Striped bass fishing is down.
Striper fishermen, fishing guides and charter captains will tell you that for the past three to four years the amount of fish caught each year has been less and less â and the fish have been getting smaller.
The results of Striper Foreverâs 2018 annual survey on striped bass fishing was released Feb. 9 and it was no surprise when it showed most anglers responding to the survey said their striped bass fishing was down. Out of the 450 survey responders, 72 percent said the number of striped bass they catch per hour has declined from 2017 to 2018, while 71 percent said the size of the striped bass they caught was âsmallerâ or âmuch smallerâ than previous years.
These survey results support angler claims of fish volume and sizes declining for the past couple of years. This was also the case, when in 2018, the Massachusetts commercial striped bass fishery was unable to catch its full quota of large striped bass even after the stateâs Division of Marine Fisheries added open days to the season in an effort to help meet the quota.
âStriper fishing in 2018 was hit or miss,â Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association, said. âOftentimes, we would miss the bite out at the southwest ledge area of Block Island by a few minutes. The fish were also notably smaller this year, just as the scientists have been predicting.â
A major striped bass stock reassessment of the wild Atlantic striped bass population has prompted the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) that manages striped bass to admit that the spawning stock of large fish has shrunk sufficiently to require a warning that the stock is being overfished, and that overfishing is occurring.
Stripers Forever blames the ASMFC management plan that focuses too much of the fishing effort on large, older fish that are vital to the breeding population. Over the last 10 years, a reduced striped bass breeding population has resulted in highly variable production, including two good year classes, two average and six below average, including a record low spawn in 2016. The average striped bass year class sizes in Chesapeake Bay during the decade of the 1990s were roughly twice as large as those that have occurred in the last 15 years.
In their Feb. 9 press release, Stripers Forever said, âWe believe that a slot limit that allows a harvest only within a restrictive upper and lower size range along with a complete end to all commercial fishing for wild striped bass is the best management solution for the fisheryâŚ (And) 79 percent of Stripers Forever members support the sale of a game fish stamp with the proceeds to be used for buying out the remaining commercial fishing activities.â
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Last week, the New York State Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban the harvesting of Atlantic menhaden, also called pogies or bunker, using purse seine nets up to three miles from shore. The bill restricts large-scale industrial boats from encircling schools of menhaden with nets that haul tons of fish for the production of fish oil and protein meal.
Atlantic menhaden have been cited by many as an important forage fish for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, as well as osprey and other fish and birds. They are harvested locally by fishermen who cast nests in Narragansett, Mt. Hope and Buzzardâs Bay to catch the fish for use as bait.
However, the law that New York passed does allow for large-scale fishing at the stateâs discretion to avoid fish kills due to depleted oxygen levels in estuaries.
At deadline fishermen in Rhode Island are still at odds with Vineyard Wind, developer of the 84 turbine wind farm 14 miles off Massachusetts. The wind farm area is often fished by Rhode Island fishermen who initially had concerns about the spacing of the turbines. Fishermen wanted to make sure enough room was left between them for fishing and safe navigation. They are now planned for approximately one mile apart.
Additionally, Vineyard Wind announced in December its support for fishery transit lanes that are sited directly through the middle of the lease area. The aim is to accommodate fishermen based in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Long Island area who need to transit the length of the wind areas to reach fishing grounds south and east of Cape Cod.
Vineyard Wind has pledged to continue to work with fishermen to determine how best to utilize this flexibility, taking into account both fishing within the turbine area and transiting though the area.
Commercial squid fishermen from Rhode Island are concerned about the wind farm changing the migration pattern of squid on rich fishing grounds in and around the wind farm. Recreational fishermen are also concerned about the impact the wind farm could have particularly during construction redirecting fish and bait/forage (like squid) and their migration patterns.
In a research protocol recommendation to Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind and Deepwater Wind/Orsted the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA) requested that a research protocol be developed for all wind farms that includes fish and habitat research before, during and after construction of wind farms that utilizes in part rod and reel surveys as well as research targeting impacts on pelagic species such as mahi, tuna and sharks.
The recommendation related that RISAA supports renewable energy efforts like wind farms, however, they want to make sure that as utility scale wind farms are build i.e. the eighty-four turbine Vineyard Wind farm vs the five turbine piolet project off Block Island, that there are no adverse effects on habitat or fish.
At press time, the Rhode Island Fishermenâs Advisory Board (FAB) weighing in on Vineyard Wind plans were negotiating with the developer.
âI am concerned about the Vineyard Wind project setting the table for projects to come,â said FAB member Capt. Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association. âRight now, Vineyard Wind has no intention to do rod and reel studies, or study pelagic fish we target. We are concerned that once they start driving piles that fishing will stop, just like it did at Block Island when Deepwater Wind was constructing the Block Island Wind Farm project. We are also concerned about a change in squid migration patterns.â
Squid serve as a great food source for a variety of species, including summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, striped bass, blue fish and a host of others.
âThese pylons are over 30 feet in diameter compared to the smaller pylons used at Block Island,â Capt. Bellavance said. âWind farm pile driving will continue for ten years. What this will do to fish migration patterns is not known. Will it drive them away for good?â
Vineyard Wind and the Fishermenâs Advisory Board hope to reach a mitigation agreement soon.