Anglers living along the Atlantic Coast know all too well how excited the fishing community gets in the weeks leading up to striped bass season. And the hype surrounding Atlantic stripers is within reason as the fish can grow quite large and are a smart seafood choice. With the many benefits and interest surrounding striped bass, some fishermen may have become a bit overzealous over the past couple of decades as the population declined drastically due to overfishing.
Today, NOAA reports that populations, despite the many management strategies implemented, are still “Significantly below target levels.” Fortunately, coastal conservation groups have not been idle in response to these declines, enforcing daily catch limits, size requirements and a few other regulations meant to encourage population growth. Stabilizing the population is important to preserving striped bass as a long-term resource. If regulations aren’t followed as populations decline, Atlantic striped bass fishing may be lost to the ages, a simple old fishing tale.
Unfortunately, not all see the importance of following fishing regulations, and coastal authorities are planning to do something about it. Violating fishing regulations in efforts to catch striped bass has become known to those on the shoreline as striped bass poaching. Though often only associated with terrestrial animals, National Geographic explains, “Poaching is the illegal trafficking and killing of wildlife.” While rhinos and elephants have been and continue to be victims of poachers, even small-scale fishing endeavors fall under the same descriptor of crime.
The U.S. Coast Guard and state Conservation Police are all invested in cracking down on striped bass poaching in order to ensure populations remain steady. The state has implemented fines, many of which add up to be quite substantial, to deter anglers from overfishing stripers. Violating these regulations for anglers is similar to shooting oneself in the foot—eventually, there might not be any more bass to catch.
Some possible and common violations in New Jersey are keeping fish that are too large or too small, using a net to catch bass without a permit, and fishing and keeping a striped bass caught in federal waters. In New Jersey, stripers must weigh between 28 and 37 inches and be caught within the state’s 3-mile exclusive economic zone to be legally harvested. Additionally, in New Jersey, striped bass cannot be sold. Of course, every state has different regulations, but New Jersey’s laws mirror many of those found in other coastal states.
Depending on the state, some bays or coastal areas are more victimized by poachers than others, and states have had to become creative with various management strategies. The Fisherman reports that, in New Jersey, Raritan Bayshore is often a subject of poaching investigations. As a result, the state is considering seasonal closures of Raritan Bayshore to prevent poaching, as there will be fewer people on the water, making identifying poachers easier.
The state also found that fines are the best approach to managing poachers. Unfortunately, a strong fisheries conviction in civil courts can be difficult to obtain, making financial punishments a more effective method of enforcing fishing restrictions. The violations all fall under New Jersey’s laws against poaching, as many of these bass are destined for underground markets since selling striped sea bass is illegal in New Jersey. As it turns out, fines can undoubtedly add up for large-scale poachers. In Rhode Island, a poacher found himself a $9,000 fine for his multiple infractions, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
States only have jurisdiction over the protection of striped bass within 3 miles of the coast, also known as the state’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Outside of those 3 miles (up to 200 miles offshore), the federal government is tasked with handling all fishing violations and punishments for infractions. While most states allow some striped bass fishing and possession, federal waters have a moratorium that prohibits “all commercial and recreational fishing for Atlantic striped bass,” according to NOAA.
Despite investing years into resource management, Atlantic striped bass populations are still lower than officials would like. And as severe as the fines may seem, the laws surrounding striper fishing are based in common sense. There needs to be a substantive healthy population of fish for the species to continue. Following the appropriate state’s guidelines prevents interested fishers from being issued a fine and protects the resource for future anglers.