I have attended the weakfish hearings since the early nineties, I have read through years of meeting minutes, I have avidly fished for weakfish since the early seventies, My family members were fishing for weakfish in Cape May co. in the early 1900’s, I have friends that have caught over one million weakfish in one set of their net. I have had numerous conversations with fishing legends both recreational and commercial about the raise and fall of the weakfish population. Some guys have personal knowledge dating back to the early 1930’s. This is what I have determined caused the resent weakfish stock collapse.
Continued indecision by the ASMFC weakfish board! They allowed unlimited commercial harvest along the entire east coast to continue, to spite the fact that they knew they over estimated the weakfish stock in earlier years. They did close the wintering ground off NC to fly net fishing for weakfish, yet weakfish continued to by harvested by sink nets by the tens of thousands, not sure if it was legal or as a by catch but it is public record. The small weakfish off our coast in the fall are targeted by commercial netters.The commercial fishermen need federal permits for blue fish, summer flounder, scup, sea bass but not weakfish! This has put even more pressure on the fall spike weakfish and more than likely, the reason why they are not found the following spring.
The ASMFC weakfish chairman claims natural mortality is to blame for the decline of the weakfish. This is not true! The weakfish were allowed to be reduced to the point that this is now a problem!
The current regulations fell short of a total moratorium, the moratorium offered the best chance for a recovery, keep this in mind if you get lucky and hook a tide runner this spring.
Some encouraging news, I received some good reports of weakfish schools in the upper Delaware bay last fall, with some guys limiting out every trip. At least there is a few seed weakfish around.