Striped-bass anglers here have a lot in common with Maine deer hunters right now.

Not a lot out there.

This is why Maine’s saltwater guides are excited about a recent proposal by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to reduce catch limits on striped bass, establish minimum-size requirements or possibly reduce fishing for stripers in spawning areas.

Much of this won’t drastically affect Maine, where striped bass — like whitetail deer — are at the northern end of the migratory range.

However, Maine fishermen are still hopeful new regulations could mean more stripers in the years to come. And Maine state officials say that would be welcome.

“Striped bass is our premier recreational fishery. It’s great business,” said Terry Stockwell at the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

“We’ve been watching and listening to anglers. We’ve observed a decline in catches.”

At the very least, guides are glad something might be done to help the struggling fish.

“I’m not so much excited, but I’m optimistic. It’s like steps are finally being taken to reduce mortality. It’s the first step in a long time,” said Capt. George Harris, who guides on the Kennebec River.

Capt. Forrest Faulkingham said at the guides’ charity tournament last fall the results were shocking.

“Three years ago the same tournament had 14 anglers fish for six hours and they caught 196 striped bass,” Faulkingham said. “Last year, 16 anglers fished the same six hours approximately the same weekend and caught two fish.”

The first public meeting on the proposal won’t be held until August, at the earliest, said Tina Berger, the commission’s spokesperson in Arlington, Va.

But Maine fishermen, like guide Dave Pecci, who sits on the commission’s advisory board, can’t wait to express their displeasure at the deflated population.

“It’s certainly something we’ve been asking for for a long time,” said Pecci about the new draft proposal.

“Maine considers itself the canary in the coal mine at the northern end of the stripers’ migratory run. If a trend shows up here it’s telling, as opposed to New York or New Jersey, down where the fish spawn. They don’t seem to see the shrinking population.”

The proposal is in response to recent trends noted by the commission, including a 66 percent decline in the estimated recreational catch from 2006 to 2009, and a 25 percent decline in the estimated striped-bass population from 2004 to 2008.

The commission initiated the proposal to reduce striped-bass fishing mortality up to 40 percent and to protect spawning stock.

Any new rules could be implemented at the start of the 2012 season.

“This is a good step,” Faulkingham said. “If ASMFC goes through with this, and does cut mortality, it’s a good step. If all they do is cut it by 10 percent, all you’ll have is status quo.”

At the same time Maine guides know they have little say in how the population along the East Coast is managed.

“Up here in Maine, we’re just spectators,” said Harris in Warren. “We can pound our chests and ask for other states to make changes, but the things we do here in Maine are not really going to make one bit of difference. Anything we do here in Maine is a feel-good thing.”

Still many saltwater guides are delighted there is large-scale recognition that the striped-bass numbers are down, at last.

“It’s probably the first time in six years somebody in the rule-making business is finally admitting that there’s a problem,” Faulkingham said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]


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