Virginia Cancels Trophy Rockfish Season

A photo from better fishing days

Update. On April 8 I wrote an article for this blog titled, “Virginia Trophy Rockfish Season under Threat of Cancellation.” Yesterday the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) voted unanimously to cancel Virginia’s trophy rockfish season. VMRC believes that the species has been overfished for the last six years and the stock of migratory striped bass is now below sustainable levels. In Virginia the recreational catch of striped bass declined from 368,000 fish in 2010 to less than 52,000 last year.

Mass migration. Trophy-sized striped bass (or rockfish) are the large fish that migrate up the Atlantic coast in the spring, stopping in various rivers and estuaries to spawn. The location of these migrating rockfish on April 19 can be seen here. While specific seasons and minimum “keeper” sizes vary by state, the overall philosophy is to ban the taking of trophy rockfish until they have entered the rivers and estuaries and spawned. Anglers may catch and keep the fish as they are returning to the ocean post-spawn.

Will other states follow? The VMRC has encouraged other states to follow Virginia’s cancellation decision. North Carolina manages its striped bass fisheries differently in different areas of the state. The Tarheel state has already implemented a two-year moratorium on coastal striped bass fishing and has added significant restrictions in other areas as well. Connecticut and Massachusetts seem ready to implement restrictions. Maryland’s trophy rockfish season has not been canceled. Trophy fishing in Maryland started last Saturday, April 20.

Commercial question. As far as I can tell only recreational fishing restrictions have been implemented in Virginia. Commercial fishing during trophy season in the Chesapeake area of Virginia is regulated via a maximum size limit of 28 inches (between January 16 and June 15). This requires commercial fishermen to release the largest fish which produce the majority of eggs. However, commercial fishing in the coastal areas has only a minimum size limit of 28 inches. This implies that the same large fish that are being banned from recreational fishing are allowed for commercial fishing in coastal areas.

Money. No discussion of anything in Virginia politics would be complete without a note on the money special interests pay to our political class. Since 1996 commercial seafood interests in Virginia have donated $1,411,271 to Virginia politicians. The only reference to “recreational fishing” on VPAP was a single $500 donation made in 2003.

— Don Rippert 

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5 responses to “Virginia Cancels Trophy Rockfish Season”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Sounds like a collapse of the fishery. What’s the commercial catch poundage the last few years?

    Is this another example of incompetent government?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I’ll run down the commercial catch although I can’t imagine they categorize by trophy – sized vs non – trophy – sized. I’m not ready to criticize the government on this. VMRC is pretty buttoned down. If I were going to criticize anything it would be taking this long to act. Sounds to me like recreational fish caught have been falling since 2010. I’d rather see actions like banning the pre-trophy catch and release season or limiting the lines being trolled at the first real sign of decline rather than an outright ban after a major decline.

  2. Wow it is super-unusual for Virginia to out-liberal Maryland. We in Virginia are usually the eco-foot-draggers re: Chesapeake. Now we are going excavate our coal ash to protect the Bay and cancel Rockfish season. We are new leaders of Chesapeake Bay protection, or not?

    Just a day or two ago a heard a radio blurb on WTOP about the Rockfish trophy season in Maryland and the person being interviewed said they were plentiful, which I took to be a marketing position based on my Bacon’s Rebellion learnings. if I recall correctly, since your first article Don, in prior weeks WTOP did give some coverage to the fact Virginia was considering the cancellation.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I thought the same thing on MD vs VA. Maryland trophy keeper season stars sooner than Virginia because the post spawn fish pass through the Main Stem in Maryland before they get into Virginia water heading to the ocean. Maryland may just not have had enough time to act. I’d guess this will be the last trophy season in Maryland for a couple of years. Maryland did adjust the sizes up this year and required the use of circle hooks for live bait fishing (fewer undersized fish inadvertently killed).

      Calling the stripers plentiful could be from observed spawning (you can see the fishes tails splashing in the rivers) or from the pre-trophy keeper catch and release season. I’m hearing disappointing news on both of those fronts. In addition, my favorite Maryland fishing report comes out on Wednesdays. Today’s report indicated a very slow pick … partly based on weather.

      Here’s my “go to” report for fishing in the Maryland portion of the bay …

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think the “trouble” was known in 2018 :

    Another dismal season at the Striper Coast and the premature dissemination of stock assessment data has pessimists warning of an Armageddon. But is it too soon?
    By Jim Hutchinson, Jr. | December 17, 2018

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