Fishing activity has pretty much shut down. Even the freshwater impoundments are frozen over, keeping anglers off of the water. The only one that I know that has been out over the past week was us. We managed to sneak out, in between snow storms, into a very lonely Atlantic Ocean. We did have a navy ship out there to keep us company. March is here and with it, we should start seeing more fishing windows in the weather. When we can get out, there should be some tuna available out of the inlets of North Carolina. Bluefin, blackfin, and yellowfin tuna should all be in the waters in reach of boats sailing from Oregon and Hatteras Inlets. Out of Virginia, we will still be pretty much limited to fishing for tautog on the coastal wrecks. Tautog inside the bay may not become active until April.
Boats heading offshore will be able to catch blueline tilefish and other creatures from the deep. There will likely be new blueline regulations coming soon that will have the potential of sustaining this fishery or could go far enough to pretty much shut the fishery down. The offshore waters south of Virginia have been managed by the South-Atlantic Council. From Virginia on north, there really have not been blueline tilefish (or grouper) regulations. Virginia enacted proactive regulations to sustain this recreational fishery and to allow for a commercial bycatch fishery. Maryland soon followed suit. States further north have not. A directed commercial fishery has developed on these fish in the area of the Norfolk and Washington Canyons. The fishery cannot handle this and overall, the stocks of blueline tilefish and especially snowy grouper are considered greatly depressed. The regulations, put in place by Virginia and Maryland, are being bypassed by landing the fish in states to the north where there are no regulations. The Mid-Atlantic Council is working on establishing emergency regulations for all of the offshore waters from Virginia on north. They are looking at regulations similar to the ones we have in Virginia now. Of course, the commercial fishermen will think that would be too restrictive. The South-Atlantic Council is also considering taking the action of extending their regulations on up the coast. If that happens, we will see regulations that are very complex and restrictive. There is a lot of discussion going on at the federal and council levels right now so stay tuned.Despite the cold water, striped bass are moving back into the bay for their spawning runs. It will be possible to intercept some of these fish in open waters as they move in from offshore. Catch and release activity will also be possible inside the bay and up in the rivers over the next month. Anglers do have some choices to make on striped bass regulations. Inside the bay, the minimum size will be increasing from 18 to 20 inches during the spring and fall seasons. The spring trophy season will see the minimum increase from 32 inches to 36 inches. The decision concerns the coastal fishery. Currently, we are allowed to keep one striped bass at least 28 inches long. We can stay at that but there are some approved options that would allow a 2-fish bag limit: 2 fish at least 33 inches long, 1 fish 28-36 inches and 1 fish over 36 inches, 1 fish 28-38 inches and one fish over 38 inches. So, we have 4 options to choose from for out coastal fishery. The decision will be made at the March VMRC meeting so let your opinions be known now.
Speckled trout are another fish we are used to catching through the winter and spring. Last winter, large cold-water kills of speckled trout in both North Carolina and Virginia led to closures of the recreational fisheries to allow for a recovery. In Virginia, bag limits were reduced from 10 fish to 5 fish with only one fish 24 inches or greater. Changes were also made in the commercial fishery to make sure that their quota would not be exceeded. There were requests to the VMRC to increase the commercial quota and the recreational bag limit. At the February Commission Meeting, these requests were denied by the Commission. Currently, there are additional cold-water kills taking place in both Virginia and North Carolina. So far, they do not seem to be as severe as what happened last winter and at this time, there are no plans for closures of the fisheries in either North Carolina or Virginia.