Raised footropes cut sturgeon bycatch, retain stripers in VA’s gillnet fishery

POQUOSON, VA – Waterman George Trice has spent a good number of fishing days over the last 10 years involved with Atlantic sturgeon – first trying to catch them and now showing how not to catch them.

Working alongside university and agency researchers in a cooperative research program of the Marine Advisory Service (MAS) at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Trice has contributed to better understanding the charismatic but endangered sturgeon, while at the same time helping the fishing industry cope with changes in fisheries management.

Anchored gillnets, the gear of choice for commercial striper fishermen in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay, are likely to encounter the bottom-dwelling Atlantic sturgeon, especially in the spring.

However, modifying gillnets to create a 3’ gap between the leaded anchor line along the bottom and the footrope at the bottom of the mesh net can reduce sturgeon bycatch, and preliminary research shows that striper catch is not impacted.

“We knew when the sturgeon got listed as endangered that the potential was there to shut down the striped bass anchored gillnet fishery,” said Trice.  “We changed from trying to stop the listing to showing we could still fish and not catch these sturgeon if we wanted to.”

Five distinct populations of Atlantic sturgeon, including one from the Chesapeake Bay, were federally listed as endangered in 2012.  Virginia had imposed a total moratorium on sturgeon catches in 1974, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) imposed a coast-wide moratorium in 1998.


Cooperative research

Virginia watermen, like fishermen everywhere, must constantly adapt to changing management regulations, dwindling stocks, and gear restrictions – and that adaptation spawns ideas about how to do it “a better way.”

Read the rest of this story and much, much more in the February issue of Commercial Fisheries News.  Buy this issue or Subscribe.

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