Last week, I was on Beacon Hill at the State House to attend and provide comment to, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture meeting for the Stripers Forever Gamefish Status bill sponsored by Falmouth, MA, State Representative Matt Patrick. I was invited to participate on a panel of charter boat captains and commercial striper fishermen to provide comments regarding the proposed bill. The bill is House Bill #796 and is named, “An Act Relative To The Conservation Of Atlantic Striped Bass”. It was a crowded meeting, due to the many folks concerned about considerable affect this bill would have on the Striped Bass not just here in Massachusetts, but along the Atlantic Coastline. The meeting was set up to allow commenters to alternate from pro to con, with individual comments limited a 3 minute time limit, so to balance the meeting to allow as many commenters as possible.
The bill as proposed, would prohibit the “commercial harvesting and sale of wild striped bass”. In addition it would reduce the recreational size limit from the current 28” size, to “between 20” and 26” total length OR 40” or greater in total length”. Further it would reduce the daily bag limit from two fish daily to one fish. Other provisions in the bill want a tag for all aquaculture raised fish and a fine schedule for the violations of the above regulations.
Proponents of these regulations claim that this will result in the conservation of fish, as that it protects the more mature striped bass or breeding populations from commercial harvest. If the commercial guys no longer take 34” and above sized fish, then there would be more breeders in the population. They claim that aquaculture raised fish are just as good to eat as a wild fish and more healthy for you. The proponents main argument is that the economic benefits of the sport fishing far outweigh any benefits the commercial fishery provides, and therefore should be entitled to the entire resource. They quote the self-initiated 17 year old “Southwick Study” as the basis of their argument, even though the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has discredited the study and said it is not to be used for management purposes.
Opponents of this bill point out that in ASMFC harvest statistics* it is the recreational sector that is harvesting 80% of the stripers, and recreational discards (what is killed from effort of the harvest) are double the entire commercial harvest and discard totals. The opponents believe the 20” to 26” slot size limit would decrease the amount of breeding fish in the population as they will have been caught BEFORE they have had a chance to spawn. (it is reported that 80% of 28” fish are of spawning size) It was further argued that the 34” commercial size limit allows stripers to spawn at least several times before they are harvested, insuring stock sustainability. The probability that ASMFC would impose a conservation restriction (less fish allowed annually) to Massachusetts recreational sector for the reduced size limit also exists. Opponents believe the one fish bag limit and decreased recreational allocation would decrease interest in charter fishing and hurt tourism. Lastly, opponents of this bill believe that the Striped Bass is a healthy and abundant resource that should be shared by all residents of the Commonwealth, and not just available to the fly and surf rod, or center console boat and beach buggy crowd. They argue if there is enough fish for sport fishers to throw away dead and unused double the size of the commercial quota, then there is enough for any consumer to go buy a fillet at the fish market.
For the record, I will state that I am against this bill and spoke my opposition to the committee. While waiting to offer my comment, I was able to observe all in the room and listen to comments provided. Representatives and Senators went first as their time was needed in State House Business. After their comments, Rep Patrick, whom sponsored the bill spoke at length (about 8-10 minutes) about the bill, and to me, seemed a bit rambling and not convincing. ( I may be biased) Then in turn proponents and opponents got up to speak with the 3 minute rule. The industry “expert panels” went first, then the individuals. Every commenter speaking for the bill went over their 3 minutes ! It was if they had no regard for the remaining 100 plus folks in the room waiting to speak. The chairperson had to ask several commenters to “wrap it up” and they would continue on as if it was no matter. If the proponents of this bill care so little about the rest of the commenters in the room, how are we supposed to believe they have the interests of ALL of Massachusetts in mind regarding the management of Striped Bass?
Should anyone want to see the statistics involving Striped Bass Management, go to http://www.asmfc.org and click on the “Managed Species” link on the left side of the page. Then click on the highlighted “Striped Bass”. When that page opens up there are many links there. The full Striped Bass Stock Assessment (281 pages - quite technical) is under the heading “Reports” and “Stock Assessment Reports” and can be downloaded or viewed by clicking the blue link “2009”. A smaller report called the “FMP Review” can be seen under the heading “Reports” and by clicking the red and blue link called “NEW: 2009”.
* ......2009 REVIEW OF THE ATLANTIC STATES MARINE FISHERIES COMMISSION FISHERY MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR ATLANTIC STRIPED BASS (Morone saxatilis) 2008 FISHING YEAR
Captain Bruce & Marilyn S Capeshores Charters www.sportfishingcapecod.com