- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

There really is nothing new about the conservation/sport angler group Stripers Forever saying fishermen throughout the eastern United States have noticed a serious decrease in the number of rockfish caught.

In a recent membership survey, Stripers Forever, which is advocating gamefish status for the rockfish, found a similar survey three years ago appeared to say the recreational fishery for striped bass was improving. Now we are in the last month of 2006, and the opposite is being heard.

The internet-based group’s fears are joined by just about every sport angler along the Atlantic Coast. They would like nothing better than to declare the striped bass a gamefish, which would instantly remove the fish from commercial exploitation.

“In 2006, by a margin of two to one, responding members reported catching fewer or ‘far fewer’ stripers, and nearly 60 percent said the size of the fish they caught had again declined over the past year,” said Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever.

All this is old news for those of us who a decade or more ago had become used to excellent sport catches of striped bass in the Potomac River throughout the year — especially during the winter, when we practiced strict catch-and-release fishing. However, the commercial netters in the Potomac practiced strict “catch-and-keep” fishing.

The abutments and pilings of the Potomac’s Harry W. Nice Bridge (Route 301) between Charles County, Md., and King George County, Va., were steady producers of 5- to 10-pound resident rockfish in the early 1990s. The presence of these fish was so predictable that even anglers in johnboats would be out in the Morgantown area and cast for the stripers with delight. But whenever the netters arrived, the fishing took a nosedive because the rockfish were captured and sold in fish markets.

The decline of striped bass numbers in the Potomac’s Route 301 bridge area increased so dramatically that nowadays hardly any serious sport fisherman wastes his time in that part of the river.

Forget that the lower Potomac, Rappahannock and James rivers receive visits every year from autumnal ocean stripers. We’re not talking about those fish. We’re talking about resident 5- to 10-pounders that now are gone. And if you pay attention to Maryland fisheries managers, you will learn that 2006 was a miserably poor year for recruitment of baby rockfish. There simply weren’t as many hatched as in days gone by, meaning the situation will get worse before they get better.

As a result, Stripers Forever wants a striped bass stamp that sport anglers would need to buy in order to buy out commercial fishermen who are able to prove their income is derived from fishing for striped bass.

If you care to see the Striper Forever survey, go to www.stripersforever.org. And if you would like more information about the group, send an e-mail to Burns at stripers@whatifnet.com.

More dead fish in the Shenandoah? — In a 5-acre area of the Shenandoah River, Virginia fisheries biologists and Shenandoah River Keeper Jeff Kelble found 60 dead hog sucker fish last week. The area of the apparent fish kill was near Millwood.

The cause for the fish kill is not yet known, but fans of the historic river are still upset about kills of smallmouth bass and sunfish over the past several years. The cause of those fish kills is still not known.

Waterfowl stamp at work — It’s good to know money spent on things like the Virginia Migratory Waterfowl Conservation Stamp is used wisely. The state’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries just finished its first wetland restoration project. It was paid for with funds derived from stamp sales. The state, along with the town of South Boston, Ducks Unlimited, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and private benefactors, restored more than 30 acres of wetlands that are owned by the South Boston Industrial Development Authority, located on a floodplain of the Dan River. Wild vegetation will be growing on the site that will provide food for a variety of wildlife — including, of course, waterfowl and wading birds.

The Game Department wants to hear from landowners who wish to restore wetlands. Interested? Get in touch with Wetland Project Leader David Norris, 804/843-5962.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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