potomac River was poor due to freshets. However, overall harvests in the river were high because Virginia haul seiners made record catches during the spawning run. Concerns are raised that too many spawners are being caught, especially since the Potomac is a major spawning area.
An unprecedented mortality of striped bass occurs in August from Rock Hall to Bloody Point with the largest concentrations of dead fish off the Chester River.
Fishing in formerly restricted military areas, including the waters adjacent to Patuxent Naval Air Station and Aberdeen Proving Grounds, is permitted after 1 November.
At the recommendation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a 12 inch minimum size limit is suggested by the Dept. of Tidewater Fisheries. Although such a measure was passed by the Virginia assembly, it was not acted upon by the Maryland legislature.
It was estimated that several hundred legally unlicensed short net fishermen and 300,000 sportsmen (also unlicensed) take in excess of 50% of the commercially produced fish harvest.
1946 1,614,896 lbs.
Production is similar to last year and significantly lower than the 1942-44 seasons, reflecting the depletion of the exceptional 1940 year class. However, recent years have had good reproductive success.
Additional net licenses are granted in the Potomac. Because Virginia has no restrictions on fishing licenses, the Tidewater Commission allowed 150 additional nets for Maryland fishermen.
The number of net licenses in the Chesapeake is increased to accommodate returning veterans who had fished before the war.
Sport fishing, which had been limited by the war, is beginning to increase.
The growing number of gill and fyke nets which are shorter than the length required for licensing are a problem in estimating the total commercial harvest, particularly of striped bass, since these fishermen do not have to report their catches.
1947 2,337,718 lbs.
The commercial harvest increases substantially, but the seine survey finds poor reproductive success.
Legislation removes the licensing requirement for small pound nets (less than 40 yds. long), though no more than five nets is allowed per person.
Prohibition on the use of haul seines in the mouth of Eastern Bay except for residents of Kent County.
1948 2,650,745 lbs.
Fifty additional gill net licenses are issued because of the abundance of striped bass and white perch, although the number of pound net and haul seine licenses remained the same. Also, an additional 100 licenses were issued for the Potomac River so that Maryland residents can enjoy equal fishing rights with Virginia.
A large haul of striped bass (~ 250,000 pounds with many individuals in excess of 25 lbs.) from a single haul seine operation on the Virginia shore of the Potomac underscores Maryland's argument for the necessity of a joint authority to regulate migratory fisheries in the bay, especially since Virginia has an unrestricted fishery. Despite the notoriety of the incident and a large public outcry against such practices, no remedial action is taken.
1949 2,628,941 lbs.
Harvests about the same as the previous year. The stabilized striped bass population is directly attributed to the Fish Management Law, which prolonged catches of the exceptional 1940 year class until another strong year class entered the fishery.
The Department of Tidewater Fisheries is given regulatory authority to allow seine lengths in the Potomac River to conform with Virginia laws.
1950's The fundamental nature of the fishery is changing from expensive gears such as pound nets and haul seines to less expensive, more easily handled nylon gill nets. In addition, the number of unlicensed short nets increases as a way to circumvent the Fish Management Law and avoid license fees. This fishery is concentrated in the spawning runs during the two month spawning season, an unhealthy situation from a biological and economical point of view. Recreational angling in the Chesapeake enjoys tremendous growth thanks to an increase in leisure time, good economic climate, improved roads and vehicles, and technological advances in boating and fishing. This growth leads to confrontation with commercial interests, particularly over striped bass. The Bay Bridge opens, facilitating the shipment of fresh seafood from the Eastern Shore while making it accessible to large numbers of recreational fishermen. A series of hurricanes pound the Chesapeake region in mid-decade. On the political front, an ongoing dispute with Virginia over management of the Potomac River fisheries culminates with the repeal of the Compact of 1785 and the assumption of control by Maryland.
1950 3,037,752 lbs.
The harvest is the largest on record, dating back to 1887 when landing tabulations were initiated.
1951 2,336,066 lbs.
Stricter controls placed on the use of haul seines, including annual inspections by the Department of Tidewater Fisheries.
An additional 53 gill and fyke net licenses are issued to replace lapsed licenses. Since 1944 the number of anchor gill nets have increased by 182%, drift gill nets by 76%, and stake gill nets by 52% for an total additional 176 miles of netting. Also, haul seines have increased by 32%, while pound nets remain about the same. This is the result of the Maryland Fish Management Plan which allows for an increase in gear when catches increase, rather than an increase when fish populations grow.
A new law permits the courts of either Maryland or Virginia to try citizens of either state for violation of fish and crab laws in the Potomac. Prior to this, violators could only be tried in their own state, where they often got off without punishment.
1952 2,171,463 lbs.
The winter and spring gill net fisheries are unsuccessful, resulting in a dip in the total harvest. However, the seine survey found a strong year class, giving good prospects for the next few years.
A substantial increase in fees for licensed commercial nets goes into effect. Short gill, pound, and fyke nets still remain unlicensed, and harvests from these go unreported. Many fishermen cut up their nets into shorter sections to avoid the fees.
A study by Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in the Patuxent River from Solomons to Benedict found that recreational fishermen caught 236,000 pounds of spot, white perch, striped bass, croaker, and trout during June to September, spending approximately $320,000. The study only included rental skiffs and party boats; private boats were not surveyed. Overall, recreational fishermen were estimated to have taken 3.39 million pounds of fish from the Chesapeake and its tributaries.
The Bay Bridge opens, facilitating the shipment of fresh seafood from the Eastern Shore to the Baltimore and Washington markets. At the same time, the Eastern Shore is opened up to large numbers of recreational fishermen from these cities.
1953 2,305,817 lbs.
A study supported by the Department of Tidewater Fisheries is initiated by CBL to define the limits of striped bass spawning areas and to determine the effects of net fishing in these areas. Additionally, the 15 pound maximum size limit is evaluated as well as egg viability related to the size of the fish. These studies eventually formed the basis for management decisions several years later.
Problems have developed concerning lagging catch reports from commercial harvesters. The watermen are distrustful about sending the state information after a fight in the General Assembly between sport and commercial interests, where published records were used to support sport fishing arguments.
1954 2,108,462 lbs.
The decline in harvest is blamed on Hurricane Hazel which struck the Chesapeake region on 15 October, curtailing fall fishing operations when boats, gear, and facilities were either damaged or destroyed. Otherwise, good catches of rockfish were made by seining in the upper Bay during late summer. The fishing effort in recent years has shifted from shad to striped bass.
Fishing with haul seines on weekends is made illegal.
The Fish Management Law is increasingly circumvented by the use of short nets. These small nets are used in the tributaries that are spawning reaches for several species, including striped bass. These nets are fished intensively for commercial purposes, especially in the spring. A bill to require licenses for them failed passage in the General Assembly.
In addition, salt water anglers do not require licenses, resulting in the loss of federal funds (determined in part by the number of licenses sold) for fisheries development and incomplete statistics for management of the fishery. The matter is deferred in the General Assembly.
Livery and party boat operators refuse to cooperate with a survey of sport fishing intensity due to a developing sport vs. commercial interest controversy and fear the results might be used in legislation against them.
The boom in sport fishing is evident from the increasing number of boats for that purpose, including rowboat liveries, trailerable boats, yachts, and watermen rigging commercial vessels for party boat use.
Since the decline of the bluefish in the 1930's, striped bass has become the most sought after sport fish in the Chesapeake.
Angling for rockfish in the fall and winter is becoming popular due to new fishing techniques including trolling with wire lines in deeper water.
1955 2,572,186 lbs.
Good catches of striped bass, both commercial and recreational, were reported and observed. Often, anglers sell their catch commercially, contributing to the increasing friction between the two groups.
Since 1944 catch records have been based on reports from licensed fishermen. However, this represents an ever diminishing portion of the total harvest, with a decrease in the amount of total licensed gear since 1951 and all gears below their 1944-52 averages except anchor gill nets. An increasingly large but unknown quantity is taken by unlicensed fishermen, both recreational and part-time commercial using short nets. In addition, most Potomac River fishermen are from Virginia and do not provide harvest records to Maryland.
The method of collecting fisheries statistics is changed to a daily tabulation of activity by gear type to be submitted quarterly. The collection is taken over by the Department of Tidewater Fisheries enforcement personnel while the analysis is conducted by the Department of Research and Education (CBL).
The survey on unlicensed nets during the previous year found the following:
- In some areas the number of unlicensed nets equal or exceed the number of licensed nets.
- The unit nets and catch per unit effort are small. However, total catch sometimes exceeds licensed nets because the small nets are so numerous.
- Small net fishermen are most active during the spring runs os several species, including striped bass, and tend to operate near spawning areas.
- Restrictions on licensed nets encourages the use of unlicensed nets.
- Landing records do not account for the harvest by unlicensed nets.
Hurricanes Connie and Diane pass through the Chesapeake region in August, damaging many pound nets.
1956 2,150,392 lbs.
The decline in striped bass harvest is attributed to a drop in catch by pound nets, which accounted for only 8% of total production this year vs. 29% between 1944-53. This is because many pound nets were destroyed during the hurricanes of 1954-55 and had not yet been replaced. In addition, winter gill net fishing in the lower bay was curtailed in mid-February due to net fouling by hydroids.
Beginning this year, the seine survey of young-of -the-year rockfish is repeated annually in the same areas for better comparisons. The surveys had been conducted sporadically from 1934 to 1949, and regularly from 1950. A good year class was found this year.
Large catches of striped bass on the Susquehanna Flats using haul seines included many fish over the 15 pound limit, causing major problems with culling and enforcement.
The post-war growth in sport fishing was spurred on by a number of factors including an increase in leisure time, better roads and automobiles, mass produced trailerable boats, more reliable outboard engines, improved fishing tackle and lines, the development of waterfront property, and fishing columns in newspapers. As a result, the pressure on striped bass from sport fishing increased tremendously during the past several years. For example, on a single day this year one fisherman caught 168 rockfish in Tangier Sound, a fairly common occurrence.
1957 1,858,831 lbs.
The decline in the striped bass catch is attributed to raising the size limit and closing a portion of the Susquehanna Flats to haul seines (see below).
The minimum size for striped bass is raised from 11 inches to 12 inches. The winter gill net fishery had been making large catches of rockfish just over the 11 inch limit. The adverse publicity from these harvests while the General Assembly was in session resulted in passage of this act, which took effect on 1 June.
Again, culling large rockfish over 15 pounds from the haul seine catches on the Susquehanna Flats is a problem. Escalating friction among commercial factions and between organized anglers and watermen concerning striped bass thrusts this issue into the spotlight while the General Assembly is in session. As a result, a law is passed closing a portion of the Flats to haul seining, except for carp.
Electronic devices (eg. fathometers) are made illegal to catch fish (but not for navigation).
Publicity from an advertising campaign by a local brewery offering rewards for specially tagged striped bass greatly boosts interest in sport fishing. An estimated 203,000 Maryland residents sport fished in the Chesapeake region this year, in addition to an unknown number of non-resident anglers.
Invoking its territorial jurisdiction over the Potomac River, Maryland repeals the Compact of 1785 which had provided equal fishing rights in that river for Virginia. Among the reasons cited for this action was that Virginia was not compelled to concur in fishery conservation laws for the Potomac and in fact had relatively lax laws. In addition, there were serious enforcement problems, especially with residents of Virginia, which their state did not adequately address. As a result of the repeal, Virginia commercial fishermen are required to purchase licenses from Maryland, abide by Maryland law, and report landings to Maryland.
1958 3,105,150 lbs.
Harvest jumps substantially. In addition, a large year class is noted by the seine survey.
Sport fishing for striped bass also improves considerably. In addition to an abundance of fish, this is due to improved efficiency of equipment, new fishing techniques such as deep water trolling in winter and the use of soft shell clams for chum, and the rapid dissemination of fishing information via two- way radios and fishing reports. Angling for rockfish has become a popular year round activity.
A local brewery again sponsors a fishing contest using tagged rockfish for cash prizes. Charter captains attribute an increase in business to the contest as it is highly publicized in newspapers and on radio and television.
1959 4,349,137 lbs.
Commercial landings exceed four million pounds for the first time, representing more than a 50% increase over the previous year. Reproductive success is extremely poor this year.
All license fees for fishing are to go to a special fund for fisheries research.
Ratification of a new Potomac River Compact establishes a joint Maryland-Virginia commission to manage the fisheries. The commission is to have broad regulatory powers, issue licenses, hire staff and manage its own finances. Each state is to contribute equal amounts to support the commission.
1960's This is the golden age of the striped bass fisheries, with landings exceeding the 3 million pound mark in nine of the years, including three years over the pre-1960 record harvest. Sport fishing for the species also continues to flourish. The first fish reefs in Maryland are constructed to further enhance angling. The striped bass is so popular that it is declared by legislation to be the state fish of Maryland. The Department of Chesapeake Bay Affairs (formerly Tidewater Fisheries) is given broad regulatory authority over all fisheries, streamlining the governing process. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission is established to manage the natural resources of the river, considerably abating the long-term squabbling between Maryland and Virginia. Harvests from the Potomac are no longer included in the Maryland total.
1960 4,409,688 lbs.
Another record high is set, almost double the average annual catch from 1955 to 1958. The strong 1956 and 1958 year classes, as detected by the recruitment survey, are responsible for the jump in landings.
Landing statistics are now collected on a monthly basis to conform with U.S. Fish and Wildlife procedures.
A warm winter extended the fishing season for party boats. The number of sportfishing boats on the Potomac River during December through February was as high as 100 boats per day, catching as much as 1,700 pounds of rockfish per boat per day.
Legislation restricts fishing in certain upper bay tributaries, including the Susquehanna River, during the open season on waterfowl hunting.
Mass fish kills are becoming an increasing problem. In the Potomac, the death of many white perch and some small striped bass is blamed on a sudden change in temperatures from high winds. Pollution and low dissolved oxygen incidents are also leading causes, although in general striped bass are not involved in many of them.
1961 5,407,742 lbs.
Another record is established with harvests surpassing the five million pound mark for the first time; this mark stands to the present. In addition, a good hatch was observed, particularly in the Potomac River.
The results of a three year impact study by CBL on installing a fish passage at Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River concludes that it would be of no appreciable benefit to striped bass.
Fish kills almost become routine, often involving large numbers of menhaden, a primary forage fish for striped bass.
Sport fishing continues to grow. As an example, on 8 October an estimated 600 - 800 boats were observed in a 15 mile stretch of the bay centered on the Bay Bridge; most were being used for fishing. In addition, 293 charter boats run out of Bay ports.
1962 3,978,900 lbs.
Although the harvest declines sharply, it is still the fourth highest on record. Reproduction is excellent for the second consecutive year.
The number of full time fishermen is declining, with about half fishing two months or less and 75% fishing four months or less. In contrast, the number of unlicensed fishermen has increased since the late 1950's when nylon nets came into general use (nylon nets are more productive, require less care, and last longer). These short net fishermen operate on weekends and evenings during the spring when spawning fish are concentrated in the tributaries.
Maryland completes its first fish reef, constructing it off Sandy Point from 9,000 bu. of oyster shells.
The 15 pound maximum size limit is modified to allow hook and line anglers one oversize fish per day except during the spawning run from 1 March to 15 June.
A severe fish kill in the Potomac River during September results in the loss of tons of fish, including striped bass. Low dissolved oxygen concentrations are blamed for the die-off.
1963 3,749,000 lbs.
Harvests continue to slip slightly with light reproduction this year.
Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC) is inaugurated on 1 January to manage the living natural resources of the river.
A gradual shift to spring fishing has occurred in recent years, including licensed gill nets as well as unlicensed short nets. This trend leaves spawning aggregations of striped bass extremely vulnerable to capture. Meanwhile, pound nets and haul seines which are generally used in the summer and fall are declining in numbers. Two pieces of legislation emerged from this situation:
- Monofilament gill nets are prohibited.
- Nets or other obstructions are prohibited in the mouths of tidal creeks, coves, inlets, or streams.
Fish kills, including a few striped bass, occurred during the summer in brackish waters of the Potomac and other bay tributaries such as the Patuxent, Choptank, and Chester Rivers.
A survey indicates that a growing number of anglers possess their own boats.
A resurvey of Maryland's first fish reef, constructed the previous year, failed to locate any piles of oyster shells used as substrate. It is believed that strong currents leveled the shells and dispersed them.
1964 3,299,800 lbs.
Although harvests continue to slide, the seine survey finds a record recruitment year.
Harvests from the Potomac River are no longer included in the Maryland total but are accounted for separately by PRFC.
The licensed commercial fishery is undergoing a fundamental change, with 67% of the fishing effort taking place in March and April, up from the 33% - 50% of the 1950's. The resultant glut of fish lowers the financial return on striped bass. Meanwhile, as commercial catches decline annual sport landings are on the increase.
The Department of Chesapeake Bay Affairs (formerly Tidewater Fisheries) is given broad regulatory authority over all fisheries. The intent was to allow for more responsive and effective management actions rather than going through the cumbersome legislative process. However, a provision was added requiring all regulations to be approved by statute (repealed in 1965).
Legislation repeals the provision which permits the Department of Chesapeake Bay Affairs to concur with any Virginia law which would reduce the maximum length of haul seines from 600 yds.
1965 2,949,200 lbs.
The commercial harvest, in its fourth consecutive year of decline, falls to its lowest point since 1957.
Recruitment is also weak.
Mild weather extended the pound net season to Christmas. However, the drought that gripped the northeast created problems for the pound netters, whose wooden stakes became riddled with shipworms due to the elevated salinities, requiring frequent replacement.
Because of the mild weather, many oyster tongers switched to rockfish until prices improved for oysters.
Sport fishing for striped bass continues to thrive. The law allowing the taking of oversize fish enhanced the mid-bay angling. Along the Kent Shores above the Bay Bridge, concentrations of striped bass attracted 100 - 400 boats per day and up to 1,500 boats on weekends. Mild weather through December extended the sport season. The sport landings were often more than the anglers could use, so that many pounds ended up in fresh fish markets, competing with commercial fishermen.
The striped bass is declared to be the official State Fish of Maryland by legislation.
1966 3,346,900 lbs.
Although the harvest improves only slightly, a strong year class is observed. Catches in the net fishery are still dominated by the 1958 year class.
The gill net season is halted during the January freeze in the upper and middle bay but resumed during the latter half of February. In March the floodgates of the Conowingo Dam were opened, causing stake gill netters to pull up their nets due to the quantity of debris in the water.
Two important legislative acts were passed pertaining to striped bass conservation:
- The Department of Chesapeake Bay Affairs is authorized to prohibit or restrict the capture of striped bass on spawning grounds during the spawning season.
- The sale of striped bass by anyone not possessing a valid commercial license or a bill of sale from a licensed individual is prohibited.
1967 4,150,200 lbs.
The harvest bounces back over the 4 million pound mark, with the 1958 year class still dominating the catch. Good reproduction was found at the Head-of-Bay and Potomac River.
Three fishing reefs are established using concrete filled tires on two and rejected concrete pipe on the third.
Over the past twenty years the nature of commercial fishing has changed, with a shift from expensive gears such as pound nets and haul seines to relatively inexpensive gill nets. Many full-time fishermen have found other employment, with their places being taken by more part-timers during the striped bass spawning season.
1968 4,4532,000 lbs.
Fourteen spawning areas are closed by regulation to weekend gill net fishermen between 15 March and 1 June to protect spawning striped bass.
Filleting of more than 15 pounds of rockfish aboard any boat is prohibited.
The closed season for taking striped bass larger than 15 pounds is shortened to 1 March - 27 May (previously 15 June).
1969 5,088,200 lbs.
Good reproduction over the past 12 years with exceptional year classes in 1958, 1961, 1964, and 1966 has maintained the striped bass population at its highest levels of the century.
It is estimated that sport and commercial unlicensed (unreported) catches of striped bass equal commercial licensed (reported) landings.
A study by Chesapeake Biological Laboratory concludes that a shift in the striped bass spawning distribution in the upper Bay is due to hydrographic changes.
1970's Striped bass production remains at high levels during the first half of the decade, then begins to slide. Reproductive effort also declines from a record high juvenile index at the start of the decade. County residency requirements are lifted by court decision, allowing commercial fishing in any county by any Maryland resident.
1970 3,997,500 lbs.
Commercial harvests dip about 25% but the striped bass young-of-the-year index is the highest to date.
1971 2,743,000 lbs.
A landmark court decision removes county residency requirements for the commercial fisheries. As a result of the Bruce decision, a Maryland resident can fish in any county.
1972 3,229,100 lbs.
Tropical Storm Agnes deluges the Chesapeake region in June with unprecedented quantities of fresh water, silt, and debris. Estimated losses to the finfish industry as a whole is about $370,000. Despite the storm, commercial harvests of striped bass increase by nearly one-half million pounds from the previous year.
1973 4,975,900 lbs.
Commercial landings are the third highest on record. Landings in the following years will go into a protracted decline culminating in the Moratorium of 1985.
Conservation laws are recodified into Article "Natural Resources" of the Code of Maryland.
1974 3,502,500 lbs.
The minimum mesh size for pound nets is reduced from 2¼ inches to 1½ inches.
The closed season for taking striped bass over 15 pounds is shortened almost a month by moving up the last date from 27 May to 30 April.
1975 2,896,800 lbs.
Mediocre reproduction over the past four years has resulted in a slip in commercial landings.
MDNR is given regulatory authority to manage striped bass in spawning rivers.
A joint study by U. Maryland, U. Delaware, and Johns Hopkins U. concludes there have been no deleterious effects on the striped bass population due to the recently completed enlargement of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. This area is a major striped bass hatchery and nursery, but changes in the salinity regime have been relatively small.
Buck nets, which had been banned for over 40 years, are again allowed for fishing.
All fishermen are permitted to use depth finders for fishing. Previously, only sport fishermen were allowed to use this device.
1976 1,897,100 lbs.
1977 1,814,800 lbs.
The maximum size limit for taking striped bass is changed from 15 pounds to 32 inches.
1978 1,265,400 lbs.
A joint state/federal program is initiated to develop a plan coordinating the interstate management of striped bass.
Additional striped bass spawning areas are designated and existing areas extended to include entire rivers. Fishing for striped bass in designated spawning rivers is prohibited between 26 April and 1 June in the middle and lower portion of the Chesapeake and from 6 May to 1 June in the upper Bay.
Gill nets are prohibited within 1,200 feet of the Bay Bridge during the summer.
Gill nets are required to be spaced greater than 1,000 ft. apart in the striped bass spawning area of the Susquehanna River.
The minimum mesh size is reduced to 1½ inches for haul seines and fyke or hoop nets.
1979 946,800 lbs.
Landings fall below the one million pound mark for the first time since the mid-1930's.
The prohibition against catching striped bass in designated spawning rivers during the spring is repealed.
In the upper reaches of the bay and tributaries the minimum size limit is raised to 14 inches between 1 June and 31 October. Otherwise, the minimum size limit remains at 12 inches and the maximum size limit is 32 inches. One oversized fish per hook-and-line angler is still allowed except from 1 March to 30 April.
1980's The intense fishing pressure and poor recruitment during the previous decade take their toll on the striped bass population. Despite a series of laws and regulations to arrest the slide, landings crash dramatically to their lowest point in 50 years, prompting the threat of federal intervention. In a drastic move to revive the stocks, Maryland imposes a moratorium on the taking of striped bass that extends over the last half of the decade. The Federal Emergency Striped Bass Study provides funds to look at the causes of low reproduction.
1980 2,100,989 lbs.
A series of gear restrictions for striped bass conservation go into effect:
- Gill nets with mesh greater than 6 inches are prohibited.
- Gill nets are prohibited in the upper and middle Bay from Howell Pt. south to Kent Pt. (excluding tributaries) from 1 June to 31 October.
- Commercial hook and line fishing is prohibited within 1,200 feet of the Bay Bridge.
1981 1,641,020 lbs.
Reproductive effort, as measured by the juvenile index, is the lowest on record.
First large scale stocking of hatchery-reared striped bass in Maryland. Approximately 1.2 million fry are released from the newly completed state facility.
The first Interstate Striped Bass Management Plan is approved.
1982 518,215 lbs.
Commercial landings plunge to their lowest point in 50 years.
New striped bass regulations based on the recommendations of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Interstate Striped Bass Management Plan go into effect:
- Spawning reaches are established for special conservation efforts within the designated spawning areas and rivers.
- Gill net fishing or keeping striped bass caught with any other gear is prohibited in spawning reaches from 12 April to 1 June.
- Within spawning rivers and areas the minimum mesh size for gill nets is increased to 3½ inches from 15 March to 1 June.
- Recreational fishermen may keep no more than 10 striped bass per day.
- The Atlantic coastal minimum size limit is raised to 24 inches.
1983 445,584 lbs.
Additional recommendations from the Interstate Striped Bass Management Plan are adopted in Maryland:
- Minimum size limit raised to 14 inches throughout the state. However, MDNR is given authority to lower the limit to 12 inches any year the juvenile index exceeds 15.
- The maximum size limit is retained to protect large migrating females.
A survey of tidewater anglers finds bluefish are once again the most sought after sport fish except in November and December when striped bass are most popular. Meanwhile, the recreational harvest of rockfish continues to decline.
Virginia and Maryland establish uniform provisions for pursuit of fisheries offenders over state lines and revocation of licenses.
North Carolina prohibits catching striped bass in ocean waters.
1984 1,109,037 lbs.
Another series of regulations for striped bass conservation are adopted:
- Striped bass spawning reaches are expanded to include the Susquehanna River up to Conowingo Dam and the Susquehanna Flats.
- Anchor gill nets are prohibited in the Bay and tributaries north of the Bay Bridge as well as spawning rivers and areas from 1 March to 31 May.
- Drift and stake gill nets in the Bay and tributaries north of the Bay Bridge as well as spawning rivers and areas must have a minimum mesh size of 3½ inches from 1 March to 31 May. The minimum mesh size increases to 4 inches on 1 November for gill nets in these areas.
- The daily recreational catch limit is reduced to 5 fish/day.
- Striped bass cannot be taken by pound nets between 1 March and 31 May.
1985 The Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act requires that states implement the Interstate Striped Bass Management Plan calling for a 55% harvest reduction in all coastal states or face federal closure. Maryland responds by declaring the striped bass a threatened species and placing a moratorium on the taking of striped bass effective 1 January.
Several new restrictions on gill nets become effective:
- Gill nets are prohibited in striped bass spawning reaches at all times.
- Gill nets (4 - 6 inch mesh) are allowed in the middle and lower Bay south of Kent Pt. (excluding tributaries) only from 1 June to 30 September.
- Attended drift gill nets with 2½ to 3½ inch mesh may be fished in the Bay and tributaries outside of the spawning reaches.
- Otherwise, all gill netting in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is prohibited.
- Gill nets may not be set or fished between sunset and one hour before sunrise.
The Maryland tidal fishing license for recreational anglers is implemented.
1988 A two year waiting period for tidal fish licenses is instituted for better management of the resource (eg. adopt meaningful catch limits; act as a buffer against overfishing in good years).
1989 Surveys have found a five-fold increase in the number of spawning striped bass females since 1982. In addition, there has been growth in the overall stock size and an increased range of ages. Also, the juvenile index meets the criteria outlined in the management plan (a three year running average of 8.0) to reopen the fishery.
Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission place moratoriums on fishing for striped bass.
1990's In 1990 regulations were drafted to allow a limited fishery for striped bass. Since then quotas have been set and strictly controlled by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. These restrictions have allowed the stocks to build up to historical levels. In 1993 the juvenile index reached a record high, topping the previous mark set in 1970.
1990 42,486 lbs.
A dramatic recovery of adult striped bass stocks and good reproductive success in recent years results in the lifting of the five year moratorium on harvests. A stringently enforced quota system is established, backed by stiff penalties for violations. A new chapter in the Code of Maryland Regulation pertaining solely to striped bass provides for:
- an abbreviated 1990-91 season with 318,750 lbs. target quotas for both commercial and recreational fishermen and 112,500 lbs. for charter boats,
- daily catch limits for recreational anglers (2/day) and charter boats (5/day/angler),
- daily and seasonal catch limits for commercial fishermen with a 10% tolerance,
- commercial gill net restrictions using only attended drift gill nets with 5 - 7 inch mesh,
- a minimum size limit of 18 in. with a 36 in. maximum limit in Chesapeake Bay,
- time restrictions (possession of striped bass is illegal between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.).
A commercial striped bass license is required to participate in the fishery. The fees from this license is to be used for enforcement purposes.
1991 151,389 lbs.
The total harvest quota is set at 1,075,000 lbs., of which 456,747 lbs. each is allocated to commercial and recreational interests and 161,206 lbs. goes to charter boats. The fishing seasons are expanded.
A spring recreational trophy season is established with a minimum size limit of 36 inches.
1992 609,257 lbs.
The total harvest quota is raised to 1,636,000 lbs., of which 695,300 lbs. each is allocated to commercial and recreational fishermen and 245,400 lbs. goes to charter boats. The fishing seasons are again expanded.
Legislation establishes a special striped bass recreational fishing permit which includes a surcharge for striped bass management.
1993 981,000 lbs.
The total harvest quota increases to 2.3 million lbs., of which 977,500 lbs. each is allocated to commercial and recreational fishermen and 345,000 goes to charter boats.
1994 955,175 lbs.
The total harvest quota goes up to 2,634,434 lbs., of which 1.0 million lbs. each is allocated to commercial and recreational fishermen and 351,696 lbs. goes to charter boats, with the remainder held in reserve to allow for a 10% tolerance in overharvesting. A separate quota of 5,000 fish is established for the spring trophy season focusing on the migratory coastal population, which is distinct from the resident Chesapeake stocks.
The maximum size limit for striped bass is lifted.
The minimum size limit for the spring trophy season is lowered to 34 inches.
MDNR is given authority to limit entry into the fisheries. The number of permits to fish for striped bass is restricted to 1,231 for commercial licensees and 499 for fishing guide (charter boat) licensees. The two year delayed entry is eliminated.
1995 1,281,086 lbs.
The method for allocating quotas is revised, with the commercial quota increasing to 1,222,000 lbs. The spring and summer recreational and charter boat fisheries are allowed a total catch of 25,000 fish, distributed among the anglers by means of daily and seasonal (spring) catch limits. No target quota is established for the recreational and charter boat fall fishery but a catch limit of two striped bass/person/day is set. In addition, the recreational fishery is expanded to include a summer season (1 June - 4 July) and an extended fall season (lengthened by three weeks).
The minimum size limit for the spring recreational season is again reduced to 32 inches, while 26 inches is established for the new summer season.
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) declares the coastal striped bass population recovered.
A new Maryland sportfishing record for striped bass is established at 67 lbs. 8 ozs.
1996 1,563,078 lbs.
The commercial striped bass allocation climbs to 1,816,000 lbs. with expanded seasons. Seasonal and daily catch limits remain unchanged for recreational and charter boat anglers, although the total harvest quota for the spring and summer seasons is dropped. The minimum size limit is increased to 28 inches during the first half of June but reverts back to 26 inches for the remainder of the summer season.
1997 2,211,526 lbs.
The quota is raised to 2,348,500 lbs. for the commercial striped bass fishery and 3,178,100 lbs. for the recreational/charter fishery. There are minor changes to the recreational and charter boat seasons.
All commercial seasons are lengthened except for gill nets.
1998 Quotas are the same as in 1997 with minor changes in seasons.
Minimum size limits are reduced to 28 inches during the spring recreational season (except for the Potomac River and its tributaries which remain at 32 inches) and 18 inches for latter part of the summer recreational season (the first half of June remains at 28 inches).