Calling All Striped Bass Anglers And Guides - Our Fishery Needs You

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Calling all striped bass anglers and guides: our fishery needs you. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is considering a proposal to open their commercial striped bass season early this year. In recent summers it has started June 23. They are looking at starting it as early as June 1. The rational behind the proposal is that commercial anglers have not harvested to their quota cap the last two years. In 2018 they only landed 89% of their quota cap. Last year the harvest fell to a startling 67% of the total pounds allowed despite strong markets in both years.

Striped bass are in trouble. The failure of the commercial fleet to catch their full quota is telling. Yes, MA DMF deserves credit for reducing the commercial quota by 18% this year but with so many unknowns about the effectiveness of new regulations in all of the East Coast waters these fish inhabit, now is not the time to be adding additional days to an effort that removes fish 35 inches and greater from the population. 

If you fish for striped bass, you are a stakeholder. Even if you never fish in Massachusetts waters, what happens there to these migratory fish matters to you. If you live in Massachusetts, or travel there to fish, this is especially relevant. If you live or fish in Maine or New Hampshire waters only, where do you think you would find the majority of fish over 35 inches that are bound for us are between June 1 and June 23?

You can influence the decision by MA DMF, but you need to speak up now. MA DMF is holding public hearings and accepting public comment via mail and email through 5:00 pm Monday, March 16. Link for details is below. Your comment can be short and succinct. Tell them that you are concerned about the state of the striped bass fishery and want more conservative management measures, not less. Add whatever details stand out to you. Make it your comment with a line about why this fishery means so much to you. Public input made a difference last year when MA DMF asked us for our opinion on adding an additional day per week to the commercial open season. We need your comments again. 

Speak up and send your comment here: marine.fish@mass.gov

Below the link to the details on the proposal (includes hearing locations and dates and email link to submit comments) you'll find a copy of my letter to the head of the agency, Acting Director Daniel McKiernan. Let me know if you have questions or if I can help you with your comment.

https://www.mass.gov/doc/020720-winter-omnibus-public-hearing/download

 

Acting Director Daniel McKiernan

Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries 

251 Causeway Street, Suite 400

Boston, MA 02114

 

Dear Director McKiernan,

I’m writing to express my opposition to the proposal to open the Massachusetts commercial striped bass harvest earlier than June 23 and to share my overdue appreciation for your leadership at the February ASMFC meeting of the Atlantic Striped Bass Board.

I am gravely concerned about the current state of the striped bass fishery and even more afraid of where we will be three years from now. I’m working to become more informed, more involved, and to bring others into this process. I travelled to the February ASMFC meeting at my own expense and I appreciate and applaud your efforts at the striped bass board meeting to promote consistent regulations coastwide, to check some of the more irresponsible CE proposals from New Jersey and Maryland, and to lead the push against the New York proposal to allow their charter/party boat fleet to harvest fish 31” and greater. While I originally advocated for the option that would establish a 35” minimum size, I have supported the need for consistency in regulations coastwide. Thank you for speaking up for responsible management, both at the board meeting and in your letter to your counterpart in Rhode Island.

Now a resident of Maine, I fish frequently in Massachusetts waters, both recreationally and as a for-hire charterboat captain. Growing up on the water in Scituate, I first earned my Coast Guard license in 1986 and ran private and charter boats out of Boston for a number of summers. I started Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC in 2004 in Phippsburg, ME but extend my season and market by traveling south to fish Boston Harbor to Martha’s Vineyard, with the longest stint in the fall when I am on the Cape for September and most of October. 

I am not opposed to the commercial harvest of striped bass. I live in a community that is centered around people who make their living on the water. I’m on the town committee that has just received permission to open a limited commercial river herring harvest in one of our ponds. I paid off my college tuition bills catching lobsters and tuna. I have kept my distance from advocacy organizations that have seemed more interested in resource allocation than overall well-being of the fishery. And while I understand the logic behind the argument that commercial striped bass anglers have an approved quota and thus should be allowed more opportunity to harvest that quota, I don’t believe it would be a prudent management decision. 

You and the Department of Marine Fisheries deserve credit for honoring the guidance of the ASMFC striped bass board and applying equal 18% reductions to the recreational and commercial harvest targets in the state, however, there are so many unknowns about the results of all changes brought about by Addendum VI that a more conservative approach is warranted. The failure of the Massachusetts commercial fleet to reach the harvest quota cap the last two years adds further weight to the argument for an abundance of caution in management decisions. We have yet to hear back from the Technical Committee regarding their calculation of the projected cumulative mortality reduction as a result of Conservation Equivalency approaches from a number of states. Between New Jersey’s bonus tag program and Rhode Island’s potential 30” to 40” CE, we could be harvesting over a much wider slot than originally intended and the TC has been clear that predicting the effect of any slot limit on striped bass is challenging. Slot limits are an untested tool when it comes to management of this species. With no mechanism in place to hold states accountable for their results under CE proposals, we’re at least two and likely three years away from any ASMFC changes to react to changes in the striped bass population. Commercial anglers might argue that what happens on the recreational side shouldn’t in any way impact their portion of the fishery but I would suggest that we need to consider each and every management decision with respect to the overall health of the fishery and we’d be well served to remember that we’ve reached this point in part because Addendum V has failed. 

Massachusetts could support and strengthen the commercial striped bass harvesters who make some significant portion of their income from commercial fishing interests with other regulatory changes. There is support in portions of the recreational and for-hire community for changes to the commercial harvest rules that would serve to limit participation and potentially raise prices, directing use to those fishermen who are most deserving of access to this limited and valuable resource.

Retaining the June 23rd opening of the commercial season sends a signal to all stakeholders that you and the Massachusetts DMF are committed to taking steps in the best interest of rebuilding this fishery. The measurable decrease in commercial harvest landings in 2019 and 2018 are a message that should not ignored. I heard resounding approval of your organization’s 2019 decision to keep the open commercial harvest days at two when it was clear that we wouldn’t reach the quota cap. My understanding is that the decision was based in part upon the volume of public comments opposed to adding the third day. Your organization listened to public input last year and I hope will do the same this year.

Respectfully,

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


ASMFC Striped Bass Board Takeaways - Better Than Our Worst Fears, Worse Than Our Best Hopes

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The current striped bass management system is broken. We should have better fishing, much better fishing – more bass and larger bass. And we would if ASMFC, the governing body for stripers, had been responsibly managing this fishery. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, I was able to travel to Alexandria, VA to attend another meeting of the ASMFC Striped Bass Board. Here are some of my takeaways.

ASMFC Striped Bass Board - We Can Swear at it But Can’t Afford To Swear it Off  

You win some and you lose some and that was true for striped bass and the striper fishery at Tuesday’s winter meeting of the ASMFC Striped Bass Board. Results and discussions were better than our worst fears, and worse than our best hopes. There still isn’t a concerted effort to save the striped bass fishery, but at least there was some progress in imposing some responsibility in the drive to harvest every possible fish by a number of states. ASMFC has a history and habit of delaying overdue and urgently needed action, and that continued at Tuesday’s “chaotic” (as characterized by board Chair David Borden) and contentious meeting of the Striped Bass Board. The fact that this board had never disapproved (by vote or by pressure) Conservation Equivalencies (CEs) prior to this past meeting is stunning news to those of us starting to pay much closer attention. The fact that accountability for CEs that don’t meet goals had never been advanced prior to Tuesday is condemning evidence. This board has been ineffective and irresponsible. There are fundamental flaws to ASMFC’s structure and authority, and the process is dysfunctional, but for now, this is the process we have to live with.

 

CEs – Going Off the Rails & “Proposal” Is a Misnomer

Conservation Equivalency proposal implies an impending decision to approve or disapprove. Historical precedent for this board has been to leave that up to the proposing state, not the board. This process has not worked the way any reasonable person would assume. There hasn’t been any board approval or disapproval. No wonder ASMFC has been largely impotent. What happened Tuesday when the board went state by state was flawed but precedent setting. The New Jersey members were apoplectic that the board would have the audacity to want to vote to approve or not approve the CEs that they wanted to use. Apoplectic. I thought Adam Nowalsky (NJ) was going to have a cardiac event.

Striped bass are overfished and overfishing is occurring (bear with me – I’ll define those terms another day). The board is thus required to take action to reduce overall striped bass mortality. In October, the board adopted Addendum VI to the current management plan (known as Amendment 6, with the goal of reducing overall mortality by 18%. The board voted in favor of enacting a slot limit of 28” to 35” (1 fish per day per angler) for coastal waters and I fish per day greater than 18” in Chesapeake Bay.

Addendum VI fell apart when the board also approved New Jersey’s motion at the October meeting to ignore the plan’s goal of an 18% mortality reduction across the entire geographic range of striped bass and allow each state to cap their own mortality reduction efforts at 18%.

This led to 49 CE “proposals,” a number that was concerning to many members and to the Technical Committee (TC). In their report, the TC stated that there were too many CE proposals to even attempt to calculate if the potential mishmash of regulations would meet the goal of reducing striped bass mortality by 18%. Emerson Hasbrouck (NY) asked of the entire board at the start of the meeting if the TC has no guidance for us on coastwide mortality reduction – how are we to proceed?

It was as Ritchie White (NH) who described, “CEs going off the rails.” He went on to say that CEs had historically offered states the ability to make minor tweaks, that he was getting “tons of emails” about their misuse. He lamented that they were completed without public input up and down the coast, which is not how ASMFC does business. I like his concern, but beg to differ – it is how ASMFC does business and is one of the reasons the majority of the public has lost confidence in this organization.

Dennis  Abbott (NH) lamented that even though everyone voted for a 28” to 35” slot in October they were “sitting in back with their pencils out, calculating what they could propose through CEs.” He stated that isn’t fair to the public, and wondered why did ASMFC go out to the public when the majority of the states are not abiding by the decision of the board? He even raised the obvious concern that CEs only benefit the individual states enacting them – implying that they have no benefit for the species nor the fishery as a whole. (Please note that I originally incorrectly attributed these comments to Dennis Seviakis (DE). I've corrected my mistake here.)

The TC has been directed to calculate the overall mortality reduction once all states have decided upon what regulations they will use. They will issue this report at the May meeting, but by the TC’s very clear admission, they will be guessing, given the number of variables and unknowns involved with changing angler effort, seasonal closures, slot limits, and variations in size and bag limits.

 

Accountability – A Novel Concept

The accountability conversation is finally on the table and figures to be a contentious topic when the board begins Amendment 7 discussions at it’s next meeting in May. It’s unbelievable that this idea of holding states accountable for regulatory results is new. Truth is stranger than fiction.

ME, NY, RI were the only members to vote in favor of the motion to require accountability for CE results initiated by Pat Keliher (ME). Pat did bring up paybacks when he first introduced the need for accountability. It’s clear that the board can require accountability and Max Appelman (ASMFC Staff) reported there is opportunity to do so, following the Fisheries Management Plan assessment after year one. The board has required accounting for commercial overharvest, so this isn’t a completely novel approach. Multiple members spoke about the need for accountability picking up steam in feedback via emails and meetings. We are beginning to be heard.

It was encouraging to hear support from John Clark (DE) and others to make accountability a part of the Amendment 7 discussions, but disheartening to watch NJ and MD look for any opportunity to delay such logical action. Mike Luisi (MD) was pretty subtle and suave with his play. Adam Nowalsky (NJ), not so much. See reference to near cardiac event above.

Accountability can’t wait for the lengthy process of implementing Amendment 7, which could take up to two years. The accountability motion that failed at Tuesday’s meeting would have evaluated the 2020 harvest but wouldn’t have required any changes in regulations if a state was overharvesting until the 2022 season and did not include any provision for paybacks.

 

18% Leaves No Room for Error

The board could and should direct a more conservative approach by requiring a greater than 50% likelihood to achieve desired mortality reduction. The 18% target for overall mortality reduction should have included some kind of buffer, bringing it to something like 20% or 22% or 25% given all of the uncertainties that the Technical Committee has identified and the failure of recent conservation measures. Chris Batsavage (NC) spoke in favor of a buffer discussion at future meetings and I know from post-meeting conversations that other board members would welcome that approach. This too could be a significant change to the way the board has operated, and one of the rays of hope going forward.

 

Inaction & Pace of Change

Too little, too late. Kicking the can down the road. Half measures (that’s being generous). All describe the history and habit of this board and ASMFC as a whole.

 

In the Middle

Pennsylvania, Delaware, District of Columbia, North Carolina, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and National Marine Fisheries all seem to fall into the middle, muddied waters between the states that are pushing for more responsible management and the states that just want to maximize their own harvest. Each member has an equal vote, so winning their support will be critical.

 

MRIP Data – The Be All & End All and Wait… The Excuse

If you’re the TC calculating mortality reduction goals you have to rely on MRIP data for harvest estimates. It’s what you have. If you’re a state crafting a CE designed to bring home the largest possible harvest, the MRIP data is gospel in the most fundamental sense – no room for argument, interpretation, or uncertainty. (See MD and NJ.) If you’re a state (not just MD and NJ, but they led the charge) arguing against accountability you lament all of the flaws and doubts surrounding MRIP data. At ASMFC you can have it both ways.

 

Heros And Zeros – Who Stood Up for Striped Bass

Pat Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Dept. of Marine Resources and the incoming Chair of ASMFC, is deserving of thanks from all of us, regardless of where we live and where we fish. He pushed the board to review CEs state by state (something the board had never done) and proposed a motion to require accountability if regulations enacted under CEs resulted in harvest over targets. This too was groundbreaking, even though it didn't gain enough votes to pass. Multiple times, Pat relayed concerns of Maine stakeholders. He reported tremendous opposition to the way CEs are being used. And, he shot down an attack from NJ in their lament that they were being asked to give up too much when he relayed discussions in Maine about being more conservative than the board mandate (using that term loosely – it is ASMFC, so a mandate isn’t really a mandate). Pat was clear that the conversation at a recent meeting in Maine regarding the failures of this body really hit home. (Stephen Train also from Maine, supported Pat’s positions at every turn.)

Dr. Justin Davis from CT and Ritchie White from NH spoke up in support of every appropriate measure, motion, and CE and against every irresponsible move. They both highlighted significant concerns with public faith in the board. These guys were superstars.

MA DMF’s Dan McKiernan was a strong voice in the effort for achieving consistency in regulations coastwide and led the pushback against NY in their play to try to allow charter/party boats to take a fish of any size larger than 31”, stressing the need to protect the integrity of the MRIP data.

Rhode Island was one of the surprises for me – a real disappointment. They gave cover to NJ and MD with their CE proposal to take fish between 30” and 40” and they almost enabled NY to add to the mess with a provision for NY charter/party boats to harvest fish greater than 31”. If RI had only advanced the board recommended slot limit, NJ would now likely have the same slot (not including their "bonus fishery"). Instead we’re facing what is effectively an expansion of the “coastwide slot,” as anglers will be harvesting fish between 28” and 40”. RI did however cast one of the three votes to support accountability measures.

New York earns mixed marks. John McMurray continues to lead the charge for more responsible management of this fishery, faster and more decisive action, limits on the runaway use of CEs, and implementation of accountability measures. The rest of the NY crew made some excellent points, seemed to favor consistency in regulation, but then added to the chaos as they made an unsuccessful push for their charter/party boats to be able to take fish 31” and larger. Yikes. The CT rep wasn’t buying them a beer after the meeting. On the plus side, NY did join ME and RI in favor of finally and immediately adding some kind of accountability for the CEs.

New Jersey and Maryland continue to effectively advocate for their states to be able to harvest as many fish as possible without regard to the health of the stock. Had they been left unchecked, NJ could have been harvesting fish from 24” on up with no upper size limit through their recreational fishery and their “Bonus Program” (don’t get me started – need to save that beauty for another day). Maryland was forced into limiting recreational anglers to 1 fish at 19” but the charter/party boat fleet will take 2 fish a day per person and their spring Trophy Fishery for bass  greater than 35” continues. So much for the board decision in October to limit the Chesapeake Bay fishery to 1 fish at 18”.

 

Next Steps

While it does provide momentary satisfaction to hurl vitriolic abuse at NJ and MD, it doesn’t do us much good. Telling our own board members that we expect them to hold NJ and MD accountable is different. We also need to ask our representatives to find ways to bring states that are on the fence – DE, DC, PA – onboard to urgently implement responsible management and a more conservative approach to harvests. I applaud steps that the board has taken and support measures that some members have tried to advance but this is still too little, too late. Our overwhelming voice needs to make clear that we are gravely concerned about this fishery as it currently stands and more distressed about where it will be in three years.

Enough (too much) for now. More on next steps in my next post. Thanks for caring and being involved.

Peter

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC

pfallon@mainestripers.com

207-522-9900


Maine Meeting on Upcoming Striped Bass Regulatory Decisions

Fly Fishing Charters Phippsburg Maine

On Thursday night, the Maine Dept. of Marine Resources held a rule-making hearing in Yarmouth to collect public comment on proposed changes to striped bass regulations in Maine. The Dept. is required to collect input because they are changing the regulation in Maine to adopt the max. size of under 35" but the draw to attend wasn't only about what they are proposing to do here. Striped bass are managed collectively by all of the states where there is a fishable population through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission or ASMFC. Many of the 38 people in attendance turned out to also speak about what some of the other states are proposing to do with their own striper rules. Maine has an equal vote with other states on the ASMFC Striped Bass Board, which meets next Tuesday, Feb. 4 to approve or disapprove of each of these proposals.

Here is the comment that I read into the public record on Thursday night. You'll find a recap of the Thursday meeting below along with a link to a helpful article from the American Saltwater Guides Association with more info.

My name is Peter Fallon. I’m here representing my charter business and the American Saltwater Guides Association. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I hope others here in the room tonight will also comment on our fishery and our expectations.

While I had advocated for 1 fish greater than 35 inches, I am pleased to see Maine supporting the decision of the ASMFC Striped Bass Board to move to a coastwide slot limit of 1 fish between 28 and 35 inches and not submitting a Conservation Equivalency proposal.

The current striped bass management system is broken. We should have better fishing, much better fishing – more bass and larger bass -- and we would if ASMFC had been responsibly managing this fishery.

The current use of Conservation Equivalencies, or CEs, is one fatal flaw. ASMFC has repeatedly stated that they want consistent regulations on the Atlantic coast and in Chesapeake Bay and yet they continue to approve Conservation Equivalencies that result in a mishmash of regulations and overfishing. States get to do what they want and there are zero consequences when they overfish. And they do overfish. No payback. No required adjustments to size, bag, or season limits. No constraints on future CE proposals from those states.

Recreational anglers in New Jersey harvested almost five and a half million pounds of fish in 2016. To put that into perspective, the recreational harvest in Massachusetts that year was just over two million pounds and here in Maine, about 125,000 pounds. New Jersey has a huge impact on this fishery and now they want to target fish 24 to 29 inches (which includes the 2015 year class) and fish over 42 inches through their trophy bonus tag program.

Have we forgotten what happened to the once robust 2011 year class as the result of an ill-conceived Conservation Equivalency from Maryland, a habitual offender of overfishing? Now New Jersey is about to decimate the 2015 year class if they are allowed to set their slot limit to take fish starting at 24 inches. Is Maine ok with that?

Maryland is also pushing a proposal that includes a continuation of their trophy fishery for bass over 35 inches and a 2 fish a day allowance for charter and party boat anglers – both of which go against the decision at the October ASMFC meeting to move to 1 fish a day at 18 inches for all of Chesapeake Bay, which was supported by 84% of the public comment.

Some Conservation Equivalency proposals look good on paper but fall short in meeting the desired results. All of these CEs have met the requirements of the Striped Bass Technical Committee but so have all of the past proposals and many have been a disaster. The Technical Committee has said that there is a high degree of uncertainty that these measures will meet mortality reduction goals. They say clearly that they have no idea how much overall striped bass mortality will be reduced by such disparate regulations.

This entire plan to reduce overall striped bass mortality by 18% was built with the assumption that the new regulations would be effective coastwide and baywide. It was presented to the public in the same way. It was supported by a huge percentage of the public input and approved by the ASMFC Striped Bass Board this fall. It’s no wonder that so many people have lost confidence in ASMFC.

Maine has often been a leader in striped bass management and conservation. Our adoption of mandatory circle hook use ahead of any ASMFC requirement is but one example of such forward thinking. I hope the Maine board members and ASMFC Chair, Commissioner Pat Keliher, will continue to lead by holding New Jersey and Maryland to the decision of the board and the expectations of the overwhelming majority of the stakeholders.

At next Tuesday’s ASMFC meeting I urge that Maine vote to approve only those CEs that would give us all one consistent slot limit coastwide and one consistent slot for all of Chesapeake Bay.

 

Here's my recap of the Thursday meeting:

To all of the passionate striped bass anglers, guides, and tackle shop owners who showed up in Yarmouth for the DMR hearing on Thursday - thank you. I've heard from a couple of you that the crowd was decidedly larger than the group that gathered this fall to provide public input into the proposed Addendum VI options. It's encouraging to see rising involvement as the challenges to responsible management grow.

Having Commissioner Pat Keliher present to hear discussion, questions, and on the record comments was incredibly important for our objectives. When Pat joined in, providing context, history, explanations and a patient ear it served to make our investment of time even more worthwhile. What was scheduled to be a routine rule-making hearing quickly evolved into an hour plus question and answer session. The questions and comments were excellent, across the board. And Pat's statements about the cascade of Conservation Equivalencies precipitated by the decision of the striped bass board to allow each state to target an 18% reduction in mortality were telling. The ASMFC meeting next Tuesday will be interesting for sure.

One thing that is not in doubt is that the Maine delegation heard us, loudly and clearly. Our expectations of them can not be misconstrued and they know that we will be following up with them after the meeting.

The number of people who stepped forward to comment on the record was impactful. It's not an easy or comfortable thing to do, especially the first couple of times, but it is critically important and needs to become our habit for future public hearings. I've spoken with a number of people in attendance who submitted their comments in writing prior to the event. This too becomes easier and more comfortable over time. I know of other folks who wanted to attend the meeting but couldn't make it fit into the schedule of life. They have or will comment via email and hope to join in person at the next go-round. And there will be a next-go round, and one after that, with more to follow.

I suspect that the results of the meeting on Feb. 4 will be mixed, with some news to cheer and other decisions to fight. We can't afford to wait until the next round of rule-making hearings to express our concerns, offer our suggestions, learn more about the process and hold our fisheries managers accountable. I don't know what form or forum that will be, but the need and interest is clear.

 

And here's the link to the article with more info on CE's and what lies ahead:

https://saltwaterguidesassociation.com/striped-bass-at-the-asmfc-2020-winter-meeting/

It's not too late to participate in this process. The article above gives good guidance on what you can write and how to get your view point to the people who are deciding the fate of this fishery.

Peter

Capt. Peter Fallon

Gillies & Fallon Guide Service, LLC


Short sighted and disappointing news from those entrusted with managing our fishery

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council just wrapped up their meeting in Boston and voted not to put a reduction in striped bass mortality out for public comment. Read this article from the Baltimore Sun and see if you agree with the comments about those of us in New England advocating that we manage this fishery based upon "emotion". Do you find yourself scratching your head at the comments from the rep from the Maryland Charter Boat Association? Can you believe that those of us who make our living by running striped bass charters can have such disparate positions on how to manage this resource? The stock assessment reports for this year are wonderful news but wouldn't a moderate reduction in mortality help ensure that the fish spawned this spring make a significant contribution to the breeding population in five years? A reduction in striped bass harvest is only one step that we need to take, but it is an important one and a simple one to achieve through regulation change. The Maryland Fisheries Service Director is right about one thing...not the last we've seen of this issue.

Peter

Capt. Peter Fallon


Native Kennebec Striped Bass Need Your Help

June Striper

There's only 24 hours left, but you can still   

email laurice.churchill@maine.gov through April 14.

 

The Kennebec River in Maine is home to the only significant population of breeding East Coast striped bass north of the Hudson River. Stocking efforts in the 1980s helped restore these once native fish to an increasingly healthy and productive watershed. The ambitious project worked. Every spring, stripers return to the Kennebec to spawn successfully.

 

In 1990 the Maine Department of Marine Resources implemented special regulations on the Kennebec River and surrounding waters to protect these spawning fish during May and June. All striper fishing is single hook, artificial lure only and catch and release only until July 1.

 

The Maine DMR is considering a proposal to change these regulations. 1)The catch and release zone would shrink considerably and, 2)use of bait, on circle hooks only, would become legal . As of this email, you have 24 hours to submit your comments regarding this proposal to the Maine DMR. Past rulings clearly show that your voice does count, as public comments have helped sustain these conservation measures in previous challenges.

 

Reducing the catch and release zone and allowing the use of bait during May and June will increase striped bass mortality in this watershed.  I am opposed to these changes in regulations. Here's why:

 

  • We have far too little data about the spawning habits of these fish. We need to know much more before we take anything other than the most conservative approach (short of closing the fishery completely). Has the value of these spawning fish decreased since 1990? Do we have supporting evidence that we should take a less conservative approach?
  • There has been a 66% decline in the estimated recreational catch of striped bass along the East Coast from 2006 to 2009. Maine DMR has submitted another proposal to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that would reduce striped bass mortality along the East Coast up to 40% and further protect spawning stock when it is concentrated and vulnerable. How can we ask every other East Coast state to support such changes when we are modifying rules that will increase striper mortality and weaken protection of spawning fish in our own waters?  
  • When I explain to my guests why these rules are in effect, I find that they become instant supporters of these conservation measures. In all of my years guiding I've only lost a handful of potential clients because of the catch and release rules.  
  • Waters opened to keeping fish would allow use of J hooks for the next two years.   
  • I'm a huge fan of circle hooks but allowing the use of bait during May and June will increase the overall pressure on this fishery. Increased pressure will lead to increased mortality, even within any catch and release zone. Fisheries managers worldwide use gear restrictions as a tool to limit mortality.
  • Enacting or defeating these proposed changes will have no significant effect on the numbers of striped bass available for us to pursue in this watershed this season or next season or the year after that. What we don't know is what role these native, spawning fish could play in our fishery in ten, twenty, thirty years.  
  • We took the gamble in the 1980s with the stocking program. We enacted special regulations in 1990 when we knew that the program was working. Why go off course now?

 

If you would be willing to take five minutes to share your opinion with the Maine DMR I'd really appreciate it.  

 

You can email laurice.churchill@maine.gov through April 14.

 

Thanks to all of you who've already submitted comments.

 

Capt. Peter Fallon 

 www.MaineStripers.com

 

To learn more:

 

Copy of the Maine DMR official notice of proposed rule changes

 

CCA article about striped bass restoration on the Kennebec River

 

Blog posts from some of my good friends and fellow guides with their thoughts on the proposed changes (both for and against)

The Fish Whistle 

Super Fly Charters  

Capt. Doug Jowett   

 

Discussion on the Fly Fishing In Maine (FFIM) Saltwater Forum  

 

Discussion on the Maine Fly Fish Saltwater Forum 

 

Recent article in the Coastal Journal

by Capt. Barry Gibson, a strong supported of these proposed changes


Maine Striper Fishing: Reminders That "Catch And Release" Doesn't Always Succeed

Searching for tuna Waiting for everyone to wake up and get going on this foggy morning I've been sending updates to friends on where we found tuna yesterday, what we saw for bait and birds and suggestions on tactics for today. Many of the bluefin were small fish, much smaller that the mediums that we found back in June on my last trip in Cape Cod Bay. Current regulations on tuna harvest will require release of most of the fish caught out there today. Successfully releasing a bluefin tuna after a brutal battle is always challenging and risky. With the smaller fish we have the option to keep it and a better chance to land it quickly. We really don't know much about survivability of these fish.

Striped bass are generally rugged fish. They often are ready to swim away as soon as we land them. A lot of us work to limit mortality in the bass that we catch by trying to land them promptly, crimping barbs, employing circle hooks, supporting the belly of a big fish and taking photos quickly. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we don't contribute to striped bass mortality when we release the fish that we catch.

Hun My niece Claire and I spent time this morning looking at photos from my last bird hunting trip to North Dakota. Lot's of images of a happy but tired dog, sunsets, wheat stubble, abandoned school houses and of course...dead birds...in the mouth of the dog, on the tailgate of the truck, on top of my vest next to the 16 gauge, on the grill in the motel parking lot. For a nine year old from San Francisco, the fact that the birds are dead stands out.

Claire and I also quickly scrolled through a ton of summer photos that included umpteen shots of clients holding fish, stripers in the water, reviving another bass. There aren't any images of a fish on ice, or cleaning the fish at home or a striped bass on the grill. It is logical for her to assume that we don't kill any stripers. She is only nine. How often do we fall into the same trap?

Fishing is still a blood sport, even when we release everything that we catch. Some percentage of all of the fish that we hook, in any fishery, will perish. Our impact upon the fishery is greater than most of us usually acknowledge. One significant challenge for fisheries managers is to quantify catch and release mortality.  There is decent data from a number of studies done in freshwater ecosystems, more limited statistics in saltwater settings, but we know much more than we did twenty years ago. Here's a great, readable article that summarizes a number of release mortality studies. Limiting physical injury as a result of hooking and limiting physiological stress on the fish that we catch when we fight, handle and release them are the two variables over which we have the most control.

If you're interested in reading more, here's a report on studies done in Maryland on striped bass catch and release success and here's a general article with good suggestions and thoughts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

Reviving fish I had three recent disappointing experiences with nice stripers that we caught in the Kennebec River. We decided to tag a fish that was over the slot limit. I inserted the tag needle too low on the fishes back an nicked an artery or vein. The fish bled significantly, something I'd never experience in all of the stripers that I've tagged in Maine and Massachusetts. We quickly got the bass back into the water. The blood rapidly clotted at the tag entry site and the fish swam away with vigor. Three days later I entered Morse Cove at the end of a charter and found the same fish floating dead on the surface. I was pissed at myself the rest of the day and am still bothered by my mistake.

The same day that I killed the fish in the process of tagging it, we had trouble reviving a fat 29 inch striper. There was nothing remarkably different about the fight - it didn't seem longer than usual, there where no seal attacks, the hook was in the upper mouth and easy to remove. This bass just wouldn't right itself while we were reviving it. We probably spent 15 minutes holding the fish along side the boat, working to get it strong enough to release. Eventually, it's mouth clamped down on my thumb and its tail swooshed as it turned away, but I can't say that I'm confidant that bass survived.

Only three days later we caught two fish that came to the boat missing chunks of their tails. Seals. We would see the gray shapes zooming after the bass as we desperately tried to yank the fish into the safety of the cockpit. We ended up leaving this spot that held plenty of stripers because we didn't want to continue to subject them to the predation of the seals.

I know that I'll be paying close attention to how we handle fish that we catch. I hope that as we contemplate and debate rules and regulation, management strategies and population studies, we recognize our contribution to mortality even if we practice 100% catch and release. I'm still going to chase the tuna and do my best to limit the number that I kill, but I'll do so wondering if I'm being hypocritical.

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.MaineStripers.com


You Can't Make Chicken Salad Out Of Chicken Sh*t...

...or why we need a National Saltwater Angler Registry.

So now you know that you need to register with NOAA (or have a saltwater licenses from an approved state) in order to fish for striped bass in Maine on New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Why? The frequent lament of some anglers is that this new requirement is just another money grab by the federal government or an example of more meddling by Washington in matters best left to individual states. Here's the story.

NOAA is the federal organization charged with managing marine fisheries. They submitted their recreational fisheries data collection program, known as MRFSS, to the National Research Council for review. The NRC is a private, non-profit, independent agency chartered by Congress. The scientists who contribute to NRC studies volunteer their time. The organization has a well deserved, excellent reputation within the scientific community. In 2006 the NRC came back to NOAA with a report that said they weren't doing good science. It wasn't an indictment of their efforts but rather of their systems. Their sampling methods needed significant improvement.

Under the MRFFS program, one of NOAA's  primary data collection methods was the Coastal Household Telephone Survey. NOAA (or state) reps made random calls to households in coastal counties to collect data on recreational fishing by members of that household. Did I ever get one of these calls? No. Could I have received one of these calls. No. Why? Because I don't have a land-line. I use a mobile phone as my only phone and the survey had no way to track cell phone users who resided in coastal counties only. One of the other flaws in this program is that saltwater anglers who didn't live in a county bordering the ocean were never called. The striper fanatic from Farmington, Maine or Worcester, Massachusetts was never going to get a call. Neither was the person from Ohio who spent two weeks on Martha's Vineyard fishing the Derby. What would significantly improve NOAA's ability to efficiently collect data from saltwater anglers? The NRC said "their names and contact info".

As a migratory bird hunter, state and federal agencies have my name, address and phone number. They send me requests for information and wing samples. They ask me questions about my previous season's efforts and harvest when I renew my license. My wife is not a migratory bird hunter. They don't waste their efforts asking her about the number of woodcock that she harvested last year but they do capture that data from every person in the country who legally hunts woodcock. By sharing information between federal and state agencies, the people managing our migratory gamebird populations have a national database of migratory gamebird hunters. The NRC said that NOAA needed the same thing.

The Coastal Household Telephone Survey was not the only flawed program that the NRC flagged and the need for a national database of saltwater anglers was not the only change that they recommended. More on those topics in another post. When Congress reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 2007, it told NOAA to implement many of the changes recommended by the NRC, including the creation of a national angler database. NOAA's stated preference is to have the coastal states enact registry or licensing requirements that meet their data collection needs and then share the contact info. Until all of the states do so, NOAA has created the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) and the National Saltwater Angler Registry. Their goal is to be more efficient in collecting more complete info such as who fishes, what's being caught, how many fish are being caught and when and where people are fishing.

Sound management of any natural resource depends upon sound science. Without good data, you can't have good science, thus the reference to chicken salad. Sound management is also based upon social and economic values and decisions. The data that NOAA looks to collect from those of us who fish in saltwater is also used to determine the social and financial value or worth of our coastal fisheries. I know that I want to be counted. How about you?

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.MaineStripers.com


Maine Striper Fishing: National Saltwater Angler Registry

Preview  I just returned from a meeting of the Maine Assocoation of Charterboat Captains with representatives of NOAA, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Chair of the Marine Resources Committee from the Maine House. Like most fisheries management forums that I've attended, there was some contentious and passionate debate, focused on the new law in Maine enacting a state saltwater fishing license for 2011. One provision requires commercial boat operators to purchase an additional license that exempts their clients from buying a saltwater license when fishing on the charter or head boat. A minority of the captains in attendance were incensed that the state was leveling another fee on their business, that the provision was added to the bill at the 11th hour and that they had no option when it came to carrying this license. Most of us in the room expected that Maine would copy most of the other states that already require saltwater fishing licenses and charge charter operators a fee that would cover their clients. I'd prefer to write fewer checks to the State, but I'm glad that I can cover licensing requirements for my clients.

I'll add more details about the Maine saltwater license bill in the coming days, but the law doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2011. So what about this year? What do you need for a license to fish for striped bass in Maine in 2010? There has been confusion and debate in various articles. Here's what you need to know.

If you are going to fish for striped bass in Maine in 2010 you must register with NOAA through the National Saltwater Angler Registry. The process is simple and efficient and there is no fee. That's right, it is free. The reason for the new registry is to build a "phone book" of saltwater anglers to significantly improve the data that NOAA collects on recreational fishing.

There are exceptions to the registration requirement. If you are fishing on a charter, head or guide boat you don't need to register. You do not need a license if you come out with us, as we are already registered in the NOAA database and provide them with the information that they are seeking.

If you are under the age of 16 you don't need to register. If you hold a Highly Migratory Species Angling Permit you do not need to register (however, anyone else in in your HMS permitted boat does need to register). If you are a non-resident angler already registered with NOAA either through the National Saltwater Angler Registry or through a state saltwater license (recreational or commercial) that NOAA recognizes, you are all set.

These registry requirements and exceptions for fishing for striped bass in New Hampshire and Massachusetts are the same as Maine for 2010.

I'll write more about the origins of the federal registry, the coming state licenses and why they are good ideas (not always perfectly executed) this week. Let me know if you have questions.

Capt. Peter Fallon

www.MaineStripers.com


The Alewives are Running and the Stripers are Right Behind Them.

Alewivesintank1_2 The annual alewife migration is in full swing. These anadromous fish run up the rivers all along the Maine coast in their effort to reach spawning habitat in lakes and ponds. The adult alewives drop back down the rivers to the ocean soon after they have completed spawning. The young of the year alewives begin their trip to the sea starting in July, peaking late August into early October. The large, nutrient-rich adults are important forage for early arriving striped bass. If you've fished with us in the fall you know how the stripers love to gorge on the juvenile alewives in preparation for the long trip south.

Alewivesinbucket2 Watching the alewives navigate falls and fish ladders is an annual rite of spring for many of us in coastal Maine. The alewives are an important, early source of lobster bait when other fish are scarce. Some of the runs are managed by towns with rights sold to the highest bidder. The Department of Marine Resources works with a number of dam operators to ensure alewife passage at other locations.


Img_0293 At the Brunswick Hydro facility, the DMR moves these fish over the dam and also runs a "trap and truck" operation. Some of the alewives that ascend the fish ladder are held in oxygenated tanks and then delivered to pods and lakes via truck. The alewives reach spawning habitat where upstream passage is blocked by dams. The adults, and eventually the juveniles, are able to descend from the lake or pond to return to the salt water.


Img_0297 I stopped by the fish ladder at the Brunswick dam earlier this week. Here are a few updates:


 


  • More than 6,000 alewives have come through the fish passage so far this season.
  • The DMR moved over 80,000 alwives last year.
  • The 3 to 5 trucks per day are delivering fish to Sabattus Pond, Taylor Pond, Marshall Pond, Bog Brook and other locations.
  • Suckers and brook trout are entering the fish passage. No sign yet of atlantic salmon or striped bass.
  • The run will peak towards the end of May. Florida Power & Light will open their viewing room at the fish ladder this week, Wednesdays through Sundays 1:00 to 5:00 PM.

Img_0300Here are two links to more information from the Maine DMR:

http://www.maine.gov/dmr/searunfish/alewife/index.htm

www.fws.gov/northeast/gulfofmaine/downloads/fact_sheets/alewife%20fact%20sheet.pdf


Img_0299If you are around the coast during May, check out one of the alewife runs. You'll be fascinated  as you watch these energetic fish  clear ledges and falls or ascend a fish ladder. You'll also race home to get your striper fishing tackle organized or to tie up some alewife flies.

Capt. Peter Fallon
www.MaineStripers.com



New NMFS Tuna Regulations

Tuna_headon1_5 The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced final regulations regarding harvest of bluefin tuna. In previous announcements they had indicated that there would not be any harvest of "school sized" bluefin ("27-47" curved fork length) this season due to harvest totals compiled from 2005. There will be a season for retention – keeping a fish – of the school-size class in New England waters, from August 25th until September 14th. At first glance, the NMFS tuna regulations seem to be written by the same folks who brought us our tax code. If you have questions, call or email the NMFS for help.

Here's the link to the NMFS website with all of the details:http://216.12.134.122/News.asp#news232
For more informationyou can aslso contact Dianne.Stephan@noaa.gov.

Capt. Peter Fallon
www.mainestripers.com