The aircraft flew beyond the three-mile limit from shore where striped bass fishing is allowed and spotted a flotilla of fishing boats. When the skippers noticed the helicopter overhead, the reaction was swift and immediate.
"It looked like the boat races back to the three-mile limit," said Col. Rick Lauderman, chief of the Virginia Marine Police.
Striped bass are a conservation and fish management success story, coming back from the brink of near collapse in the 1980s.
But these days, the species may be a victim of its own success and also a victim of anglers — both commercial and recreational — who sometimes flout the rules in a quest for trophy fish. Lots of them.
What is happening to the south this winter could have significant consequences off Delaware’s coast this spring and summer, when the fish head north to spawn.
There is enough concern that Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Executive Director John V. O’Shea — at the request of member states — this month asked the National Marine Fisheries to increase the civil penalties for illegal fishing for striped bass beyond the three-mile limit.
Angela Annino of Connecticut holds up a striped bass. Scientists think the capture of mature female stripers wintering off Virginia and North Carolina could affect population stability. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
STRIPED BASS ON THE ATLANTIC COAST
Atlantic coast stripers range from the St. Johns River in Florida to the St. Lawrence River in Canada, but the biggest concentrations is from Hatteras in North Carolina to Maine. Scientists believe the large females spend the winter off North Carolina and Virginia following the bait fish — one of the many foods stripers eat — from inshore waters such as Roanoke Sound out to the open ocean. As the inshore waters cool, the bait fish move to warmer waters offshore and the stripers follow them.