As many as 800 Massachusetts anglers have signed a petition seeking additional steps to conserve striped bass from overfishing. The petition calls for a 50 per cent reduction of both commercial and recreational efforts. As many as 30 Vineyarders signed the petition online according to Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever, a Maine-based organization. The petition was delivered to Paul Diodati, the state Division of Marine Fisheries director, earlier this month.
In recent years both commercial and recreational fishermen on the Vineyard, as well as along the eastern seaboard, have noted a decline in the abundance of striped bass. Scientists are also reporting a decline, but the threshhold isn’t yet low enough for fisheries managers to limit fishing. Those who signed the petition believe it is time to cut the fishing effort this year before it gets worse.
“The recreational catch of striped bass in Massachusetts has declined by nearly 90 per cent since 2006, yet the harvest levels have remained undiminished,”
said Dean Clark, of Shrewsbury and Cape Cod. Mr. Clark is a co-chair of the Massachusetts chapter of Stripers Forever.
“We are killing too many fish,” added Mr. Clark. “All the scientists on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission say that within the next year or two we will be hitting triggers that were set that will demand reduction. Our concern is that we don’t know how many fish are in the ocean. I believe the stock assessment can be off by as much as 50 per cent.”
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd of Edgartown, who runs a tackle shop, said he signed the petition. “Right now there are people fighting any way they can to get these fish back. I signed it. The petition is trying to get something done,” he said.
I signed it,” said Tom Rapone, an Edgartown charter fishing captain. “I have no doubt that there are less fish out there. Of the petition, I think this is a fair measure,” he said, because it cuts fishing effort of both recreational and commercial fishermen.
Mr. Gilkes recalled how not many years ago he and others could go to Lobsterville and be sure to see a fish. “We can’t do that now.”
“I don’t want to take anyone’s livelihood but we are seeing the same thing we are seeing with cod. We are taking too much and we have to slow down,” Mr. Gilkes said.
Currently, recreational fishermen are permitted a two fish per day bag limit, with the minimum size being 28 inches. The commercial season begins early in July with a 34-inch minimum size and a five fish bag limit on Sunday and a 30-fish bag limit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Last year, commercial fishermen in Massachusetts landed 1,218,426 pounds or 115.2 per cent over the 1,057,783 pound state quota. Striped bass are now hard to find in Vineyard waters, with most caught off Chatham by commercial anglers.
“I am a fishing guide who isn’t necessarily opposed to commercial striped bass fishing,” Mr. Rapone said. “But I am opposed to any lack of effort on the part of the state to address the current decline.”
Paul Diodati, director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, who received the petition told the Gazette he plans to bring the petition to the next meeting of the state Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission when they meet Thursday, April 4, in Lincoln.
“It wouldn’t be possible to implement the petition in the 2013 fishery season,” Mr. Diodati said. “It is late in the year for us.”
Mr. Diodati said he wants to take it before the commission to get some input. “I recognize that there continues to be strong interest and passion around striped bass. There is a lot of concern about the resource. We will address those concerns.”
Mr. Diodati said he and the commission are looking at eliminating commercial fishing for striped bass on Sundays. Last year the season opened on July 12 and closed on August 9. Mr. Diodati said he would like to establish a catch limit so that the quota runs through the summer.
That striped bass are managed in each state along the coast under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission could prove challenging to local reductions.
“Unilateral action in Massachusetts might not be sensible,” Mr. Diodati said. “Whatever conservation we are trying to take, it might be compromised by the fisheries elsewhere.”