With the striper action these days, it’s easy to forget the dismal numbers of the 1980s. One reason the striped bass fishery has rebounded in recent years is the closing of the EEZ. The Federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area extending from three miles to no more than 200 nautical miles from a state’s coastline. In 1990, the EEZ was closed to both commercial and recreational fishing of Atlantic striped bass and remains closed to this day.
In 1979, the decline of the Atlantic striped bass was at such an alarming rate that Congress enacted an Emergency Striped Bass Act. Under the Act, a study was conducted and found that, because of overfishing, the striped bass population was much more susceptible to natural stresses and pollution. The researchers concluded that reducing fishing pressure would have an immediate positive effect by enabling females with eggs to spawn.
In 1984, Congress approved a moratorium on all commercial netting of Atlantic striped bass. A year later, Maryland Governor Harry Hughes imposed a state-wide moratorium for both recreational and commercial fishing until 1989. During the moratoriums you could not legally sell a rockfish in Maryland. However, fishermen could sometimes get away with fishing outside of three miles, in the EEZ, hauling a huge catch, and then unloading in Ocean City, MD.
In 1990, with population numbers continuing to fall, the EEZ was officially closed to striped bass fishing. After the population began to recover, fishing was allowed inside of three miles but with quotas, seasons, and size limits to protect spawning fish, and in 1995, the Maryland striped bass stock was officially declared recovered. Only a few years later, a proposal was put forth to open federal waters once again to commercial and recreational fishing, to which the federal government refused.
In the mid-2000s, some states called for the prohibitions to be lifted, arguing that warmer winters push the fish farther offshore, in the restricted EEZ. Commercial fishermen argued that their main harvest opportunities for oceanic striped bass were during these colder months. According to PropTalk contributor Eric Burnley, warmer winters tend to delay the run south, and it is the bait fish that keep the stripers offshore. This time of year, coastal striper action is where it's at. According to the most recent MD DNR Weekly fishing report (published on Dec. 16):
Ocean City area fishing continues to be mostly focused on the southerly migration of striped bass and sea bass fishing this week. The migration of large fall migrant striped bass through Maryland waters has been underway for a while now as the fish push south. There is a lot of bait off Ocean City beaches near various shoals and at times the striped bass are there also. All know that one must stay within the three-mile limit and to stay out of the EEZ Zone. Some of the action has been about 2 miles offshore so it pays to be careful and always know your position."