nothing beats a good argument about fish

by | Mar 6, 2015 | Alewife Fishing, Block Island, Striped Bass Fishing

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Hopefully by now, fishermen who target striped bass or any other local species will have sent an email to the RIDEM about proposed regulations for this year’s striper season. We have an amazing and rare opportunity to get out ahead of a fishery in trouble, trouble that we put it in by catching lots of those big female breeders all last summer and for years past. With this kind of advance warning, we can create rules which will help rebuild the stocks in a few short years. Instead, we’re going to argue.

There are two proposals on the table. Actually, first there was one: a limit of one fish per day at a minimum length of 28” brought about largely by attentive and participatory anglers who spoke at hearings, sent emails and voted to accept this reduction in harvest and size as a means to an end. The commercial guys took a 25% quota hit right off the top. It’s a bitter pill in some ways because stripers are a game fish, they are smart and can hide right in front of us and they fight hard and keep us coming back night after night. That’s the carrot in this deal because many want to get into that fifty-pounder club or even just catch one bigger than the last.  But a democratic decision was made to suck it up for a few years.

Then all of a sudden, there was a second proposal, one which would allow charter boats to continue to keep two bass per person, and that includes the captain and the mate, with a minimum size of 32”. So for the quick math, a recreational person can fish this summer and if they so choose, keep one fish while a charter boat can take 6 paying customers on potentially two trips per day, who can each keep 2 fish, plus the crew which means when the fish are in, that’s a take of up to 32 bass per day. Per boat. It’s not worth the exercise here to count up all the charter boats and make a declaration of potential harvests, but let’s just say this: we all burned this stock and we all need to build it back up. Remember the classic Animal Farm, where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”? Not this time; any vote to rebuild the striper stocks should be a vote of equity.

The other side here that the charter boats operators are missing a serious marketing opportunity. One fish does not mean the sky is falling or that customers will not return but it does mean that they can be educated on the stock’s health, learn that most large bass are females and are needed to sustain the population. They can be reminded that for the hours they have contracted they can fish fish fish and that they get to keep one and that there are other fish to target in our local waters. One charter boat website already mentions, “going to Block Island for fluke, sea bass, striped bass, bluefish, and other species of gamefish.” Florida has made bonefish a catch- and-release only species and a quick internet tour of captains and guides shows the industry is doing just fine. As a sport, you hire a guide with the knowledge that if you catch one, you get to return it after the battle. That’s the deal.

At the RIDEM hearing last week, support was voiced for both options. Peter Jenkins, owner of The Salt Water Edge in Middletown, made the case for option one, if for just the ease of enforcement. That’s a position many people have taken. Looking up at the podium, where ACCSP Coordinator Nichole Ares had just presented regulatory information, Captain Denny Dillon wagged his finger, referring to her as “that little lady over there”, and then tried to draw commercial fishermen into some sort of battle which clearly does not exist. The commercial guys have been very supportive of their weight in this reduction. If there is a battle brewing between the charter and recreational groups it may just be because the reduction might not be imposed evenly.

Repeated reference was made to the economics of this reduction but the math just doesn’t work.  Capt. Rick Bellavance, President of the RI Party and Charter Boat Association wrote in an email that, “I am amazed that one group can and is willing to affect all those hard working fishermen, hotel owners, restaurants, convenience stores ,fuel companies, repair shops and more.” Do recreational fishermen not bring dollars to Rhode Island or stay in hotels or buy gas or Slim Jims or replenish lost tackle? According to the Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2012 report, recreational fishing in our state had a Total State Trip and Durable Equipment Economic Impact of approximately $180 million. Yes, the charter boats draw lots of people to our state, but where is the proven economic statistic that says reducing the trip catch by one fish will cause and industry implosion?  Are there letters of anger from customers saying they will not return because they can only keep one striped bass? With the amount of time spent sending emails to argue about their economic hardship and, wait for it, no fish for the table, marketing materials could have been designed, printed and distributed right here in our state to help this year’s customers understand the fishery and how it is in early stages of decline and how we are all working hard to rebuild it. That would have real economic and social benefits.

This is not one group against another; it is fishermen scratching their collective heads, wondering how big changes can be expected of the recreational and commercial group and not for the charter boats. We need to face the reality of the situation: the stock is slumping and this is the time to get on top of it. One fish one rule.

Fishermen have great big rear view mirrors and tissue boxes full of reasons why everyone else did a damn poor job of fixing things before they broke. How many fisheries do we have to whittle down to the bare minimum and then spend a fortune in time dollars and resources trying to rebuild? Think codfish, weakfish, salmon, sturgeon or river herring. This time, we know the damned thing is about to break but it hasn’t happened yet. All those smart people with their fleece vests and Starbucks coffee cups, the ones who are easy targets for being glued to computer models while naïve to what’s outside the screen door, the ones who show us those big graphs about performance and fecundity, well they have hit this one right on the head, which is where some of us need a good shot.











  1. Capt Denny Dillon

    Nothing beats a good argument about fish…

    If you are going to write then write accurately and honestly. This post was in many respects neither.

    It wasn’t all of a sudden that Option 2 was presented. In fact, it was presented at earlier hearings along with several other options that called for a reduction in mortality rates of stripers that would fall into an adequate biomass for reproduction. Option 2 clearly fell into that place and was one that the RIPCBA could live with and not endanger our livelihoods. We (I personally) attentively attended meetings, spoke at hearings and am all for a reduction in harvest, but I also know the potential damage that bad filsheries decision making can have on people who make their living on the water.

    I wasn’t wagging my finger at Nicole and trying to start a battle with the commercial and recreational sector. I am not a rude person. I was pointing out that Nicole had stated that the striped bass fishery in Rhode Island was a healthy fishery! You failed to mention that in this piece.

    For the record, if we take a charter out in the morning and catch 2 fish per angler for a total of 12 fish and then we go out for an afternoon trip and catch 12 more fish. The second trip is a totally different trip because the clients are all new clients. We cannot take the same clients out again in the afternoon. Additionally, If the captain and mate take their 2 fish in the morning, they cannot take 2 fish in the afternoon. Would you have the for-hire captain not fish the afternoon? Or do you not realize that our season is only a short season or do you just don’t care about a man’s livelihood?

    A recreational fisherman can fish every day of the week. Our clients could not afford to do that. Our clients are, for the most part, working guys who set aside some money to go on a charter boat with the hopes of justifying the expenditure with some fish to put in the freezer.

    For the record, the RIPCBA called for the 2 fish at 32″ with no fish for the captain and the mate. You failed to mention that in your blog…but then again it is your blog.

    As far as the rift between the commercial guys and the RICPBA that you accused me of starting, maybe you weren’t in the room. There were some commercial guys who thought this was a railroad job in favor of RIPCBA. They were not at prior meetings. They came unprepared to the last meeting ready for an argument. If our proposal was so unfair why did Steve Madieros, President of RISSA, support it then flip his position after pressure from his group in the form of a hurried up survey.

    Your article certainly shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to run a for-hire operation. Maybe you should spend more time out in the field and talk with some of the men and women who rely on making a living owning and operating a charter boat. You might have a different perspective and your future articles may not be so biased.

    Capt Denny Dillon
    Peruader II

    • tcorayer

      hi Denny,
      thank you for responding to my article. I was indeed at the meeting about which I wrote and sat just a few rows behind you. in fact, I recorded a good piece of the hearing so when I wrote my comments about your interaction with Nicole, I was absolutely correct, verbally and visually. I do appreciate you correcting me on my fish per/day math; the oversight was mine. that being said, your comment about my bias gave me a chuckle because that was the whole point. Bias is what I have been observing in this process because you folks don’t want to budge. Several groups, like the recreational and commercial guys took the hit for the sake of conservation but I haven’t seen that from you. I also write a week in advance so things can change by the time the column prints.
      and before you give any grief to RISAA, you should recognize the number of charter boat captains in their membership and what they have done as a well organized group to promote fishing in this state. surely many of the people involved and associated with them are paying customers of your members.
      I also realize the reality of competition and that you need to keep up with nearby states, but that’s where the fine art of negotiation comes into to play.

      let’s be honest, it’s not that short of a season. you have fishing often as early as Easter and there can be a bite right up into the end of November and there are several species to target in addition to the mighty striper. is the weather hard in those later months? sure but you run a business in New England. and before you try to take me to task for what I do and do not know, i also did not mention the members of your own association who do not agree with you, who think this is the time to make a sacrifice, who recognize a downward turn in biomass. you have charter boats on block island and other ports practicing catch and release. you had charter boat captain’s standing up and saying they can make a living with one fish; it’s going to suck, but it’s short-termed. and please don’t make the assumption that I need to do more field work. I have close to 20 years living and fishing on block island and another 20 right around here, have a father who ran a charter boat, have mated on charter boats, have recreationally fished pretty much my entire life from here to western Canada and on both coasts of US and have logged enough trips on commercial boats fishing for lobsters, cod, tuna and swordfish to know what I’m talking about. I have been writing this newspaper column for a year and my phone can ring just like yours. pick up one of my past articles in the paper or in magazines (like this month’s On The Water, about our local river herring and restoration efforts here on the Saugatucket River) and tell me I don’t do my homework. it is my blog indeed, but if you have the time to read back, you will see lots of real accurate information, based on lots of research, attendance at lots of meetings and hearings and lots of interaction with fishermen of all ages, so don’t tell me I need to be in the field more.
      where is your research, your studies, your customer comments to put in the public record that one fish per person will actually spell the end for you and your colleagues? No one wants to see your industry damaged.
      “A recreational fisherman can fish every day of the week.” are you kidding me? how many recreational guys, largely the same blue collar guys like your customers who save up to take one trip a year, if they can, can afford to go fishing every day? that’s not an accurate statement.
      here’s the deal: I cover a lot about fishing: commercial, recreational, charter, fresh water, contests, northern maine river fishing, fly/spin, you name it. we don’t agree on this because as a guy wants nothing more than to go fishing, i was ready to give up that other bass to speed up the stock’s recovery because I remember the eighty’s and the crappy stocks and that’s the voice I did not hear from your group.
      I really do appreciate that you took the time to write back to me, even though we do not agree. that’s how a good system works. I have no bias towards you or charter boat captains, in any way shape or form. I write about what I see and after the carnage I saw last year off block island, and it was not just boats from RI, I want only to see the bass stocks restored before I have to write more about the “good old days”.
      thanks very much, todd


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