Fisheries News & Conservation

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