RI DEM held a very informative Marine Fisheries Informational Workshop this past Tuesday. I had the John Lee Hooker song, “Serves Me Right To Suffer” stuck in my head. Workshops are designed to offer us information about particular sectors, seasons, rules or proposals with some preliminary data and all comments are off the record, it’s a fairly casual environment to ask questions, hear what fellow fishermen or women want or don’t and take enough notes to speak at an official public hearing. Tuesday started the process of creating regulations for 2019’s recreational and commercial striped bass fisheries.
The most significant part of the prior sentence is that when we speak on the record, regulators local and regional are mandated to consider how we feel and what we say. From personal experience as a Bluefish Advisory Panel member for the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, their decisions were predicated on public comment whether delivered in writing or hearing. To paraphrase my good friend Captain Jerry Sparks, “Not for nuthin’,” but while we watch federal lands cut apart, environmental regulations gutted, public waterways sacrificed for coal waste and some of the most basic, common sense rules bulldozed in the name of making us great, this system not only relies on you, it’s designed to be hinged on what you say to make ultimate decisions so we have to participate.
Recreational data was presented first; here’s a few takeaways:
As of 2016, striped bass are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring
Spawning stock biomass 2016 was 129 million pounds
14” fish are age two from the 2015 year class
Only about half of age six fish are sexually mature
Clear signs in biological reference points show decline and hints of overfishing occurring and the stock is being overfished
It’s unlikely that management would change for 2019
Perspective is everything depending how you chose benchmarks or biological reference points.
Ok, I added the last one. The challenge and beauty of data is that two fishermen can read data differently.
Here’s a few more.
Spawning stock biomass was estimated to be 129 million pounds in 2015, just above the threshold but below the target of 127 million and 159 million respectively
In 2015 high recruitment and a strong year class were observed
In 2018 the Maryland year over year survey indicated a slightly higher abundance relative to 2017
It’s disgusting that Maryland fishermen kill 19” striped bass.
Ok, I added the last one. We maintain a one fish at 28” recreational status, the commercial guys work a limited season for a paycheck at five fish per day at 34” and Maryland gets to kill the kids? Call me out, I’ll stake my ground in the solid efforts of this state to preserve a fishery instead of butterflying it. If you feel either way, please say so.
The commercial harvest was slightly over quota but largely due to the mechanics of reporting and data evaluation times. The fish trap quota was not exceeded. DEM would like to have the commercial fishermen present up to three proposals backed by industry consensus to save time at the formal hearing and DEM’s proposal is for status quo. That may not address a declining stock.
A true believer, Phil Capaldi catches and releases
There was discussion of the old option 5, with a straight ahead fishery, or maybe moving the May 15 start date back a week or two or maybe to May 20 and running straight to end of the year. It’s brilliant to hear fishermen who know their numbers, locations and dates talk about when they caught what where because it’s part of their living. I’m sure DEM wants an equitable season that offers potential for open water, Bay and Newport area fishermen to catch what they call “their fish.” Where are the fish and who can catch them at a particular time is the meat of the issue; an off the record meeting is the sausage or maybe the cioppino being made and it’s pretty cool.
“We need better enforcement,” was spoken several times. Much of the meeting mentioned increased enforcement of the EEZ.
“There’s more fish over the line and the average weights were larger,”said one fisherman. That’s one conversation. “There’s ten times the kids out there with their parents money fishing out at the ledge. You’re not going to beat that,” said another fisherman with a very excellent memory. Is that fact? No, but I’ll bet he’s right and all those fancy boats working over the line are catching bigger fish which means the commercial guys catch less fish at lower weights which can alter regulations. That’s another conversation. Who’s entitled to the fish, who says anyone is? That’s a whole different conversation.
“There’s not as many big fish around any more,” said a fisherman; that’s the way to end this conversation and start the next one at the public hearing on February 11. While Director Janet Coit is listening, she’ll hear you more clearly when your comments are made on the public record. Shouting over a pint glass doesn’t cut it anymore.
The King of the Blues sang, “It serves me right to suffer, it serves me right to be alone, you see, I’m living in the memory, of a day that has passed and gone.” Our collective future catching and maybe releasing big bass starts with good management now and that all starts at a workshop to warm you up for an official winter meeting.
I'm a fisherman, occasional hunter, occasionally sarcastic outdoors writer and father. My weekly outdoors column, Fish Wrap, can be found at www.fishwrapwriter.com, read more at On The Water magazine as well!
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