Stuck Between the Rock and a Hard Place

These warm winter days get me thinking about spring and the hallowed rite of trophy rockfish season in the Chesapeake. Change is in the wind on that front and bureaucracies are involved, so brace yourself.

Later this month, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources heads to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission armed with a complex proposal to do away with quotas that have regulated spring fishing for big striped bass (rockfish) returning from the sea to spawn in Chesapeake Bay.

Why the change? Simple. For the last four years, Maryland anglers have exceeded federally authorized quotas, sometimes massively. Each time they do, ASMFC orders a reduction to the following year’s quota to recoup the overage. And each year, anglers, fueled in part by big-money trophy rockfish tournaments and the allure of huge fish, go over the top again, forcing another penalty the following year.

“It’s like credit card debt,” says the state fisheries chief, Howard King. “You never get out.”

What do you do if you get so far in debt you’ll never pay it back? You declare bankruptcy, which is a bit like what King and his minions will do Jan. 29, when they head to ASMFC’s Alexandria offices to plead for a new system with no quotas.