Angler input sought on proposed regulations
If you have ever wanted an earlier start to the black sea bass season or have concerns about striped bass dwindling in your area, now is the time to let those feelings be heard at the Monday, Feb. 10, 6 p.m. public hearing on recreational fishing regulations. The meeting is being held by DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries on behalf of the RI Marine Fisheries Council at the URI Bay Campus, Corless Auditorium, South Ferry Road, Narragansett.
Comments on regulation options will be taken on 2020 regulations concerning scup, black sea bass, summer flounder, tautog, striped bass and blue fish. Commercial regulations on tautog and striped bass will also be reviewed.
Many of the regulations being proposed have very little wiggle room or little state of RI discretion as harvest limits have been set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) that mangers fish coastwide in state waters 0 to 3 miles from shore.
Highlights of the meeting will likely focus on striped bass where input is being sought to follow the 28” to <35” ASMFC approved slot limit option or a variety of other conservation equivalency options proposed by Rhode Island. First there are joint RI, CT and NY proposals including a one fish slot limit from 30” to <40” for all modes, or one fish 30” to <40” for private anglers with a 28” to <37” option for the For Hire industry. If these joint state options do not fly RI has proposed a 32” to <40” option for all modes or a split mode of 32” to <40” for private angles with a For Hire limit of one fish from 30” to <40”.
Comments will be spirited at the meeting as striped bass is the number one recreation fish on the east coast. More striped bass fishing trips are taken than any other species and the recreational community harvests about 90 percent compared to 10 percent allocated to commercial fisheries.
Some private anglers have expressed concern about charter boats being able to take fish of different sizes. At the Jan. 13 striped bass workshop angler Doug McPherson, chairman of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association legislative committee, said, “I believe recreational anglers should all be treated the same no matter if you are a private angler or one fishing on a charter boat.”
The for hire charter and party boat industry feels the split mode options are appropriate for the industry. Capt. Richard Chatowsky of Drifter Charters, a member of the RI Charter & Party Boat Association, said, “When charter captains catch a fish, if it is of legal size, they generally keep it for their customers and then move on to catch some other species.”
Many other light tackle and fly fishing charter captains and their customers (as well as private anglers) prefer to practice catch and release. They release most all the fish they catch so they generally continue to fish after catching a legal sized fish as it is released. However, the mortality (death) rate of the fish they release starts to add up. Data shared in the striped bass addendum last year showed that the amount of dead fish due to catch and release mortality was higher than the legal fish anglers actually harvested for food.
It is important to note that the practice of catch and release is a good thing. Catch & release is a good conservation practice, it saves fish, we in effect are releases 90 percent of all striped bass and that is a lot of fish living after they are caught even when 10 percent of the fish die due to the trauma of being caught.
I am a supporter of mandatory catch & release training to reduce the mortality rate of released fish. I believe we should explore making the online screening of a three or four minute video, followed by a five question quiz on good catch & release practices, mandatory for acquiring a saltwater fishing license or permit. The program would be accompanied by point of purchase signs and pamphlets at fishing tackle, gear and bait retailers.
The Feb. 10 meeting is sure to be a good one to attend. For copies of the agenda and presentation that will be used visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/marine-fisheries/rimfc/index.php.
Watch out for the whales
Last week the State of Massachusetts issued an advisory to remind recreational and commercial trap fishermen that the Large Whale Seasonal Trap Gear Closure (Closure) is in effect from Feb. 1 through April 30. The Closure may be extended into May if right whales remain aggregated in the area.
The Closure area encompasses the waters of Cape Cod Bay, Stellwagen Bank and eastern Cape Cod. State officials will be patrolling this area in advance of and during the closure to identify gear and notify its owners.
During this restricted period all trap gear must be removed from the closure area. If trap gear remains in this area during the closure the gear may be seized and the owners may be subject to fines, penalties and permit sanctions and revocation.
Right whales are a critically endangered species. They seasonally migrate into Massachusetts waters and aggregate in Cape Cod Bay to feed on zooplankton. In recent years more than 50 percent of the known right whale population is observed in our waters during late winter/early spring. The entanglement of whales in fixed fishing gear, particularly vertical buoy lines, is a substantial source of human-caused mortality.
Where’s the bite?
Saltwater. Elisa Cahill of Snug Harbor Marina, South Kingstown said, “We had a good bite close to shore for most of the winter, just south of Block Island, but now those fishing will likely have to go a bit further to Cox Ledge.” Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “Fishing had its up and downs last week. We would set up on a pile, pick a few and then it would be over. Last Friday did see the best action with many anglers catching 3-5 each. Biggest fish on the week was in the mid-teens.” Reports of some holdover bass in the Narrow River, however, John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside, said, “No reports of holdover bass in the upper Providence River. They were here a bit longer this season, so maybe they left for winter food.”
Freshwater. Angler Mike Deryck, who lives on Lake Hiawatha, Blackstone, MA, caught a 4 pound 10 once largemouth bass in front of his house. Anglers should check safe ice conditions with city or towns. In Rhode Island most fishing is occurring on unfrozen lakes and ponds. Littlefield said, “A lot of customers are fishing. I keep selling out of shiners. The smaller ones are being bought by anglers targeting bass. Two customers have caught salmon when fishing Only Pond in Lincoln Woods for bass. The larger shiners are being bought by customers who are targeting Pike in northern New England ponds.” Over all the freshwater bite has been good, so if you can put up with the cold, get out and fish.
Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association, the American Saltwater Guides Association and the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at email@example.com or visit www.noflukefishing.com and his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com.