On calm, sunny days, dozens of boats dock at Kammerman’s Marina in Atlantic City. Most set out to sea for one fish in particular: the Atlantic striped bass.
The popular recreational catch faced near extinction a few decades ago, leading to a temporary ban on capturing the species in the mid-1980s.
Now, striped bass are being overfished again amid a decades-long drop in their population, and new regulations are coming next year, leaving South Jersey fishermen divided.
The Atlantic States Marines Fisheries Commission, which manages fishing from Maine to North Carolina, wants to put more restrictions on the harvest. In an April memo, the commission said it was launching a study into how to reduce fish deaths by 17% by 2020.
“Striped bass are one of the most sought-after game on the East Coast,” said Max Appelman, fishing coordinator at the commission. “There are probably a number of other variables at play, but these (fishing and overfishing) are the only two we can put our fingers on.”
The total weight of all mature striped bass females has been declining since the early 2000s, after rebounding in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2017, it dropped to 151 million pounds from more than 250 million pounds 10 years ago, stock assessments show.
But for some of the state’s anglers, more limits on striped bass catches are unwelcome. They worry it could hurt businesses surrounding the industry, at a time when fishers say the species appears abundant in New Jersey’s waters.
New restrictions may include increasing the minimum size of fish that can be legally netted and closing some portions of the season.
Currently, recreational anglers can land two striper per day during the season. One can be 28 to 43 inches and the other greater than 43 inches. And in New Jersey, the season closes from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 in the Atlantic Ocean.
“It won’t be popular, that’s for sure,” said Chris Kammerman, whose family has owned the small Atlantic City marina and fuel dock near Gardner’s Basin since 1961.
New size and bag limits, he said, will have a ripple effect on the entire fishing industry, from bait shops to fuel docks.
Tweaking the quotas may leave fishermen asking whether spending money on fuel, bait and gear is worth it when most striper they catch must be thrown back into the ocean.
“Fishing is expensive. It’s a labor of love when you go out there,” Kammerman said. “When (the commission) increases size limits, (fishermen) spend all this money to bring home one fish. ... A lot will just stay home.”
Another issue: Even after being caught and released, striped bass could die in the water anyway if the fishing hook punctures their organs. In 2017, 3.4 million striped bass died after being reeled in and thrown back into the ocean, according to the commission’s stock assessment.
The ASMFC may make a new, coastwide requirement to use special equipment known as “circle hooks” when fishing with live bait to reduce striped bass mortality.
The sharply curved circle hook differs from the traditional J-hook because fish are less likely to swallow them and suffer from organ damage as a result.
On Tuesday morning, Galloway Township resident Wayne Bennett strolled into the One Stop Bait & Tackle shop in the South Inlet showing off a massive striped bass he caught the day before.
For Bennett, it’s difficult to find a striper that meets the larger size requirement, he said. Last year, he said, he caught one striper that was above the 43-inch minimum.
And over the course of a week, he said, he could spend hundreds of dollars on fishing supplies.
“It’s tough to catch them,” he said. “This is my first one over 43 inches this year. ... You have to put your time in. ... I oppose (new regulations).”
Others, though, are on board.
Ron Alia, of Philadelphia, fishes off the jetties about twice a week and supports adding further protections to striped bass to ensure the harvest is still abundant decades from now.
“We need to make sure the sport is here for our families and our kids and grandkids,” Alia said as he left the Atlantic Avenue bait shop.
That’s the conservation mindset Jeff Dement, fish tagging director for the American Littoral Society, wants anglers to have.
Dement is a recreational fisherman, too, and says his peers should trust the detailed, 10-year stock assessment recently released by the ASMFC before there’s another striped bass population crisis like in the 1980s.
“If you keep depleting the stock, you get to the big ‘E’ word,” he said. “We want to prevent overharvest. ... We can’t keep fishing until they’re gone.”
A draft will be presented to the commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board in August. If approved, the board will consider its final approval in October for implementation in 2020.
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Wil Martinez, of Atlantic City, recently caught this flounder and weakfish.
Tommy Lamplugh, who works at Riptide Bait and Tackle in Brigantine, caught this 4-pound flounder this week.
Charlie Nicolas, 10, of Quarryville, Pennsylvania, shows the weakfish he caught June 17 in the West Wildwood back bays.
Frank Nardini, of Mays Landing, caught this bluefin tuna estimated to weigh 100-plus pounds while trolling the 30-Fathom Line off Atlantic City on his friend Frank Marchese’s boat.
Lisa Schuman Hamm shows two summer flounder she caught during the holiday weekend.
Thirteen-year old Olivia Polentis caught a 21/2-pound keeper summer flounder and a bluefish while fishing with dad Ryan on Friday.
John Dailey of Abington, Pennsylvania, caught a 6-pound, 25-inch summer flounder in North Wildwood during the holiday weekend.
Lou Tiernan, of Springfield, Pennsylvania, caught a 15-pound, 6-ounce bluefish Monday morning in Atlantic City. The fish was 39 inches long.
George Conroy, of Warminster, Pennsylvania, shows one of the black drum he caught Friday off Atlantic City on Mark Schrenk’s Jessie James charter boat. They caught a 30-pounder they released and a 20-pounder they kept.
Dennis Lott caught a 10.9-pound, 26.5-inch black drumfish in Lakes Bay on Wednesday.
Josimer Dominguez shows off a 48-inch striped bass before releasing it.
Joey Rocks shows the 10.03-pound, 30-inch summer flounder he caught Saturday to win the 21st annual Brutus Fluke Tournament. The tournament had 146 participants who weighed in 27 fish ranging from 2.15 pounds to Rocks’ 10-pounder.
Tony Supernavage holds up a 30-pound striped bass aboard the Jessie James charter boat in the ocean off Little Egg Inlet on Friday.
Zachary Tomlinson, of Absecon, shows the 9-pound sheepshead and 5-pound summer flounder he caught Thursday in Absecon Inlet. The sheepshead picked up on the top of the tide, and the summer flounder on the outgoing.
Israel Torres Sr., right, and Jr. caught a 5.5-pound bluefish and a 28-inch striped bass at the Longport jetty.
Jason Lindenberry, of Philadelphia, shows the 39-pound striper he caught Saturday on the Jessie James charter boat.
Gunner Elberson, left, and Joey Rocks show their winning catches in the 21st annual Brutus Fluke Tournament on Saturday. Rocks' overall winning catch was 10.03 pounds and was 30 inches long. Elberson won the junior division (14 and under) with a 2.29-pound, 18.75-inch catch.
Tony Pano caught a 20-inch summer flounder in Atlantic City this week.
Bob Dever, of Philadelphia, displays the 26-pound, 42-inch striped bass he caught Saturday on the Ocean City Fishing Club pier.
Bo Khathavong, of Philadelphia, caught some nice tautog Sunday while fishing on an Atlantic City jetty. His catches included a 3.6-pound, 19-inch tog, plus keepers that went 18, 17 and 15 inches for his limit of four among the 30 he caught.
Rich Passarella shows the 10.5-pound, 30.5-inch striped bass he caught Sunday in his hometown of Brigantine.
Domenic D’Aversa, 7, shows the 30-inch, 12-pound striped bass he caught Wednesday while fishing from the south end of the Brigantine beach, near the jetty.
Seven-year-old Paisley Davenport and her father, Josh, show the 35-pound striped bass they caught April 13 while fishing in the Landisville Gunning Club White Perch Contest. The first-grader received a fishing pole and T-shirts as special recognition for the catch. They caught it in the Great Egg Harbor River.
Seven-year-old Rexx Bannan, of West Berlin, shows the 1-pound, 15-ounce bluefish he caught with some clam and a bunker. Also pictured is Rexx’s father, Todd.
Phil Coccia, of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, on Thursday caught this striper that weighed an estimated 50 pounds on the Jersey side of the Delaware Bay. He released the fish alive after the photo was taken.
Phil Coccia, of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, caught this striper that weighed an estimated 50 pounds Thursday on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. He released the fish alive after the photo was taken. Shown with Coccia are his sons, 7-year-old Ezra and 9-year-old Phillip.
Carl Graetz, of Egg Harbor Township, caught an 8-pound, 12-ounce tautog Monday afternoon. Graetz said it was the heaviest tog he’s ever caught.
Travis Dauria, of Sea Isle City, shows the 37-inch striped bass he caught Friday while trolling a white Mojo off Corsons Inlet. Dauria works at Sea Isle Bait and Tackle.
The Walters family caught some nice striper this week.
Leon D'Ottavio shows the striped bass he caught this week.
Joe Rossetti, of Pleasantville, caught a 46.5-pound, 47-inch striper Monday about 2 miles off the beach between Wreck Inlet and the red towers on the southern end of Long Beach Island. Another fisher caught a 49.3-pounder Monday.
Dan Ponzio, captain of the War Dance party boat in Atlantic City, caught a 25.6-pound striped bass Friday morning wile trolling a bunker spoon.
Chris Masino, of Beach Haven, caught a 43.06-pound striped bass in the surf there Friday morning. Masino, using bunker as bait, took the lead in the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic with his catch. A photo gallery of South Jersey catches, including Dan Ponzio’s 25.6-pound striper, is attached to this report at PressofAC.com.
Tom Mossman, of Absecon, caught a 35.7-pound striped bass in Absecon Inlet on Sunday. The fish was weighed at Absecon Bay Sportsman Center, where the shop’s Dave Showell called it the first local monster bass of the season.
Chris Fantazzia, a 23-year-old Margate firefighter, caught this little tunny, or false albacore, this week.
The Starfish party boat reported nice catches of black sea bass over the weekend. Also in the mix were some triggerfish and big porgy.
Jim Bickel, of Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, and Amanda Dotter, of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, caught tilefish Sunday aboard the Hooked Up II charter boat.