Big changes in store for striped bass

August 30, 2014
A big strip of cut mackerel proved irresistible to this 10-pound doormat decked by Steve Friend at Reef Site 10. It was Steve's personal best flounder, and he said a replica mount was probably in his future. COURTESY LEWES HARBOUR MARINA

There are some big changes in store for striped bass regulations in 2015. The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission has decided the spawning stock biomass of Atlantic coast striped bass is dangerously close to reaching the level where it could no longer reproduce enough fish to make up for the amount killed by both recreational and commercial fisheries. Therefore, they propose to reduce mortality by reducing the number of fish taken by both factions.

There are three options for making this reduction. The first would reduce mortality by 25 percent in the first year to reach the mortality goal in that time frame. This 25 percent reduction would remain in place until the next stock assessment in two to three years.

The next two options would take three years to reach the mortality level demanded by the addendum. One would reduce mortality by 17 percent to achieve the desired reduction in mortality in three years. The third option would reduce mortality with a 7 percent sequential reduction in harvest for three consecutive years.

Once the time frame option has been selected, there are many more options for achieving the goal. These include size limits, bag limits, slot limits and closed seasons. All of these are listed on the ASMFC website at

It has been my personal opinion that saving the large breeding-age females is the best way to ensure there will be plenty of striped bass in the future. I cite as an example the tremendous success we have seen in increasing the number and size of red drum all along its range. Red drum, like striped bass, are illegal to take out of federal waters, and the drum have a slot limit of 20 to 28 inches in most states. This means no large breeding-age female red drum are removed from the stock by recreational or commercial fishermen. In some southern states, the red drum is considered a gamefish, and none may be sold. A few northern states have the same regulations for striped bass.

While I am opposed to making striped bass a gamefish, I do think we should implement a slot limit in the 24- to 35-inch range. This would make it illegal to take any striped bass over 35 inches and greatly reduce the mortality on breeding-size females. If such a slot limit were adopted, we would probably have a one-fish bag limit at first, then increase it to two fish as the breeding biomass recovers.

One of the interesting changes made by Addendum 6 is the inclusion of the Chesapeake Bay in the coastal regulations. This means whatever the final regulations are, they will apply to the Chesapeake Bay as well as the rest of the Atlantic coast. As you may imagine, this is not going over very well in Virginia or Maryland.

Not allowing any striped bass over 35 inches to be retained will bunch up a lot of panties in the northern states as well as a good number in Maryland. The northern states do not see near as many small fish as we do here, and Maryland has its trophy season every spring. Maryland also has a catch-and-release season on the Susquehanna Flats in the spring, and that too may go away.

The public will have a chance to make comments on this addendum at a public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 11, at the DNREC Auditorium in Dover. Written comments will be accepted until Sept. 30 and should be addressed to Mike Waine at, subject line Draft Addendum IV. If you choose not to make your comments known, don’t complain when the regulations come out and you don’t like what you see.

Fishing report

Flounder fishing was very good in the bay and the ocean before the dry nor’easter we had last weekend. It looks like the weather will be good over the holiday weekend, so this fishery should return to its good old ways. The reef sites in the bay and ocean held not only flounder, but croaker, triggerfish and the occasional sea bass. The Old Grounds and the rough bottom between A and B buoys were excellent flounder-catching locations. Various baits, from live spot or minnows to strips of squid or fresh fish have all accounted for keeper flounder. A strip of squid combined with a spearing or Gulp! swimming mullet has been another good bait.

The surf finally showed signs of life as good numbers of bluefish were caught even over the weekend under less-than-ideal conditions. Some kings were also taken on cut fresh mullet.

The Broadkill River and the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal gave up croaker and spot. At least two nice speckled trout were caught out of the river by anglers trying to catch slot rockfish.

  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age.  Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast.  He has been the regional editor for Salt Water Sportsman, Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and the Fisherman Magazine.  He was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine.  Eric is the author of three books; Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits.  He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at