With striped bass stocks in steep decline all along the Eastern seaboard, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby announced this week that it will eliminate the historic game fish from its storied saltwater fishing tournament this year.

The derby committee voted unanimously at a meeting on Jan. 30 to remove bass from the contest, which will mark its 75th anniversary in September.

The decision caps months of internal debate within the 36-member committee.

“We understand the magnitude of this decision,” derby president John Custer told the Gazette. “We recognize people look to the derby for leadership, and in that sense it was the responsible thing to do,” he added.

“It’s no secret the bass are struggling,” said Joe El-Deiry, chairman of the derby committee. “Striped bass are probably the most important fish that swim in these waters.”

The announcement was made Monday.

“Because of the obvious significance of striped bass — to the recreational fishing community and to the derby — we strongly believe that the responsible decision is to completely remove it as an eligible species in the 2020 derby, including any catch-and-release component,” a press release said in part.

Widely recognized as a premiere saltwater fishing competition, the derby offers prizes for the largest fish caught in four species categories: striped bass, bluefish, false albacore and bonito.

This marks the second time the derby has eliminated striped bass from the competition. The last time was in 1985, when striped bass stocks had hit a historic low. The decision was soon followed by a statewide moratorium on the taking of stripers. In 1993 striped bass were back in the derby.

Today the bass are in trouble again, and a groundswell of scientific, regulatory and conservationist efforts are aimed at restoring the dwindling population, which federal regulators have declared overfished since 2013. Last year, striped bass dropped 50 million pounds below their sustainable threshold.

The numbers are regional, as the fish migrate seasonally up and down the East Coast. But the impact of declining stocks has been felt at the local level. The derby, which is seen by some as a barometer for the health of the fishery, has documented the decline. This past fall committee members described an unsettling relative quiet inside the wood-frame derby headquarters at the foot of Main street in Edgartown. That quiet could be measured in pounds of fish.

In 2002, 800 striped bass crossed the scales at the weigh station. This year, 146 were weighed in.

“A scientist would say the few striped bass weighed in during the derby clearly isn’t going to impact the whole stock,” Mr. Custer said. “It was a drop in the bucket of a much greater issue.”

New slot regulations adopted this year by federal regulators will restrict the maximum size of keeper striped bass to 35 inches, effectively prohibiting the taking of large fish. The rules apply to the recreational fishery; different reductions apply to the commercial fishery. Given the new rules, some fishermen said the derby had no choice but to eliminate the fish. And there were claims that the derby committee was under pressure from sponsors.

But Mr. El-Deiry disputed both notions.

“It’s not about that,” he said. “It’s about being leaders in encouraging healthy stocks for the future. We have always prided ourselves in our conservation efforts.”

Anglers around the Island reacted to the news.

Some expressed dismay, especially charter fishermen, who said taking bass out of the derby will hurt their business, a small but important cog in the Island shoulder season economy. But many more voiced their support, declaring it an important gesture, even if symbolic, that the derby rise to the challenge of saving the stripers.

“Striped bass have been hurting for a long time,” said Jamie Boyle, an Island flyfishing guide. “We can take the hit.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Kib Bramhall, a respected longtime fisherman and conservationist who lives in West Tisbury. He continued:

“The amount of bass caught in the derby was a drop in the bucket compared to the overall coastal catch — it’s about being a leader in the conservation of a threatened species rather than putting the bounty on the head of a fish that is threatened.”

Walter Greene, a young recreational fisherman who lives in West Tisbury, said he agreed with the derby committee’s decision but nevertheless found it hard to take in.

“When it really comes down to it, it’s sad,” he said. “It’s sad because it’s the decision that needs to happen at this point. I wish we didn’t have to even think about this.

“I’m not bummed at the derby, I’m bummed that this has to happen.”

Wes Brighton, a commercial fisherman who lives in Chilmark and is a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, echoed a similar sentiment.

“It’s complex,” he said. “I think there’s a problem with trophy fishing in general . . . no question there has been a lot of increased pressure on the recreational side of the fishery.”

Some Island fishermen believe the slot limit doesn’t go far enough. They point to the fact that the juvenile fish population is strong, while the large breeding-aged fish are struggling. The slot limit would effectively place the juvenile fish in target range over the next few years, killing them before they are able to fully mature into breeders. There have been calls for the state to go further, by eliminating the commercial fishery and making striped bass a game fish, or even establishing a statewide moratorium.

Regardless, Mr. Custer said the derby committee felt the time to act is now.

“We didn’t want to sit around and wait for the state to catch up,” he said. “We play a small role, but the decision was a symbolic gesture that we hope regulators and the recreational community pay close attention to.”

There is also concern that state and federal regulators are too narrowly focused on catch limits while ignoring other factors, including the booming seal population and disappearing menhaden stocks, a key food source for striped bass. Large quantities of menhaden are being scooped up as bycatch by midwater trawlers that ply Atlantic waters.

“It’s complicated, we all want striped bass to come back, but they are failing in the places that matter,” said Jennifer Clarke, an Island charter captain based in Menemsha, referring to the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

Mr. Custer, who has had a leadership role in the derby for many years, acknowledged the conundrum.

“We recognize the tournament supports the local economy, and charter fishermen are a huge part of that,” he said. “The fish are incredibly important to all of us. But the most important thing is the success of the fishery.”

In the press release, the derby committee said it would continue to partner with fishery scientists and state regulators “in an effort to thoughtfully and responsibly consider the role of striped bass in the derby . . . we encourage anglers and derby participants to continue to think about striped bass, even if not fishing for them.” It concludes:

“While it is disappointing to not include striped bass in the 2020 derby, we recognize it as a necessary decision, just as the committee did in 1985. We hope it again will be part of a larger effort that is successful in realizing the recovery of striped bass.”

Mr. Custer said while no striped bass will cross the scales at the weigh station come fall, the derby name will remain unchanged. And the trademark leaderboard that hangs on the wall of derby headquarters will have an empty black column running parallel to columns for bluefish, false albacore and bonito.

“We aren’t going to cover up the striped bass column, we are going to keep it right there,” he said. “Even if it’s blank, we want everybody to be thinking, and working towards, the recovery of the fish.”