Taking Stock of Fish... Stocks

Just last week I saw a report that shows a dramatic decline in the striped bass. For those new to fishing, you may not know the history with the striped bass population. Back in the 1980’s it was a big deal to catch a striped bass. There were bluefish, bonito, cod, and other fish to catch, but stripers were few and far between. With the striped bass population under 5 million fish, conservation was essential. To keep the striped bass from further declines, the mid-1980’s saw strict management practices from North Carolina to Maine. Legal lengths increased each year from 18 inches to 36 inches, thereby protecting an entire year-class until the fish could breed. It was a tremendous victory, and in 1995 the Atlantic striped bass were formally declared restored. With it came a relaxation of recreational limits and commercial quotas.

This chart indicates that we’re heading back from whence we came. The number of juvenile breeding fish is erratic and below the ideal threshold, and there is an abundance of older, bigger fish. The older the fish the fewer the eggs, and there is a gap in fish of prime breeding age.

Striped bass aren’t in everyone’s waters, but the concept of a possible unstable fish population applies everywhere. This is where fishing laws come into play. Striped bass are a great example of how fish and wildlife managers have set fishing restrictions on certain species to help monitor and at times, rebuild a population.

Anglers can do their part as well. Consider limiting the fish you take, even if it meets your water’s fishing requirements. I try not to take more fish than we will eat immediately. This enables me to put a fresh fish on the table while helping to protect a species for my children’s generation. I don’t feel a need to keep the maximum number of fish allowed in a daily limit. Instead, I keep what I can eat fresh and toss the rest back.

Also consider taking some time to learn more about the species you are catching and its breeding age. It’s interesting and fun information that makes me a more knowledgeable fisherman and outdoor enthusiast, true. But what it really does it help me return fish that will have a positive impact on future quantities of fish.

I’m hardly worthy of a medal because truth be told I have somewhat selfish motivations. A fish that breeds today will supply hundreds of fish tomorrow. In the end, we all win. We get to keep a fish for dinner, we get to catch lots of fish in the future, and we’ll leave a strong fishing legacy for future generations. What could be wrong with that?

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.