Proposed Regulation Changes to the Striped Bass Gill Net Fishery
Just recently the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released several proposed regulation changes to Maryland's striped bass gill net fishery. These changes are targeted to address major issues within the fishery based on DNR's four core management principals: sustainability, harvest accountability, enforceability, and cost recovery. The DNR's attention to this matter follows numerous commercial poaching violations earlier this year which accounted for nearly 12 tons of illegally caught striped bass. The MSSA has been the leader in fighting to eliminate the gill net fishery for striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay and will continue on that path.
"We know the DNR wants to get this right and we certainly commend them for their efforts in managing this fishery based on its four core management principals, however, the MSSA believes the elimination of gill nets is the only real option for solving this problem and continues to encourage the DNR to invest in fisheries that are economically viable and maximizing value to the state.", Dave Smith, Executive Director of the MSSA said.
Currently the striped bass gill net fishery has an estimated $750,000 short fall due to insufficient fees collected from the commercial gill net anglers. This estimate is based on current management and enforcement practices, this does NOT include any new technologies or practices stated below. While some of the new regulations may make enforcement and accountability more efficient, the MSSA still has concerns about cost recovery and the commercial anglers that do not adhere the new regulations, or any regulations for the matter.
Please find below the proposed regulations. Contact MSSA if you have any further questions regarding this matter. 410-255-5535 or email@example.com
- Permanent Marking of Gill Nets. This action would require that an individual's license number be placed on every cork on a gill net or permanently affixed every fifty feet if a float line is used rather than corks. Any net on board a vessel must be marked in such a manner. This will address the deployment of illegal gill nets as it would be illegal to transport and deploy unmarked gear. This action would apply to Chesapeake Bay only.
- Gill Net Reels. Outside of the striped bass gill net season, striped bass would be prohibited from being on board any vessel with a gill net or gill net reel on board. This idea would help to ensure that net reels are not used to illegally harvest striped bass outside of gill net season. This action would apply to Chesapeake Bay fisheries only.
- Fishing Trip Notification. The intent of this action is for watermen to inform DNR of their intent to fish for striped bass on a given day and to inform DNR of their planned destination and volume of harvest prior to completing each day's trip. This system, referred to as 'hail-in / hail-out' will allow DNR to more effectively monitor, validate and enforce fishing activity and harvest. The action would require a licensee to contact the Department with specified fishing trip information prior to leaving the dock (i.e. fishing license number, region of fishing activity, time of departure) and again prior to returning to the dock (i.e. fishing license number, landing point, check station where striped bass will be checked in, and estimated number of fish harvested) as described in a public notice.
- Check Station Audits. This action would clarify that check stations shall comply with Departmental audits. The Department will design random, unannounced audits of striped bass check stations. These audits, where DNR personnel remain on sight at check stations, will work in tandem with the 'hail-in/hail-out' system to ensure effective monitoring and validation of striped bass harvest. This action would apply to all Maryland-registered check stations.
- Administrative Penalties. This action would allow the Department to suspend an individual's striped bass permit for up to 2 years for violating the provisions of the striped bass COMAR chapter. This provision would not impact a harvester's fishing authorization, but would ensure the Department's ability to administratively suspend a striped bass permit for non-compliance with striped bass regulations including not reporting or filing inaccurate harvest reports. This action would apply to Chesapeake and Atlantic fisheries.
- Enhanced Penalties for Check Stations/Dealers. Businesses are required to be available for inspection. The action will enhance existing penalties by adding the ability to suspend an authorization for failure to allow inspection of fish, reporting violations, or other violations of provisions of the chapter. This action would apply to all Maryland-registered check stations.
Potential Regulatory Action:
Vessel Monitoring Systems. The Department is exploring implementing a "voluntary" pilot vessel monitoring system. Commercial striped bass fishermen who volunteer to participate in this program would have a vessel monitoring system installed on their vessel. These systems would allow DNR, and the industry, to evaluate the use of vessel monitoring systems. In addition, these systems would allow DNR to monitor vessel activity and would work in tandem with the 'hail-in/hail-out' to allow enhanced harvest monitoring and validation. Participants in this program may receive an individual quota and be relieved of certain regulatory and administrative requirements (i.e. daily catch limits, tagging requirements, seasonal closures, etc.) as an incentive to participate in this program.
Currently, there are two regulation proposals:
- Striped Bass Penalties. Penalties based on House 1154/Senate Bill 635 for revocation of striped bass authorizations for violations that are egregious, knowingly committed and/or repeated.
- Enhanced Points. Enhanced points are proposed as a result of changes to the Department's points and suspensions regulations based on discussions with the Department's Tidal and Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission's Penalty Workgroup.
- Quota Hold Back. In the course of its evaluation of the commercial striped bass fishery, the Department found that problems exist with: under reporting and falsifying harvest reports, the illegal or misuse of striped bass tags, and complying with the regulation that requires an individual to personally check-in his/her own harvest. As a result, the Department is less certain that all harvested striped bass are accounted for, and is less certain that the established quota is not exceeded. The Department will determine a percentage of the annual quota to be held back as a buffer against this management uncertainty. The amount of quota held back will be reviewed annually, and adjusted based upon the industry's compliance with accountability and enforcement measures. This action would apply to Chesapeake Bay only.
- Enforce Check-In by Permittees. The Department will begin to vigorously enforce the regulation that requires an individual to check his/her own catch. This will increase accountability and limit illegal application of striped bass tags. This action would apply to Chesapeake and Atlantic fisheries.
- Enforcement Access to Striped Bass Tag Number Sequences. The Department is developing an application where Natural Resources Police can access the sequence of tag numbers supplied to each striped bass harvester. This system will allow an NRP officer, in the field, to enter a tag number into a smartphone and access the associated harvester's name, license number and declared gear. This action would apply to Chesapeake and Atlantic fisheries.
- Required Electronic Reporting for Check-In Stations. Check-In stations will be required to report electronically. This will work in tandem with random check station audits and the 'hail-in/hail-out' system to enhance the monitoring and validation of harvest, and facilitate enforcement efforts. This action would apply to all Maryland-registered check stations.
- Cost Recovery. While not part of this regulatory package, the Department is exploring options to recover the management and enforcement costs from the commercial striped bass industry. For example, the Department is working to develop a mechanism by which watermen can purchase their own striped bass tags, rather than have them paid for by the Department. This action would apply to Chesapeake and Atlantic fisheries.