By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
Locally caught striped bass arrived in local fish markets and restaurants Sunday. It is now the “catch of the day.”
“On Sunday morning we sold maybe 20 pounds,” said Sandra Healy of John’s Fish Market in Vineyard Haven. “I like it, because the customers like it. They’ve been waiting a year for striped bass and now they can get it.”
Commercial rod and reel fisherman Scott Terry provides her with the fish.
Striped bass fillets are thick compared to bluefish and flounder. When an angler catches a striped bass weighing more than 30 pounds, its big fillets need to be cut into portions for cooking.
I prefer to bake the fish with the minimum amount of attention. Painting the fillets with a thin layer of butter mixed with lemon is a treat. That is all that is needed, and there ought to be a law against overcooking. Freshly caught and cooked striped bass is a plentiful and flavorful meal, especially if it is accented with a side order of Island-grown veggies.
Of course, everyone has his own valid idea of how to serve striped bass, so preparing striped bass gets more complicated the more chefs you have over for dinner.
Culinary enthusiasts should be aware recreational anglers are lobbying the legislature this year to make striped bass a sport fish only, and that would take striped bass out of the fish markets and off the menu of most seafood restaurants here.
Anglers get pretty heated up on the issue of game fish status, no matter which side they’re on; striped bass are the American eagle of the ocean, and that inspires a fisherman’s passionate side.
The striped bass fishery is in pretty good shape compared to other species, though that is hardly an argument to allow continued intensive commercial fishing. Unfortunately, when a shopper is looking for a locally caught fish that isn’t in some kind of trouble, the list is short. Most seafood enthusiasts don’t know how to catch fish; buying striped bass at the fish market is the most economical way to get the fish. The only alternative is to adopt an avid angler into the family, treat them royally and hope to get free fish.
The popularity of commercially caught striped bass in the Commonwealth was observed just south of Martha’s Vineyard after sunset this week. We got a call from one angler who spotted a whole fleet of anxious striped bass fishermen south of Lucy Vincent Beach. The dozens of boats were adrift, waiting for their moment to drop their lines in the water.
We were told that a few of the boats came from as far away as Rhode Island to put their fish in the Massachusetts market. As Massachusetts fisheries managers don’t discriminate when it comes to selling commercial striped bass fishing licenses, a Rhode Island angler has just as much right to fish and catch and land fish in Massachusetts as a resident.
The price of striped bass in the fish market can range from $19 to $21 a pound. Look for bargains in the weeks ahead.
Massachusetts commercial striped bass anglers have a quota of 1,107,118 pounds. Commercial anglers are restricted to catching striped bass with a rod and reel only. They are allowed to land five fish on Sundays and 30 fish on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The minimum size is 34 inches.
Recreational fishermen are restricted to two fish per day, each no smaller than 28 inches.
Bluefish are being landed daily at Ms. Healy’s fish market. She said angler Joey Andrade is out there and consistently delivering fish. This is a great summer for bluefish.
As much as 56 per cent of the quota on fluke has been taken so far this summer. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service Web site, Massachusetts commercial fishermen have landed 397,568 pounds of the 702,614 pound quota. With those kinds of numbers, it doesn’t take a mathematician to recognize that the quota is going quickly. August summer visitors may not have a chance to buy fresh fluke. Enjoy it now, for the days of fluke fishing are numbered.
With the summer weather being so cool, there are as yet no reports of the arrival of Atlantic bonito. The warm water fish usually show up in July. Bonito are small, high-powered tunas. They are finicky and usually take a lure that looks like a sand eel.
A record 223 participants fished the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9261 annual fluke tournament last weekend. Peter Herrmann, organizer, said he’d never seen so many fishermen involved in the contest.
“I think the good weather finally arrived. Plus people were dying to go fluke fishing. It was a good excuse to take the kids out,” Mr. Herrmann said.
The winners are as follows: Men: 1, Jason Ben David, 9.2; 2, Jeff Codding, 9.0; 3, John Hoy, 8.7. Women: 1, Heather Maciel, 7.7; 2, Madeline Cox, 6.3; 3, Bev Bergeron, 6.3.
Under 16 years of age: 1, Chris Morris, 5.5; 2, Joseph Turney, 5.4; 3, Brian Frasier, 5.4. Under 12 years of age: 1, Gus Hoy, 8.9; 2, Elizabeth O’Brien, 6.6; 3, Colin Buckley, 6.1; 3, 4, David Packer, 5.6; 5, Chris Perry, 4.9.
Team winner: Four Reel, Andre Levesque, Mike Jackson, Jared McKenzie and Karl Kallinach with 49.7.
Largest sea bass caught: Ray DeSautels, 5.8.
Fishing in the contest began Saturday morning at 12:01 and it didn’t finish until the weigh-in closed at the veterans’ center at 6 p.m.
“The fish weighed in were a little bit smaller than last year . . . Usually they can get to be 13 pounds,” he said.
Comparing numbers is of interest. Mr. Herrmann said this year’s event broke the record set two years ago of 202 anglers. Last year the contest attracted 179 entrants.
There were more teams fishing this year, a total of 25, three more than last year. Team winners are based on the combined weight of their top four fish weighed in on Saturday and Sunday. Four was the maximum size for a team.
Youngsters that showed up at the awards ceremony did better than those that didn’t. Joe Turney got a brand new kayak, not only for catching a big fish but because he was able to chose his prize.
Mr. Herrmann said the weigh-in was busiest on Saturday. “We weighed in hundreds of fish. People came and weighed in fish not knowing what the leader was. On Sunday, fishermen knew what they needed to weigh in to win, so there were less fish.”
Early in the contest the black sea bass weighed in were almost all the same 4.8 pound weight. When Ray DeSaultels showed up with his 5.8 pound black sea bass, his fish settled it.