About 15 years ago Fred Golofaro (longtime publisher of a popular East Coast fishing weekly) and I stood ankle deep at North Bar, a striper hot spot on Montauk’s rocky north side. We watched as medium sized stripers exploded under pencil poppers that were being cast out into the rip by a line of surf men. Neither of us thought we would ever witness this startling recovery of striper fishing. Rods were bowed, fishermen were crazed, drags were hissing, birds were screaming and bass were blasting through shoals of silversides. It was a classic, late fall Montauk blitz.
Fred turned to me and said: “We’re only in the fifth inning of this game. There’s going to be a final chapter.” I asked what he meant. “Now that the fish has recovered, it will become its own worst enemy. Its abundance, now being documented, will prevent us from protecting it. The pinhookers and commercials will soon get the moratorium lifted and proceed to decimate the fish again. When they do, we go for gamefish status, once and for all,” he said.
Fred was prophetic. It’s happening and now is the time.
Have you ever witnessed the summer slaughter of cow bass during the commercial open season in Menemsha? The boats come in at dawn after a night out. They are usually stacked to the gunwales with bass. All breeders (all bass over 15 pounds are females). The only thing that slows the cull is the plummet in prices which thankfully occurs, from time to time, from the relentless dumping onto the market of boatloads of bass. The fish sometimes get a breather.
It is time for game fish status in the commonwealth. Anecdotal and scientific evidence are clear about the fishery’s decline. It shows all over the striper coast (New Jersey had a good year; it’s a game fish state!) Capping the take at one slot fish per day and shutting completely the commercial harvesting are strategies that may already be too little, too late. A complete moratorium may be necessary. New York’s bay men on eastern Long Island, who historically have haul-seined for bass, many years ago successfully worked out a financial offset with Department of Environmental control by being compensated for tagging and releasing their catch of stripers. All other haul-seining for bass in New York state is banned. A financial solution should be explored with commercial fisherman who derive important yearly income from bass. But the commercial pressure must come off the fishery.
I have been shore fishing for stripers for 45 years, 35 of those years here on Martha’s Vineyard. My attitude toward the fish has been evolving and consequently the last 10 years have been catch and release. Man and bass are intertwined. Always have been. This magnificent creature is relying on us to preserve it for future generations. I fully agree with Dick Russell that now is the time to make striped bass a game fish in Massachusetts.
Richard Berkley lives in Edgartown and is president of Roccus Partners Inc.