It’s been quiet in the surf aside from short striped bass

Bald eagles hanging out in my favorite opsrey nest near Dewey Beach. They were avoiding the wind that morning. Submitted photos

Sorry I missed you all last week. I have been dealing with a myriad of fishery meetings both state and federal, wind farm and state park meetings, outdoor show organizing, surf fishing tournament preparations, and rebuilding the manufacturing facility for DS Custom Tackle. Somewhere in between all of that I get to go fishing, and maybe have a personal life? Nah, who needs that when you have fishing. Now if the fishing would just get better, but that isn’t looking too good with all we have learned at these meetings.

I should say the fishing is fine, the catching however is the issue. At least in the surf it has been quiet, aside from all of the short striped bass. That action has been fun, especially on light gear. The recent storms and heavy surf conditions seem to have chased away all the usual summer fish we still see this time of year. Can’t have the best of both worlds every year I suppose.

Last year we were still catching the occasional pompano during Thanksgiving. You can toss cut bait for skates and spiny dogfish. You might get a spot or kingfish but that isn’t likely at this point. Would like to see some albies make an appearance, but all we are seeing so far is resident striped bass. There have been some keepers caught among the short bass at the Indian River Inlet.

The migratory striped bass are still up north and I would not get my hopes up for them to come close to shore this year or within the EEZ. The numbers are just down that much and by the time they roll off Cape May and stay on that line they are miles offshore following food. I did see a lot of gannets offshore last week while on an acoustic tag receiver trip to check the receivers and download their data.

Black sea bass action has been great for the boat anglers inshore and offshore. Some days are better than others. You can hit the charters and head boats for a trip. Tautog is decent at the Indian River and Ocean City inlets. One out of 12 fish is a keeper if you are lucky. You might be able to get lucky and dig up sand fleas but that is about to end real soon. It is getting right cold out there in the water.

The speckled trout bite has died down considerably, about as fast as it came in it left. Which is probably good considering how many people were keeping beyond their limit of one fish per angler. Check your creel limits before you decide to keep a species we don’t see that often. Keeping too many fish could get you in trouble but also isn’t good for the stocks, that is why we have these limits.

Striped bass limit

Delaware is looking at a new limit on striped bass per the ASMFC’s required 18% reduction. That meeting was last week. I spoke at this last meeting of the Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries. In the end they recommended DNREC take a one-fish limit at 28 to 35 inches with a summer slot of 20 to 25 inches July 1 to Aug. 31, to comply with the ASMFC reduction requirement. This would allow the commercial sector to remain at their current numbers.

There were two proposals that wanted to further reduce the commercial sector. As a recreational angler despite wanting to always catch fish, I didn’t see why the commercial sector should take a hit, so I can keep a 3-inch larger fish, up to 38 inches. I spoke up in support of the commercial anglers at this last meeting.

When it came time for public comments, the council was divided 3-to-3 on this subject, I raised my hand. “I think you all should consider table three. I don’t think the commercial sector who took a huge hit the last time we did this reduction, should take a further hit so I can catch three more inches of fish. As Brian (Hoffecker) stated we get a small allotment as it is as a state. Also aren’t we supposed to protect the breeders more, recreational anglers cause the most damage to that fishery.

Ryan West caught this striped bass in Delaware waters recently.

“I don’t Seen Brian Hoffecker or Wes Townsend (commercial council members) on Facebook taking selfies with their catch in the nets. I do see it all over the internet with recreational catch and release fish, which a majority probably don’t survive. We already know the recreational catch and release mortality rates are staggering. There are groups trying to educate people to only keep one fish and as small as possible. I don’t think we need to make these guys (commercial) take another hit for three extra inches of fish that we should be protecting anyway.”

I probably stunned a few people. Here is a recreational angler saying give the commercial sector a better catch allotment. Yup, I said it. In the long run it protects the fish better and they (fish) can’t speak for themselves. The only way to really protect it all is to shut it down, and that won’t happen, nor will Delaware make much of a dent anyway in the grand scheme of things. We as a state are allowed less than 2 percent of the coast-wide allotment, we really don’t count. But if we didn’t follow suit and have limits the entire coast would come here to fish.

For years we have to go to Jersey waters to catch the fall migration and we all know where and when the spring migration runs the Delaware Bay. If you think the commercial section in Delaware is the issue you are wrong. Recreational anglers outnumber commercial anglers a thousand plus to one.

Bluefish changes

Speaking of limits on fish, we are definitely going to see some changes for bluefish in 2020. The stocks have been declared overfished. There has been a call for a coast-wide reduction of 28% in the recreational sector. So far a reduction to a three-fish limit per angler is being required, Delaware currently sits at 10 fish per angler. There are other possibilities such as season restrictions as well. Seasonal limits would be an issue for states.

The reason for such a swift response and action is the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA). The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) is required to rebuild the stocks under certain conditions and requirements. Unlike striped bass which are regulated by the ASMFC (states). Bluefish is a federally and coastwide managed fishery. We will soon find out what will be decided or proposed.
Flounder could be up for a new management system. It is possible flounder will be regulated coast-wide instead of the regional conservation equivalencies. A slot limit of 17 to 19 inches is being proposed with a limited season, coast-wide. If that happens you can say goodbye to any flounder tournaments in the coming years.

Spot and croaker could have their own management issues when the stocks hit certain numbers now as well. Anglers would not only be limited on the number of spot they could catch and keep, but also the number they could use or carry for bait. That could create some issues for stores that sell spot. If the creel is “x” then a store can’t very well stock more than the allowed number. I am sure that there could be exceptions for that since they would be a commercial source. However you just never know when it comes to these things.
Scup may have some issues coming up as well, like being reduced from 50 to 3 per angler. Stay tuned! There will be a joint hearing with Maryland on the spot and croaker at Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury on Dec. 16. Time: 6-8 p.m.

Ahhhhh yes, the trials and tribulations of fishery management, makes you want to run screaming into the night. The more I learn, the less I want to know, but realize how important it all really is in the grand scheme of things. If you want things to change in a fishery go to meetings and get involved; posting on Facebook and whining is not getting involved.

The hunting has been great for the deer, lot being caught by cars too. Snow geese are showing up in massive numbers. Soon the skies will be full of geese.

Rich King’s outdoors column runs Thursdays in the Delaware State News.

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