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How about making decisions based on what is best for the fishery in the long run so that all stakeholders can benefit?

By Fred Golofaro  |  January 27, 2020
Releasing a big bass from atop a wave washed jetty is one of many instances where a big fish suffering from lactic acid cannot be revived properly.

Not much to talk about on the fishing front this time of the year, but there is plenty to talk about when it comes to regulations that will affect the way we fish and the future of the fishery going forward. New York’s Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC) voted on what striped bass option to present to DEC to satisfy the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) required harvest reduction of 18 percent for the 2020 season at their January 21 meeting. Unfortunately, they voted 9 to 2 to go with the 28 to 35-inch slot across the board for recreational and for-hire boats, and also dropped the low end of the commercial slot from 28 to 26 inches by a vote of 6 to 4. Only two council members showed any concern for protecting the two good year classes that represent the future of our striped bass fishery, as did representatives of the Captree Boatmans and Montauk Captains/Boatmans associations, but their requests fell on deaf ears. The council had the opportunity through conservation equivalency to help protect a large portion of the small fish, while also satisfying the needs of the for-hire industry. Keeping in mind that the for-hire industry accounts for only 6 percent of the striped bass harvest (according to ASMFC data), they could have used a little creativity and given party/charter boats the option of taking one fish in a more limited slot size from 28 to 33 inches, OR one fish with a minimum size that could have been set anywhere from 32 to 35 inches (whatever was needed to meet the 18 percent) for boats that rely on targeting larger fish. That same minimum could also apply to recreational anglers who overwhelmingly supported a 35-inch minimum at the public hearing held last fall at Bethpage State Park - so much for public comment being worth anything as many attendees discovered once the process played out.

Instead, they are encouraging us to deplete the abundance of small fish that hold so much promise for the future of the fishery, and raise the mortality rate of large breeders to beyond what likely would be harvested. If things stand as they are, the summer fishery in Montauk which is made up of mostly large fish, will see big bass that are trolled on wire and those taken on live baits destined to become crab food for a number of reasons, including the warmer water temperatures that time of the year, the inability to properly release a big fish from boats with too much freeboard to allow them to be revived, and dragging them in the wake of a boat trolling wire. And let’s not forget the early season bunker runs with fish still being caught by snagging and dropping. The circle hook regulation does not go into effect until 2021. Ditto for surf fishermen. While many, including those most likely to score big fish, will release any big bass they catch when conditions allow, releasing 30 to 50-pound stripers in a 4 or 5-foot surf just doesn’t work. In many cases, the same can be said for fish caught from jetties. Given ASMFC’s sudden fascination with release mortality, you would think they would have taken into consideration some of these factors.

Thanks to the low standard set by ASMFC, New York had plenty of wiggle room to achieve an 18 percent reduction with various size limit options; by separation of private anglers and the for-hire segment of the recreational fishery for which there is already precedence; by eliminating 15 to 30 days from the season; eliminating the taking of large breeders in the Hudson during the spring spawn, and limiting the catch on for-hire boats to only the paying customers and excluding the captain and mate.

There also seemed to be a preoccupation with what other states were doing such as setting a date for the start of the season. Pushing the season opener back at least 15 days from the current April 15 opening has been discussed for months. Prior to that we had a May 7 opening. The concern was the harvesting of big breeders staging at the entrance to New York Harbor before heading up the Hudson to spawn. Common sense, right? Now New York is waiting to see what NJ does. If they go with May 1, NY will go with May 1. If they go with April 15, we will go with April 15. How about New York setting the standard for other states to follow instead of the other way around? How about making decisions based on what is best for the fishery in the long run so that all stakeholders can benefit? How about a little common sense instead of just talking percentages built around numbers that are questionable at best?

The job of MRAC is to advise. That does not mean DEC has to go along with the council’s recommendation. Hopefully common sense prevails and our “Conservation Department” has the foresight to ensure that striped bass are on the path to recovery.