We Need to Rebuild Striped Bass, Not Move the Goal Posts
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is seeking public input on potential changes to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan (ISFMP). Ten issues are presented in a Public Information Document (PID) for what will be Amendment 7 to the plan. It’s the issue missing from the PID that has us most concerned – rebuilding the striped bass population.
In the spring of 2019, the ASMFC’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board approved a new stock assessment for management use. The assessment concluded that striped bass are overfished, the result of years of chronic overfishing. In accordance with the current striped bass plan (Amendment 6 to the Atlantic Striped Bass ISFMP), the overfished status should have triggered action to restore the population within ten years. Now here we are, two years later, still waiting on the Management Board to develop options to rebuild striped bass.
Instead of addressing the issue of rebuilding, the Amendment 7 PID proposes changing the biological reference points, measured by female spawning stock biomass, that define an overfished and a rebuilt population. By moving the goal posts, the status of the striped bass population would magically improve. Voilà!
There is no new scientific information that justifies altering the reference points. The threshold biomass (used to indicate an overfished status) is based on the condition of the female spawning stock in 1995, the year striped bass recovered after crashing in the early 1980s and a broad age structure was documented in the population. Managing for an expanded age structure helps guard against recruitment overfishing, the major cause of the 1980s population crash.
The current biomass target (where management should aim to be) is based on the threshold biomass with an added 25% to reflect the healthy condition of the population in the 1970s before it began to decline. The PID suggests that this target may be unattainable, but this suggestion is misleading. The fishing mortality level set to achieve the biomass target (Ftarget) has been exceeded every year since the striped bass stock was declared rebuilt in 1995, and overfishing has occurred in 13 out of the last 15 years. How could this happen under a management plan designed to maintain a healthy striped bass population? The answer lies, in part, in the ISFMP’s provision for “conservation equivalency.” Conservation equivalency allows states and jurisdictions to implement alternative regulations that are supposed to achieve the same conservation benefit as the standard measures within the plan. The effectiveness of these alternate plans is often difficult to track and evaluate.
Striped bass are also sensitive to environmental conditions. Water quality, habitat and forage availability impact striped bass productivity, and these impacts are becoming more pronounced because of climate change. Scientists have labeled striped bass as “highly vulnerable” to climate change. While fishery managers cannot control climate change, they can prepare for and help mitigate impacts to fish stocks.
Over 100,000 jobs are supported by Atlantic striped bass fishing, and it’s past time tor fishery managers to turn their attention to restoring the population. Please take a minute to contact the ASMFC, and tell them to make rebuilding striped bass the centerpiece of Amendment 7. Send your comments directly through email or use our form below to customize a letter.
The comment period has now closed. The ASMFC Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board will review public comments received during its webinar meeting scheduled for May 5. Thanks to everyone who weighed in to support rebuilding striped bass!