- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced the 2009 Young-of-the-Year Striped Bass Survey wasn’t as good as in years past, but it was still within the expected range. Then why did Stripers Forever say the numbers reflect a deteriorating recreational striper fishery from Maine to North Carolina?

Stripers Forever is an Internet-based conservation organization that believes commercial fish netters do a great deal of harm to the rockfish population. It advocates managing the striped bass strictly as a gamefish by “eliminating all commercial harvest of wild stripers.”

The Young-of-the-Year surveys have been done by the DNR since 1954 and involve 22 survey sites in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. The sites are located in the four major spawning systems: the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers and the upper Bay. Every month from July through September, the state biologists use a 100-foot beach seine to collect fish samples with two sweeps of the net. The index is calculated as the average catch of young-of-the-year fish per sample.

This year the net took in an average of 7.9 young stripers every time it was dragged through the sample sites, which is below the long-term average of 11.7.

“These numbers may be slightly below the average, but it’s well within the normal range of expectations,” DNR fisheries service director Tom O’Connell said. “The 2001 super-year class, followed by a robust year class in 2003, should project for a healthy, sustainable population.”

DNR biologists said it’s normal to see spikes and dips in the yearly average because striped-bass reproduction hinges on many environmental factors. This year’s index is double the value of last year’s and along with other large year classes, such as record-setting surveys in 1996, 2001 and 2003, will contribute to strengthen the population.

But David Ross, a scientist and Stripers Forever board member, said: “The Maryland DNR has been doing this Young-of-the-Year survey for over 50 years, and the resulting numbers are thought to be a good indication of spawning success. However, the trend of the recent data [from 2001 to 2009] seems to be more a measure of spawning failure.

“I suspect that some fishery managers will see reasons to be optimistic about the recent data. Others, especially those not involved with the [Maryland] DNR, should see reasons for concern. If you look at the index from 2001, it has to be evident to even the most optimistic observer that the trend of the index is heading south - quickly.”

CCA chapter meets Wednesday - The Coastal Conservation Association Maryland Patuxent River chapter meets at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Mary’s County Elks Lodge 2092 in California. Mark Matsche, a fish health biologist for the Maryland DNR, will discuss the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s striped bass. The public is invited, and it’s free. For more information, visit ccamd.org.

New saltwater fishing chapter - The new D.C. Metro chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association is going great guns, and the chapter officers invite the public to come to its meetings, which are held on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Room A, in Bethesda. Founder Jeremy Bendler said, “We share fishing reports, have a door-prize drawing and always have a great guest speaker.”

On Nov. 4, the meeting will feature Chuck Fisher, owner of BFG Tackle, who will address the winter fishery in Virginia Beach, followed by a visit from world-renowned fly angler Lefty Kreh on Dec. 2. Kreh will talk about fly fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. For additional information, visit DCMSSA.org.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Mueller’s Inside Outside blog can be found at www.washingtontimes.com/ sports.