Quotas have once again been cut for the Chesapeake Bay's iconic striped bass, known colloquially, with love, as rockfish. The harvest quota will be reduced by 20% for the 2015 fishing year according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council. The cut comes in the wake of the latest biomass assessment completed by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2014, which showed that, due to a declining population, measures needed to be taken in order to protect the healthy stock.
Right away most of the public wants to point a finger at commercial fishermen as the source of the blame, but taking a deeper look into the issue may prove that there are alternative agencies at work. Believe it or not, recreational, not commercial, fishing is responsible for 70% of the rockfish mortality. The average harvest for the commercial fishery over the last 4 years has been around 7 million pounds. In 2006 alone the recreational fishery accounted for 31 million pounds of fish. As recently as 2012 the recreational fishery took 19 million pounds of fish out of the water. These figures do not even account for the loss of fish that are released by recreational fishermen but do not survive. This is called release mortality. It is widely accepted by scientists that for every pound of fish caught and kept by recreational fishermen, another pound is killed when released. Recreational release mortality figures are much higher than commercial, which begs the question: which fishery is more wasteful?
The recreational fishery brings in more money than the commercial fishery and financially supports local communities and employees a lot of people. I understand the service it provides, but really looking into these numbers, is it wise to remove the fish from our plates to protect the fish on our walls? Why should the commercial sector suffer quota cuts when the recreational fishery is responsible for the majority of the harvest and loss? I hope that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council takes all these factors into consideration when setting commercial and recreational quotas to ensure that enjoying rockfish for dinner will not be a costly and infrequent endeavor for Chesapeake Bay area residents.