From Cape Cod to the Chesapeake Bay, charter boat fishing captains are angry about a mandate to reduce the number of striped bass that can be caught by recreational fishermen.

Saltwater fishing guides in Maine, however, are swimming against the tide. They think it’s about time for tougher regulations – and some say it may be too late to help the struggling species rebound.

“We are thrilled there is a reduction coming. There isn’t a guide here who’s not thrilled,” said Capt. Mike Faulkingham, president of the Maine Association of Charterboat Captains. “In Maine, a whole group of people absolutely are concerned about the fish and absolutely want to do what’s right for it. People really are adamant.”

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages the migratory fishery in state waters along the East Coast, is requiring states to reduce the 2015 recreational harvest of striped bass by at least 25 percent from 2013 levels. The catch has dropped precipitously in Maine since 2006 and is declining elsewhere along the Northeast seaboard.

The striped bass harvest in Maine fell from 4 million fish in 2006 to a low of 160,610 in 2011, according to the Department of Marine Resources. In 2013, the most recent year for data, the harvest was 443,789.

Biologists are at a loss to explain exactly why the striper population has declined. Possible causes range from overfishing to an infectious disease affecting the species in its chief breeding grounds, the Chesapeake Bay.

“The striper situation is not as bad here as it is in Maine. But there has still been a pretty precipitous decline,” said John McMurray, a charter captain on New York’s Long Island and a member of the commission’s striped bass advisory board.

“I would say probably 50 percent of guides aren’t too thrilled (by the upcoming reductions),” McMurray said. “All those guides out in Montauk, the so-called ‘Striper Central,’ they say there is plenty of fish around. They’re afraid if we go to a one-fish bag limit they’ll lose business. I don’t think you need to kill two fish to survive as a business. But those guys don’t like this regulation.”

Maine has a year-round recreational season for striped bass, although the migratory fish are mostly here only between May and October. There is no commercial fishing for striped bass in Maine.

Under current regulations, anglers in Maine can catch one striped bass per day as long as the fish is between 20 and 26 inches in length (known as a slot limit) or more than 40 inches. Striped bass can be caught on the Kennebec, Sheepscot and Androscoggin rivers only from July to November.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher held an informational meeting in Yarmouth last week to gather feedback from guides and fishermen about the department’s plans to achieve the 25 percent reduction. It was the first step in a process that will end in May with a change in regulations that govern fishing for striped bass in Maine. In the next few weeks, the department will hold three public hearings along the coast. The times and locations have yet to be announced.

“When truncation in the striper population began, we were one of the first to be impacted,” said Keliher, who also sits on the board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. “Is this too little too late? The (commission) reacted too late for me.”

The fishery in Maine was far more plentiful 10 to 15 years ago, when on any given summer day, every other cast seemed to bring a rise from a striper from Kittery to Boothbay Harbor. Those days are long gone, Keliher said.

Capt. Doug Jowatt, who has guided for striped bass in Maine and Cape Cod for 27 years, said that although guides outside of Maine are pushing their states for the most liberal regulations possible, Maine guides want to help the species.

“From what I’ve heard in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, they’re going to apply for the two-fish limit, and word on the street is they’re going to get it,” Jowatt said.

He said that “if the (catch limit) works, that’s good, but it’s a matter of enforcement. These guys know how to cheat.”

Scott Loignon of Gray is one of the Maine fishermen who favor tougher regulations. He has fished for stripers virtually every weekend of the summer for 15 years and he wants the declining population helped.

“I am 100 percent for it,” Loignon said. “I have two small kids and they both go with me. I’d like a viable fishery for them.”

Ray Paradis, who retired to the shores of the Kennebec in Arrowsic specifically to fish for stripers, also supports the stiffer regulations.

“The whole game with me is about locating them, fooling them and putting them back where they belong,” Paradis said of fishing for stripers. “I am in favor of anything that will keep the population strong.”

Two options will be offered for public comment at the hearings this month. One option will be a daily bag limit of one fish 28 inches or larger. The other option is still being determined by the department.

Keliher said he’s heard a lot of support to keep a slot limit, which is likely to be the other proposed option. At last week’s meeting in Yarmouth, two-thirds of the nearly 60 people there raised their hands in favor of a more restrictive slot.

Capt. Dave Pecci, who polled some 200 of his clients, said a slot is preferred.

“If we can keep some kind of slot, it would be good for the charter-boat industry,” he said. “It would keep the fishing public happy.”

Each state’s plan will be reviewed by the commission’s Striped Bass Technical Committee, which will present its recommendations to the agency’s Striped Bass Management Board. The proposals will be considered for approval at the commission’s winter meeting next month.

But at the end of the day, some saltwater guides say the new regulations may do little to help.

Capt. Eric Wallace, who goes to Florida to guide during part of the winter, said the commission may have waited too long to help the fish.

“I think in some cases, it’s a little late,” he said. “But … I drove six hours to be here in Yarmouth tonight because I want to be hopeful.”

 

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