Striped bass fishing is off to a slow start this year, with many fishermen reporting a poor catch early in the season.
The commercial fishery opened June 23. New rules are in place for commercial striped bass fishing this year, with lower daily bag limits and restrictions on the number of fishing days.
But lower limits appear to be a non-issue this year, at least in waters around the Vineyard.
“Striped bass fishing has been really horrible,” said Buddy Vanderhoop, a veteran Aquinnah charter fisherman who runs Tomahawk Charters out of Menemsha. “I only caught 25 keepers all season. I usually do that in a day.”
Scott McDowell of North Shore Charters out of Menemsha echoed the sentiment, calling it the hardest start in his 24 years of running charters. “Fishing is abysmal,” he said. “This is the worst. And last year was bad.”
Early numbers from state fisheries managers confirm the news. Dan McKiernan, deputy director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, reported this week that so far this year fishermen have landed 96,274 pounds of fish, roughly eight per cent of the 1,155,100-pound state quota. Mr. McKiernan said fishermen are landing about 30,000 pounds a day. Many of the fish are being landed off Provincetown and in Cape Cod Bay. He said he is hearing from fishermen out of Chatham that the season is starting late because of the cold winter. “We know that a lot of the migration of other species were delayed by half a month,” he said. “We hope that the striped bass are late.”
Mr. McDowell had another view.
“Everyone is saying water temperature. They have to blame something other than overfishing,” he said.
In March of this year the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission lowered the daily bag limit for commercial striped bass from 30 to 15 fish per fisherman. Rod and reel permits are limited to two per day. The number of fishing days was also cut from four to two per week. Striped bass may be harvested commercially on Mondays and Thursdays. The minimum size for commercial fishermen is 34 inches.
The recreational fishery, which allows two fish per day and a minimum size of 28 inches, is unchanged.
The new rules for commercial fishing are intended to extend the season.
Beyond the cold water, there are other theories as to why the striper fishing is slow. Jeffrey Canha, a Vineyard Haven charter fisherman who operates Done Deal Charters, said he believes the fish are bypassing the Vineyard.
“It looks like the Hudson River fish [that spawn in the Hudson River] passed by the Vineyard, went through Buzzards Bay and into Cape Cod Bay,” he said. He is hopeful that fish coming from the Chesapeake Bay are starting to move in.
Nevertheless, he agreed striped bass fishing has been poor. “I made 200 drifts from Makonikey to as far east as West Chop and nothing,” he said of a recent trip.
Phil Cronin of West Tisbury who operates Capawock Charters, a light tackle flyfishing charter business, had his own similar story.
“In June the waters are usually loaded with bass, everywhere you go,” Mr. Cronin said. “I went out one morning at 6 a.m. in June. I started on the north shore and hit the regular spots, the Brickyard, Cape Higgon, Cedar Tree Neck and there was nothing. I went on my merry way. I went to Devil’s Bridge [off the Gay Head Cliffs] on a falling tide, and there were no birds, no fish. Then I stopped at Sandy’s [off Philbin Beach] and went to Squibnocket. I went to Noman’s Land, front side, and back side. I went farther out. I went to the Southwest Ledge, five miles south of Noman’s Land, to Southwest Shoal. It was an exploration. I got back [at 3 p.m.] without seeing one striped bass. I did see bluefish.”
Mr. McDowell said a few stripers are being caught off West Chop. Alec Gale at the Menemsha Fish House said he is buying some striped bass from local fishermen, but not many. “It is not the best season in the world. We are getting some,” he said.
In other news from the waterfront, Atlantic bonito have arrived. Stanley Popowitz from Edgartown reported that he caught and released one from the Aquinnah shore on Sunday.
Cooper A. Gilkes 3rd of Coop’s Fish and Tackle Shop gave Mr. Popowitz the coveted first bonito of the season trophy. The trophy is purple and has a shiny gold fish on top.
Mr. Popowitz said he was using a lure. And though striped bass are hard to find, black sea bass and bluefish are plentiful, fishermen report.