Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

 Vol. 10, No. 37

September 12-18, 2002

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Finally, Shad News Not Sad

Much of the fisheries news this year has been downright depressing, so I thought I’d share an encouraging update about a Chesapeake icon that is not oysters, rockfish nor blue crabs. I’m talking about American shad (also called white shad), which for many decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s was the most valuable commercial finfish in the Bay. Its history is as robust as the shad bush blossoms heralding the spring run of shad up Chesapeake tributaries.

Like many another Bay species, shad populations today are mere remnants of their former selves. Blocked passages to spawning grounds, overfishing and poor water quality have conspired to reduce shad numbers to a fraction of historical estimates. But over the last decade, steps have been taken to help bring back these hard-fighting and tasty fish.

The most recent action came last month when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Shad and River Herring Management Board approved proposals from the seven states with ocean-intercept fisheries to reduce that effort by 40 percent. Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are the states.

The adopted proposals are slated to take effect December 31 of this year. A second reduction phase, intended to eliminate the ocean-intercept fishery, is scheduled for the end of 2004.

The reason a coast-wide collaborative effort is needed to protect shad stocks is that — while each specific population returns to the river systems of their origin to spawn each spring — these fish mix in the ocean. This makes them vulnerable to harvest by the ocean-intercept fishery. And while each state might be doing much to protect stocks once they enter their waters, the ocean fishery undermines conservation and restoration.

Fisheries management is fraught with political and regional acrimony, as commercial interests clash with efforts from the conservation community. Resources managers are left to find some middle ground and, unfairly or not, are ridiculed for their perceived inaction or dubious decision-making. Scores of lawsuits are now in our courts over fishing regulations and management of harvests, and it isn’t out of the question to see more arise out of this latest action.

Fish Are Biting
There are lots of smaller rockfish hereabouts, including off Tolleys Point, inside Eastern Bay and the Bay Bridge pilings. The report from Bunky’s in Solomons was that, while people are catching fish, it is slow. Croaker fishing is almost over, while other bottom fishing (spot, flounder, perch) remains steady up the Patuxent River, at the mouth of the Choptank and Drum Point.

Shallow-water action early and late in the day is getting better as rockfish move in to feed. Fred from Rod ‘n’ Reel reports that several nice red drum were taken trolling off Chesapeake Beach (no specifics provided), and there many reports of puppy drum (small redfish) as far north as Magothy River. Don Jackson told me his four-year-old son Sam has been crushing them in Whitehall Bay.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly