ARLINGTON, Va. (WFXR) — The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has taken emergency action to protect stocks of Atlantic striped bass. The commission voted Tuesday to enact a 28 inch to 31 inch slot size limit on all Atlantic striped bass. Fish measuring less than 28 inches, or longer than 31 inches must be returned to the water. The new rule will not apply to trophy seasons on the Chesapeake Bay.

The reason for the new restriction is a report from earlier this year that showed a plan to restore striped bass numbers to 1996 levels by 2029 was off track. The 1996 level is the highest in recorded history. A higher than expected harvest in 2022 derailed the plan. Fisheries managers say if nothing was done, there would be less than a 15% chance of the target being reached, and that there could be a danger of striper numbers declining further.

The new slot should protect a good number of fish in the 2015 spawning class, one of the best in decades. Those striped bass are now above that 31 inch range. It will give them a chance to spawn and increase the striped bass biomass.

Fisheries managers pointed to history as a guide. When Atlantic striped bass numbers collapsed in the 1980s leading to moratorium on striper fishing for a number of years, many of the same warning signs were present. Fisheries biologists say taking action now could prevent a repeat of what happened three decades ago.

The new regulations must be put into effect in every Atlantic state by July.