Man’s feeble attempts to manage nature – including fish

June 12, 2021

Last week’s article by Dennis Forney describing the feeble attempts by man to control nature and save the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse from falling into the sea got me to thinking about the equally feeble attempts of man to control the fishes of the sea. I have a lot of firsthand experience with that subject, beginning in the early 1970s when the striped bass stocks were sinking like a stone. I joined a group called the Striped Bass Fund that tried to raise money to educate fishery managers about the dire straits the striped bass were in. We were unsuccessful.

Several years later, when the federal government finally decided to do something about the striped bass situation, they formed the State-Federal Striped Bass Management Board, and I was selected to represent the recreational fishermen of Delaware. Roy Miller represented the Fish and Wildlife Department, and I think Frenchy was the commercial spokesman.

We had many meetings and came up with several different regulations that we thought would help the situation, but until Gov. Hughes of Maryland put a moratorium on striped bass and the other states followed, we did not see any progress. Now, we have had two bad young of the year classes and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has all but put a moratorium back on striped bass. This will cut down the mortality, but it won’t bring back the stripers until Mother Nature decides the time is right.

Then we have bluefish. I also served on the Bluefish Advisory Committee the last time they were in a down cycle. Over the last few years, the blues have once again not been as plentiful as they used to be. This has caused the Chicken Little fishery managers to think the sky is falling. Guess what – I can remember when blues were just as scarce as they are today. Then we were covered up with them, and now they have disappeared again.

The same is true with weakfish (trout, gray trout). There was a time in the not-too-distant past when they were as scarce as hen’s teeth. Then they were everywhere in giant sizes.

People, especially fishermen, seem to believe that when something is good it should stay that way forever. Have you ever head the expression, “Men plan, God laughs”? Well, Mother Nature must be laughing her butt off as mere mortals believe they can control the fishes of the sea.

I have lived long enough to have seen the cycles of fish, and they move to their own tempo. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with cutting the catch of a species when its population is low. If we didn’t do that, you can believe some fishermen would keep killing them until there were none left.

I also get a kick out of fishermen who try to put the blame on others as to why a certain species is in short supply. Recreational fishermen are always quick to blame commercial fishermen, and that is seldom the problem. The commercial fishery is more highly regulated than the recreational fishery, with just about every fish they catch counted against their quotas. Are there outlaws that don’t go by the rules? Of course. Are there poachers that pose as recreational fishermen? You better believe it.

In the end, fish are going to do what fish are going to do. Fishery managers can only make rules to protect what is available. They can’t bring a species back until that species has the perfect conditions to return.

Fishing report

Overall, fishing is not too bad, if you have a boat. All-day charters, head and private boat trips return with limits of black sea bass from ocean structure. In addition, they are beginning to add a few flounder to the total. The best fishing remains in deeper water, but the Old Grounds are beginning to see some sea bass and flounder as well.

In Delaware Bay, black drum are still being caught at the Coral Beds off Slaughter Beach. Whole clams have been the most popular baits, with some anglers finding good results using blue crabs. Peeler crabs are the best bait if you can find them.

The bay reef sites have seen improvement, with kings being caught on bloodworms and Fish Bites. Small trout are around the same structure.

At Indian River Inlet, the excellent shad run has fallen off. I was there on Wednesday morning and only saw one or two herring caught. Keeper rockfish and some above the slot are caught at night on live eels. The jetties and the light line around the Coast Guard Station have been good locations.

The surf remains very slow unless you enjoy sharks, skates and small kings.

  • 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 several publications and 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

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