Striped Bass Photo by Capt. John McMurray
Did you ever get a phone call that was so outrageous it forced you to experience confusion, anxiety, and rage, leading to an immediate headache all within about one minute? I had one of those calls a few days ago, and although the headache went away, the fear, anxiety, and rage have not and for good reason. I am obsessed with striped bass. I love to fish for them, eat them, talk about them, learn the science related to them, and yes, I even sort of enjoy sitting in management meetings arguing about them. There are very few people outside of government that have spent more time in striped bass management meetings over the past 10-15 years than I.
The subject of this particular call was to inform me that the members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Striped Bass Advisory Panel were being polled to set up a conference call with the stated agenda being the “Zeldon Bill.” “What did you just say?” immediately followed by a lot of curse words is an accurate summary of the rest of the call.
Also known as H.R. 3070, the “Zeldon Bill” was originally called the “EEZ Clarification Act” but was edited and renamed the “EEZ Transit Zone Clarification and Access Act.” The latest version was reported out of committee on March 16 and the complete language can be read here. The reader’s digest explanation is that the bill states the Secretary of Commerce “may” amend current regulations and allow fishing for striped bass in what is known as the transit zone between Block Island and the mainland. This would be the first weakening of the prohibition of striped bass fishing in the EEZ, which has been the cornerstone action within the successful management of striped bass. To allow that door to even be unlocked, never mind cracked open, is quite frankly insane and must be met with complete and utter public outrage.
A very good summary of the issues related to the original bill can be found here.
A description of the recent edits & opposition can be found here.
Based on where they fish, I understand why a small group of charter fishing operators in both Rhode Island and Montauk support the legislation, however pretty much every other organization that cares about the long-term sustainability of striped bass voiced opposition. The President of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association posted his opposition here.
Many of my fellow striped bass advocates thought the recent edits meant that this legislation was going to fade into political obscurity. We should have known better. The greed that drives the effort to open up the striped bass safe haven in federal waters and put the most valuable fish on the East Coast at risk should never be underestimated.
Normal procedure within ASMFC is that a management board, after some discussion, will task its advisory panel to review a subject of interest and report back with some advice. That has not happened in this case, at least not at a public meeting of the Striped Bass Management Board.
I wish I could tell you more, but when I called a friend within the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries seeking some explanation, it turned out that I was actually informing them of something they did not know. What I do know is that on April 4, members of the ASMFC Striped Bass Advisory Panel were informed of a meeting via conference call “to review current status of H.R. 3070 regarding the opening of the Block Island Transit Zone to recreational striped bass fishing, to discuss the Atlantic squid resource as it related to striped bass management, to elect an Advisory Panel Chairman and Vice Chairman, and to discuss any other pertinent current events.”
The following is a quote from my written testimony at a recent Field Hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources that was held in Riverhead, NY in December.
“As a side note, the issue concerning the slice of federal waters between Block Island and Montauk is not unique. There are other areas and sectors within the maritime community that have issues with the hard to understand placement of the boundary line between state and federal waters. The solution should not be to open up striped bass fishing within federal waters and deconstruct a key component of a successful management plan. In addition I would suggest caution when considering proposals that create an almost impossible to enforce exemption that might open the door for poachers to operate. A more permanent solution might be for Congress to initiate a coast wide review of the state/federal waters boundary line. A review of this type would give stakeholders from multiple states the opportunity to seek needed relief from a situation that anglers in multiple states feel makes no sense.”
If this is really about the state/federal waters boundary not making sense, then this issue should be addressed coast wide in a transparent public process. But let’s be honest. Truth is this is the latest in a long history of attempts to weaken one of the most successful fishery conservation actions in modern history. If this door is opened by the ASMFC, there will be a long line of similar communities seeking the same “Clarification and Access” to the striped bass that are located in federal waters near them, and exemption after exemption will lead us right back to where we were before the moratorium so many years ago. Something dark is going on behind the scenes at ASMFC, and I can only pray that those who love striped bass like me rise together in one strong and loud voice and make sure that this effort is squashed immediately.
If you want to contact your local member of the Striped Bass Advisory Panel, a list can be found here.
If you want to send a message to your state’s ASMFC Commissioners, their info can be found here.
Remember this, if you are contacting fishery managers to share your opinion and hopefully convince them to take on that opinion, you should treat them as you would want to be treated. Treating people badly has never been a successful method to get someone to do what you want…ever. I was once taught to treat those with the authority to ruin my fishing with respect.