- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources' recent announcement that the 2002 count of young-of-the-year striped bass was below average came as no surprise to people who have followed the state's monitoring of annual rockfish hatchings. This year's rockfish juvenile index stood at a low 4.7, with the state saying that the long-term average is 11.6.

These "birth rate" averages of striped bass are gained by visiting 22 survey sites in four striped bass spawning areas: the upper Chesapeake Bay and the Choptank, Nanticoke and Potomac rivers. Each site is visited monthly from July through September, and DNR biologists collect fish samples with two sweeps of a 100-foot seine. The numbers of young rockfish in the net are counted, added up, then divided by the number of net sweeps in all the spawning waters.

It is entirely possible that the seining of one test area can contain large numbers of little stripers from this year's hatch, while another sweep of the seine in another location might yield zero fish. So what we're talking about here is that a 4.7 young-of-the-year average for the Chesapeake Bay can mean that most of the new-born rockfish came from the lower Bay sectors, with little or no hatching activity noted in the Susquehanna and other upper Bay areas.

"Striped bass populations have highly variable reproductive success from year to year, with several years of average year classes interspersed with occasional large- and small-year classes," said Eric Schwaab, the DNR's Fisheries Service Director.

Does that explain the dominant year class of 2001 and this year's lower-than-normal reproductive rates?

This year's best rockfish reproduction, a good 7.8 average, came from the Nanticoke, followed by a decent 7.0 in the Potomac, a terrible 3.1 in the upper Bay and a dismal 0.7 in the Choptank River.

Schwaab points out that the overall reproduction of anadromous fish saltwater species that migrate into fresh waters to spawn was low in 2002, some of it perhaps because of drought conditions. A notable exception was the Potomac River, where biologists documented near-record numbers of juvenile American shad. The shad used to provide a major commercial and recreational fishery but now are protected. It is illegal to catch and keep shad.

Sospenders recalled Popular, lightweight life vests known as Sospenders have been recalled because of safety concerns involving an auto-inflating carbon dioxide device that might have been incorrectly installed. If you have a Sospenders vest that inflates automatically the moment it strikes water upon hard impact, such as a boat capsizing or the wearer falling from a boat, stop using it. Visit the Idaho-based SOS Company Web site, www.sospenders.com, or call 800/858-5876 during weekday work hours for further instructions. Before calling, write down the SOS model number found on the jacket label. You will need it to find out whether your vest model is part of the recall that was prompted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Are trailer surge brakes OK? A big thanks is in order to the Boat/U.S. organization for clarifying something a number of readers have asked about. Boaters who trailer their craft and whose trailers are equipped with surge brakes have asked if such trailer brakes are illegal. BOAT/U.S. says, "Federal regulations written for large tractor trailers are causing problems in a few states like Maryland." There had been a proposal in Maryland to reverse the 30-year-old statute that outlaws surge brakes that are fully contained on the trailer and are not controlled from the towing vehicle, but Gov. Parris Glendening vetoed the reversal of the statute. BOAT/U.S. asks, "Does that mean the thousands of boat trailers pulled in Maryland are subject to a ticket?" Maybe. But rest assured that the Maryland State Police are not about to pull over vehicles towing a boat for a surge brake inspection. Besides, the okaying of surge brakes on trailers probably will happen next year.

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