By Jeremy Cox
Something “fishy” happens when some recreational fishermen go out to sea in search of one of the mid-Atlantic’s most prized gamefish.
They don’t seem to have any trouble catching Atlantic striped bass, better known to diners as “rockfish” and to anglers as “stripers.” Too often, it’s because those fishermen ventured more than three miles offshore, where it’s illegal to take the fish, authorities say.
U.S. Coast Guard officials stationed in Ocean City say they are ramping up patrols aimed at nabbing poachers during the annual migration that concentrates striped bass numbers in the waters off the resort town.
The fish prefer cold waters and are traveling south as temperatures cool in the Atlantic from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay to North Carolina, Petty Officer Jeffrey Jonsson said.
They can be found throughout the year in the region, too, often inside the bay and the rivers that flow into it.
Striped bass are legal to catch in Maryland’s coastal waters as long as they’re at least 28 inches long and number no more than two per person per day. But keeping any caught three miles or more offshore is strictly off-limits.
Those accidentally caught must be released as gently as possible, Jonsson said. Anglers who keep them anyway face a civil fine.
But policing that line, enacted by federal fishery managers in 1990, can be difficult, officials acknowledge.
“It’s really hard to draw a line in the ocean and say, ‘This is the line which, if you’re inside of it, you’re legally harvesting striped bass; and if you’re outside of it, you’re illegally harvesting it,’ ” said Mike Waine, who manages the striped bass fishery for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. “It’s not as easy to maneuver a boat as a car.” More....