By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
Recreational fishing doesn’t end with the derby. Although tomorrow night brings closure to the 63rd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, don’t put the fishing rod away. The word is out, there is still plenty of fishing left in this season. The water is still warm and fall migration of big schools of stripers have yet to appear.
Ed Jerome, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, said this week he believes the best of the striped bass fishing has yet to happen. He said there are still big fish in Cape Cod Canal and in the waters off Boston. “The water temperature here hasn’t dropped yet,” he said.
This is good news for all anglers, especially those who are frustrated by the fishing this derby. Stripers have been scarce. It is also an open invitation to those who don’t fish the derby, but do love to fish. John Thayer of Vineyard Haven and Jeff Bryant of West Tisbury fished Vineyard Sound from the Middle Ground to the entrance to Lake Tashmoo last Friday and couldn’t find anything. “We fished live eels. We fished umbrella rigs. We fished lures,” Mr. Thayer said. “The bait was there. We just couldn’t hook a fish,” he said. Mr. Thayer is not a derby angler, but he is an avid fall fisherman.
Steve Purcell is counting on good fishing for at least two more weeks. The 16th annual Octoberfish, a month-long fishing tournament held at Mr. Purcell’s tackle shop, is well under way with over 60 fishermen registered.
Island tackle shops have their fishing events. Steve Morris of Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop runs a Memorial Day weekend tournament.
Octoberfish was started by Ruth Meyer, former owner of Larry’s Tackle Shop, as a way to meet the angler’s continuing interest in competitive fishing after the derby weigh station closed in mid-October.
Since managing Larry’s Tackle Shop for many years and this year becoming its sole owner, Mr. Purcell has made few changes to the tournament. This year he has split the tournament into two divisions, shore and boat. The decision came in response to those who participate, he said. “We now have weekly, daily and mystery prizes,” he said. Local businesses have made contributions in prizes.
Registration in the 31-day contest costs $30. All the money earned in the contest is put back out in prizes, he said. “The fee hasn’t changed for a while but it might go up next year,” he said.
The striped bass shore leaders in Octoberfish on Tuesday are familiar: 1, Julian Pepper, 29.44; 2, Ron McKee, 26.10; 3, Neil Farrell, 24.07.
Mr. Purcell said he is committed to keeping the store busy into the autumn. The awards ceremony for Octoberfish will take place on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 9:30 a.m.
He has already stepped in to take over at the state deer check-in headquarters during archery season. The former place was Walter Ashley’s C& W Power Equipment near the airport. Mr. Purcell said the two got to talking and the idea of being the local check-in station seemed a natural next step.
Mr. Purcell said Glenn Jackson of West Tisbury brought in a deer on Tuesday, a 201.5-pound 14.5-point buck.
Mr. Purcell said he is trying to keep his store open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily through the month.
Tautaug, once a premiere recreational fish in Nantucket Sound have been scarce so long, young fishermen wouldn’t know it if they caught one. It used to be one of the great recreational fish, like scup, like fluke, like black sea bass and more. The fish is now scarce in these waters, though there is a run in the spring off the western end of the Vineyard. The state Division of Marine Fisheries has announced that the commercial tautaug fishery closed last Saturday. The state estimated that the 64,753 pound quota has been taken. A report on the state Web site notes that 105 per cent of the quota has been fished.
Of all the fish managed by quota in state waters, the tautaug has the lowest annual pound quota. Doesn’t that suggest trouble? For example, the commercial quota for striped bass this year was 1.1 million pounds. The state quota for dogfish is eight million and the quota for bluefish is 516,619 pounds.
Herring and Crabs
The Division of Marine Fisheries has extended its three-year moratorium on the taking of river herring for another three years, and also imposed for the first time limits on the taking of blue crabs for commercial purposes.
The original action was taken following a precipitous drop in the fish stock, which first became apparent in 2002, and the further moratorium came as no surprise to Island fishermen.
At a meeting on the Vineyard late last month, fisheries experts told them the decline in herring numbers seemed to have stabilized, but had yet to show any signs of significant recovery.
The meeting heard data indicating the severity of the problem, gathered over 30 years. Herring populations had fluctuated over fairly regular five-year cycles. But from 2002, the cycle stopped and numbers dropped alarmingly.
Furthermore, the age and size of the population had declined. Where there had once been large numbers of larger fish, six, seven or eight years old, the oldest being seen now were just four or five.
Paul Diodati, the director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, said this week that a further three-year moratorium was likely and would mean the population had been protected for a whole herring life cycle.
He also said he had taken on board complaints that predation of the herring by cormorants was a significant part of the problem.
“In some runs on some ponds where the fish are especially vulnerable I would think bird predation could be excessive,” he said.
Several fishermen at the meeting had called for a cull of the birds, something Mr. Diodati said was out of the hands of his department.
“But we’ll discuss the possibility of doing something about that with our inland agency, the division of Fisheries and Wildlife and possibly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We can certainly point people at it and have the right wildlife people examine the potential threat and decide whether something needs to be done,” he said.
While the decline in herring numbers has been a problem across this state and several others for many years, the issue of commercial harvesting of blue crabs is a new one and specific to the Vineyard.
Before last year, Mr. Diodati said, the DMF had paid little attention to the catch of blue crabs, which was regulated only by a limit of 50 crabs per person per day, applied to recreational fishermen. There was no commercial catch.
But the division had been prompted to action by complaints that some Island fishermen had harvested large numbers from Island ponds for use as bait.
“The historic level of fishing has never posed any concern,” he said. “It was only when this new activity began that we started to get more calls and concerns about it.”
For now, the limit for everyone would be 50 crabs per person per day, but Mr. Diodati suggested that would likely be revised downward.
“Our own biologists who specialize in crustaceans feel the numbers we get up here — we are at the northern edge of the range for the species — would not sustain a commercial fishery.
“We are continuing to examine this. It wasn’t clear to me that the current level was even reasonable for a personal use. It could be less. And we’ll look at that.
“It’s more likely the level will be down rather than up,” Mr. Diodati said.
Gazette senior writer Mike Seccombe contributed to this column.