Anglers back limits on striped bass

Mystic - Anglers will face new limits on striped bass in 2015, after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on Wednesday approved new regulations designed to reduce the catch of the popular game fish.

The panel, comprised of representatives of Atlantic coastal states, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, voted 14-2 on the new regulation, which was developed in response to declines in striped bass populations. Current Connecticut regulations allow anglers to catch two 28-inch striped bass per day year-round. Under the new regulation, states would have to limit anglers to one 28-inch fish per day, or propose an alternative way - such as seasonal closures - of reducing the catch by 25 percent from 2013 levels within about one year.

The commission's annual meeting is taking place this week at the Mystic Hilton.

David Simpson, director of marine fisheries for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Connecticut will work to develop regulations consistent with neighboring states Rhode Island and New York, and that feedback from anglers will be sought in public hearings. The states are required to return to the commission by Dec. 1 with their proposals for reduction. He expects the rules would take effect by April 1.

In Connecticut, the 2013 gross catch of 915,000 fish was about two-thirds lower than the annual average catches from 2005 to 2009, Simpson said.

Before the vote, representatives from other states urged action, citing steep declines in this important recreational and commercial fishery. While Connecticut does not allow commercial fishing of striped bass, other states do. Separate regulations approved Wednesday reduced the allowed commercial catch by 25 percent.

"From 2006 to 2014, our recreational catch has decreased 80 percent, and that's created significant economic impacts on our marinas and tackle shops," said Paul Diodati, one of the Massachusetts representatives. "I come from a state that also has one of the largest commercial harvests. We need to take these actions."

The striped bass population has seen volatile swings in recent years, with populations falling so low in the 1980s that a moratorium was enacted. After stocks rebuilt, the population grew so much in the early 2000s that there was concern that other species the bass preyed on were being depleted. More recently, the numbers have leveled off and declined again.

Diodati and others noted that recreational fishermen who attended public hearings in the coastal states overwhelmingly urged the commission to take steps to reduce the catch and end overfishing of striped bass, which they fear is threatening the viability of the species. During the meeting, several anglers in the audience held up yellow "Save the Striper" signs.

"I've been a striped bass fisherman for 50 years, and I've seen the good times and the bad times," said Charles Witek of New York, one of the audience members, during a public comment period. "The angling community has overwhelmingly asked for reductions in one year. We're already behind the times. We don't want to wait any longer."

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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