Newbury resident, conservation biologist for Essex County Greenbelt Association; US Coast Guard-licensed captain and saltwater fishing guide
Striped bass are the most sought-after recreational sport fish in Massachusetts and along the Atlantic seaboard. Just a few decades ago, they were so abundant people from around the world flocked to Cape Cod and other coastal communities to fish for them, spending $1 billion annually in the process. Massachusetts had a world-class recreational striped bass fishery then – not now!
As a result of the fishery’s decline, jobs and businesses in Massachusetts have suffered. Numerous other states, including Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey, have recognized the importance of striped bass, prioritizing them as a recreational species. We should follow suit.
In Massachusetts, current regulations try to satisfy recreational and commercial interests and do neither well. State officials, anglers, and commercial fishermen have known this for years. In 2005, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries wrote in its newsletter that “the commercial [striped bass] fishery attracts thousands of participants lured by the idea of subsidizing an expensive hobby or the possibility of creating discretionary income.” In other words, most people catching and selling striped bass are not full-time, hard-working commercial fishermen; they are just average fishermen selling fish to pay for their boat, fuel, bait, and tackle. That needs to change.
Fisheries management should be based on science, not legislation. But often legislation is required to set policy for managerment A bill filed by state Representative Thomas Stanley (D-Waltham) enjoys bipartisan cosponsorship from both coastal and inland legislators because it proposes more equitable management of striped bass. The bill prioritizes the interests of hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers who live, travel, and spend money here while also preserving the rights of about 250 legitimate commercial striped bass fishermen, who would be allowed to continue their operations during a transition before a commercial fishing ban took effect.
The legislation is a first step in recognizing the importance of the state’s recreational striped bass fishery and restoring an estimated nearly $300 million of lost economic activity that has occurred due to the decline in fish abundance. The bill would ultimately help create more jobs and opportunities for our state and its citizens. It also would establish Massachusetts as a leader in responsible recreational fisheries management and set a strong example for other states to follow.
Marblehead resident, US Coast Guard-licensed captain and fishing guide, commercial and recreational fisherman
The striped bass is the most targeted recreational saltwater fish in New England. The striper has also been a target of commercial fisherman in a very well-managed, quota-based fishery for many years. A set number of pounds of striped bass are allotted to the commercial fishery in each state, and once they are caught, that state’s fishery is closed.
In Massachusetts this year, there were 175,000 recreational saltwater permits issued. For each of those, fisherman harvested just one striper, which would be over four times the amount of fish caught commercially, based on my calculations.
If this were about protecting the striped bass, the recreational fishery is killing far more fish. Yet commercial fishermen are — once again — the ones being blamed for the decline in fish stocks. A relatively small number of recreational fishermen are happy to support bills that will end commercial striped bass fishing while not even mentioning any new conservation measures by recreational fisherman.
The minimum allowable size for commercial striped bass in Massachusetts is 34 inches, which by all accounts are fish that have reached sexual maturity. The recreational minimum size is 28 inches. This species is managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets quotas for fish stocks in states on the East Coast and reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The bill being considered in Massachusett will undermine the management of this multistate organization and punish our local commercial fisherman, who already have been decimated by regulations.
Massachusetts commercial striped bass fisherman must report every fish harvested, yet there are no reporting requirements for recreational anglers. Over the years, I have caught tens of thousands of striped bass recreationally, data that has never been requested by fishery managers. As a result, there is a huge margin of error in calculating how many bass are caught and killed.
As a 34-year-old fisherman, I hope to use this resource for many years to come. The fishing has improved each of the last four years and is, once again, what I would describe as excellent. We should take this opportunity to tag many fish and improve our survey data so the scientists can keep adjusting regulations to maintain striped bass for both the commercial and recreational anglers and keep the fish thriving.
(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.