West

THE ARGUMENT

Should Massachusetts ban commercial striped bass fishing?

YES

Thomas Stanley

Thomas Stanley

State representative, Waltham Democrat

Striped bass are a vital resource for the Massachusetts economy. Each spring their migratory path draws them north from Chesapeake Bay to the Commonwealth’s shores, and with them come hundreds of thousands of anglers and tourists hopeful of catching a keeper. They spend a lot of money in the process.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when striped bass were plentiful, recreational anglers chasing stripers generated $1 billion for our economy. Today striper stocks are shrinking, and with them that billion-dollar economic opportunity.

Because striped bass are migratory, they are managed by a national board that is part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The commission examines data to assess the health of the stocks and sets quotas on how much the states can harvest commercially. Some states, including Massachusetts, allow the fish to be caught and sold. The commercial value of stripers here is a few million dollars. Other states, recognizing the fish’s recreational value, allocate their quota toward recreation.

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With four colleagues, I have introduced a bipartisan measure we believe strikes a balance between the two sides. The legislation addresses a major weakness in how Massachusetts manages the striper fishery. Currently our rules are lax; for a mere $160 anyone can become a commercial striped bass fisherman. Less than 6 percent of those who hold a commercial striped bass fishing license catch enough for it to be a significant part of their living. The rest take advantage of the low cost of entry to subsidize their pleasure.

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Our bill protects both striped bass and striped bass fishermen by closing off the fishery to those who take advantage of the loophole that lets them catch more than their fair share. Fishermen whose catches currently exceed a specified level could continue to sell their harvested fish during a transition period to a full commercial ban. Analysis of federal fisheries data suggests that protecting striped bass in this way could help Massachusetts restore the $1 billion recreational striped bass fishery—and generate 4,000 new jobs.

We are excited by what this simple measure could do to benefit our economy and for the future of the striped bass.

NO

Russell Cleary

Russell Cleary

Pepperell resident, acting executive director, Commercial Anglers Association

Massachusetts has had a commercial striped bass fishery since Colonial times. It has delivered a delicious, wild-caught product to the seafood consumer for over 350 years. The sport fishery derives from the post-industrial revolution quest in the later 19th century for outdoor recreation. Today both fisheries thrive.

Each is highly-regulated by such strictures as minimum sizes, trip limits, seasonal closures, and annual quotas. These regulations ensure sustainability of the striped bass fish population and are administered by state, federal, and regional management authorities. And both fisheries - commercial and sport - are fully compatible, as they share the requirement that the fish be caught exclusively by hook and line -- arguably the type of gear most environmentally benign and the one that is most size and species-specific.

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Indeed, if you sat a group of fisheries managers and biologists down to design an ideal commercial fishery, they might come up with something like our fishery.

So, we have now an industry in our state that delivers a delicious export product, and provides employment for fishermen, seafood dealers, retailers, and restaurateurs. Additionally, all of the “multiplier” economic benefits often cited by sport fishing groups are generated as well by the commercial fishery: bait and tackle, ice, gasoline, boat, motor and electronics purchases, marina slip rentals, and a multiplicity of services.

So, what’s not to like? Well, some sport-fishing enthusiasts, taking a very unsportsmanlike stance, want the striped bass resource exclusively for their own, thereby cutting out the commercial fisherman, seafood consumer, and seafood industry altogether. To that end, these advocates have repeatedly promoted bills in the Massachusetts legislature to either frontally obliterate the commercial fishery, by out-right banning the sale of striped bass, or by paving the way for the industry’s extirpation by legislation intended to degrade and diminish the fishery and it’s political base.

The recreational fishery already harvests the preponderance of the resource that Massachusetts has available to it, but evidently that is not enough to satisfy some of its advocates.

The Massachusetts commercial striped bass fishery enriches the state economically and culturally, and the proposed legislation banning the fishery should be rejected.

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(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 laidler@globe.com.