Planned changes for the commercial striped bass and conch fisheries will be up for discussion at a public hearing held by the state Division of Marine Fisheries on the Vineyard Tuesday.
The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
Changes under consideration for striped bass include an extended commercial season, smaller daily limits and a rule barring charter fishermen from selling their catch commercially. In the conch fishery the DMF wants to increase the minimum allowed size to prevent overfishing.
“We want the Vineyard fishermen’s input,” Division of Marine Fisheries deputy director Dan McKiernan told the Gazette this week. “I think they will all benefit . . . We’ve been looking closely at this for three years,” he said.
If the commission votes to adopt the rules in March, the commercial season for striped bass will open in June, a month earlier than last year, and run until the quota is met. Commercial rod and reel fishermen with coastal boat permits will see the daily bag limit drop from 30 fish per day to 10. Rod and reel commercial permit holders would be limited to two fish per day. Fishing days will be reduced from four days a week to two. The DMF also wants to begin a point-of-sale tagging system for striped bass in fish markets, to better track landing numbers and prevent poaching. The practice is already followed in other states.
Massachusetts has a commercial striped bass quota of about a million pounds per year. In recent years, the quota has been caught in a few weeks. Last year the season ran from July 7 to August 7. The rule changes are expected to slow down the quick taking of so many fish, especially in an area off Chatham where stripers are showing up in large numbers due to cooler waters and a concentration of bait fish.
Mr. McKiernan said the appearance of so many fish in a narrow area of state waters offshore creates both public safety and regulatory concerns. He said they have seen underwater sonar images of the Chatham fishing grounds, loaded with large striped bass, swimming “stacked like logs.”
The Vineyard has seen a precipitous drop in commercial striped bass landings in recent years, and many veteran fishermen are concerned.
This is not the first time regulators have changed the rules to protect the fishery. In 1999 the commercial striped bass season was reduced from seven days a week to four with a bag limit of 40 fish. That change was seen as conservative at the time.
In 2004 the bag limit was reduced to 30 fish per day.
Vineyard fishermen appear to support most of the proposed changes.
Buddy Vanderhoop, an Aquinnah charter fisherman, said he favors the commercial season change but opposes the rule that would bar charter fishermen from selling their catch.
“I think it is great having two days a week, 10 fish per day and opening in June. Those are all three good things,” Mr. Vanderhoop said. “Opening the season in June means that people who want to eat a local fish can, and striped bass is great. Restaurants will be happy.”
But Mr. Vanderhoop said he likes being able to sell the fish not taken by his clients. Two 40-pound fish can earn him $80, he said. “I don’t make a million dollars but it does help with the high cost of fuel. And fuel is expensive on the Vineyard,” he said. Recreational catch limits are two fish per day with a minimum length of 28 inches, smaller than the 34-inch commercial minimum
Ed Jerome, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby and an Edgartown charter captain, said cutting the number of days and the bag limit will hurt commercial fishermen.
“It takes away money from those who derive their income from the 30-day bag limit,” he said.
But he said: “I think the real problem is that we should start looking at a catch reduction overall. They should reduce the bag limit for recreational fishermen from two to one . . . From my point of view, I’d like to see a reduction now, a reasonable reduction, so we don’t face a crisis down the road.”
Steve Purcell, who runs Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown, spoke about the decline of the fishery.
“I have watched the fishery going through tough times in the 1980s. Then from 2000 to 2004 it was incredibly great fishing. Then we saw overfishing. It has been difficult since. It is harder and harder,” he said.
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd, owner of Coop’s Bait and Tackle in Edgartown, has been sounding an alarm for some time about the decline of the fishery, and said the proposed changes don’t go far enough. “I want everything to come down coast-wide, commercial and recreational,” Mr. Gilkes said. “I want the fish back. I want to go out and catch stripers every night like we used to. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the striped bass are going down quickly.”
The public hearing on the Vineyard Tuesday will also focus on proposed changes for the conch fishery, a lucrative industry on the Vineyard that has seen a dramatic decline. Conch are also called knobbed and channeled whelk. In 2012 Vineyard fishermen landed a little over a million pounds of conch, a third of all the conch landed in the state, valued at some $1.88 million.
Following years of research and consultation with fishermen, the state plans this year to increase the minimum shellfish width from two and three quarter inches to two and seven eighth inches. The minimum will be raised to three inches in 2015.
The last time state fisheries officials were at the Katharine Cornell Theatre to talk conch was in March of 2012. Fishermen and state scientists met to discuss what steps could be taken to prevent overfishing. This public hearing and the proposed changes are partly a result of that forum.
David (Tubby) Medeiros, an Edgartown conch fisherman, favors the changes. “The total collapse of the conch fishery is on the horizon. They need to give those things a break,” he said. Most conch fishing is done in Nantucket Sound.
“There are places you used to go where you could fill a pot with six to seven pounds. Now you go there and can’t get anything,” Mr. Medeiros said, adding: “We know where all the [conch] nurseries are and we normally stay out of them. Now those places are getting a lot more pressure from the mainland [fishermen].”
The state is looking to require commercial conch permit holders, and all other pot fishermen, to be the sole operators under their permits. The rule would prevent permit holders from designating others to fish the permit. Here is a complete list of the rule changes. Public comment can be sent to the state, to the attention of Jared Silva, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114. The deadline for comment is Friday, Feb. 21, at 5 p.m. Email online comments here.