Starting January 1, 2015, necessary changes to the recreational and commercial striper fishery will begin. Coastal recreational anglers will be limited to a bag limit of one striped bass per day with a minimum size of twenty-eight inches. While the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission did not reduce the minimum size as some had advocated for, the overall goal remains focused on reducing the striped bass mortality rate by 25% next year. According to the commission, the fishery is listed as not overfished and overfishing is not occurring but there is clear evidence of a declining spawning stock biomass. Science works best on the working waterfront when voices from the lab are heard as clearly as the voices on deck and in this case, mutual science foretold an impending change so action was taken, even if you believe it was insufficient or too aggressive. Successfully reducing that harvest also requires three things: desire, participation and enforcement.
Desire is needed to not just fix what’s broken but to be there before it’s a hot mess. Desire is what got us here today. For all the bitching we can do about stock assessments, fishery managers, bean counters and all the rest of the college crowd that wouldn’t know a tile fish from a tuna, in this case we all are on it. In what the ASMFC calls a “benefit to the resource”, transferring of unused commercial quotas will not be allowed. Some of the charter boat captains came out strongly against the one fish limit, believing they could not possibly survive without offering their customers at least two stripers, regardless of all the other fish that can be targeted, which is roughly what they do now with a two fish limit. Probably in the back of our minds, we prefer the days when we could catch and go home, where there were not seventeen million rules and regulations for everything we even thought about doing but that ship has pretty much sailed. There’s lots more of us on the roads and secret boulder piles and as such, laws and cameras are fast on our sterns. Most of this is positive. The path to a protected and well managed fishery may not be drawn the same by all but the destination is the same. We want to catch tomorrow like we did a generation ago and this type of reduction gets us there in relatively short order. We’ve come a long way since the passenger pigeon.
Participation is pretty clear. We go fishing, we abide by the rules, we see the stock come roaring back in a few years. Then we get to chaw on about how good the fishing has been for so long instead of all those “back in the day” stories. Naturally there will be those who think changes of any measure are too strict or too lean but those are typically from folks who did not attend a meeting to have their voices heard. We want to enjoy healthy fisheries and don’t want to see what Hunter S. Thompson called the “High water mark. That place where the wave finally broke and rolled back”.
Enforcement means not just RIDEM officers checking licenses and counting fish, it means that fishermen are part of the process. A dozen people stood up at the ASMFC meeting at URI and told of other guys coming to our waters, mostly from out of state, taking more than they were allowed and steaming home unchecked. Divers seemed to be an issue as well. Well, it’s still the age of the cutback so the men in green can only be in so many places at once. It’s our job to dial the phone when we see such things that negatively affect the fish stocks. Like those thieves taking all the blue crabs they could carry from Cards Pond and the guy who couldn’t find a dime for a phone, we have to help keep the balance.
As for the local fishing report, it’s pretty clear. Tautog: very slow, weakfish: gone south, bluefish: long gone, albies: not so much, fluke: a few stragglers, pogies: some schools up the bay still being snagged for no good reason, striped bass: thankfully always a few in Mike Laptew’s lens. It’s November in Rhode Island and the pickings are getting slim. Certainly there will be bass along our south shore, just not in great numbers, but we should be used to that this year. As always, eels and chunk bait will be your best bet. One up side to late season fishing is less crowds and in some respect, a more compact target area. We all know to look for the birds, walk the beach, give the breach ways a shot if that’s your deal and move around. These coming weeks are prime time for catching bass as they head up our rivers and into deep sections of the salt ponds to spend the winter. So if you have the slow fishing blues, remember that for the next few months there will be opportunities to catch those bass on cold clear mornings while the rest are building rods, cleaning reels or practicing the fine art of telling fish stories, which is precisely why we need to rebuild the striped bass fishery right now.
Todd Corayer is a life-long fisherman who lives not far from the Saugatucket with his wife, who supports his fishing mainly to get him out of the house and a young son who regularly catches more fish than him.