Opening up striped bass fishing in the EEZ
Block Island is arguably one of the best striped bass fisheries in the Northeast. Large striped bass weighing in at 30, 40 and 50 pounds (fish with prime spawning potential) have been taken there for many years.
It is legal to retain fish within the three mile limit around Block Island. The south, southeast and north sides of the island and specifically the Southwest Ledge area (within the three mile limit) all have been targeted by anglers, not just from Rhode Island but from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut as well.
It is illegal to fish for striped bass outside the three-mile limit in federal waters in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, fishermen and charter captains claim that some fishermen have and do fish there illegally. This has angered many fishermen who fish in legal areas. Although several arrests have been made in the area in the past few years, the area is difficult to enforce as it is far from shore. In addition, commercial fishermen, private anglers and charter boats can reap great benefits from fishing there, encouraging them to break the law.
Lawmakers have a history of introducing federal legislation to open up fishing in the EEZ in the Block Island transit zone, which is the area of federal waters within Block Island Sound, located between areas south of Montauk Point, New York, and Point Judith, Rhode Island. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-New York), who has been lobbied primarily by the Montauk, NY charter and party boat industry, has spearheaded these efforts.
The aim of Rep. Zeldin’s proposed legislation over the years is to open the EEZ at Block Island. His bills have never passed both the House and Senate to become law.
However, two directives pertaining to the EEZ are written into the NOAA’s Omnibus Appropriations bill for 2019. The first directive from the administration to NOAA Fisheries is to explore opening the entire EEZ on the east coast to striped bass fishing, and the second directive is to explore opening striped bass fishing in the Block Island transit zone. Both of these are to be done in ‘consultation’ with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC).
During the first week of October, NOAA Fisheries introduced an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) for public comment to allow striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone. The rule was posted in the Federal Register with a 45 day written comment period that ends November 19, 2018.
Robert Ballou, ASMFC and striped bass board member from Rhode Island (and special assistant to Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management director Janet Coit) said to NOAA fish regulators that opening up the EEZ around Block Island was “very controversial in Rhode Island. Proceed with extreme caution as the issue will receive a lot of push back on both sides of the issue.”
Once public comment from the Advanced Notice is received along with input from the ASMFC, a Draft Proposal will be written and published in the Federal Register with a comment period. The Proposal could be reviewed at public hearings and/or just by a written comment period. This is likely to occur in April or March of 2019.
Fishing community reaction
The fishing community in Rhode Island is sure to express its point of view during the comment period; however, earlier this year here is how a few felt about striped bass fishing in the EEZ.
George Allen, past vice president and legislation committee chair of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association said, “Allowing these fish to be killed in the EEZ is a travesty. Select boats have been illegally fishing in the EEZ with poor enforcement already. The flood gates will be open to New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island boats that will hammer these fish.”
Capt. Rick Bellavance of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association said, “Some members believe we should be allowed to fish in the EEZ as other for-hire vessels are fishing there anyway illegally. Yet others are concerned about party boats throughout the region sitting on these fish and really doing them damage.”
Greg Vespe, president of the Aquidneck Island Striper Team and RISSA board member said, “For some who followed the rules this will probably be welcomed, since the other option of enforcing it has largely been a total failure. As a tournament fisherman I can certainly say I am tired of competing against guys going over the line. Watching it night after night gets old. I didn’t like it when it was enacted and I haven’t liked it since, but at least I wanted it enforced if it existed.”
EEZ striped bass fishing is a bad idea
The proposed action is not based on science but rather politics, with Rep. Zeldin doing the bidding of primarily New York charter & party boats that simply want to take more fish by being allowed to fish in the EEZ. This action will lead to the killing of many additional large fish that have a great spawning potential as these large fish are the fish that are targeted in this area. Currently, this fish stock has a spawning stock biomass of 129 million pounds that is just hovering above the threshold of 127 million pounds, and well below the target of 150 million pounds. What impact opening up the EEZ will have on the striped bass spawning stock is unknown.
Opening up the EEZ runs counter to the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act that sets forth the basis for Federal striped bass regulatory authority. Under the act, Federal Atlantic striped bass regulations must be sufficient to assure the long-term conservation of Atlantic striped bass populations.
My second reason for opposing this proposed action is that it sets a bad precedent, bending national law to accommodate local fishing interests with a fish stock that belongs to the people of the United States of America. Local interests circumventing national fishing law is a recipe for disaster as was the case with summer flounder off the coast of New Jersey and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. And, who in New England can forget the political pressure that was placed upon managers to fish, fish, and fish cod to almost extinction.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the fishing law of this nation, has provisions to make sure our fisheries benefit the entire nation and not just one interest group or one geographic area to the detriment of the rest of the nation or the fish. This action would kill more fish for the benefit of just a few and would set another precedent for putting economic gain over the growth and survival of a fishery.
I believe we need to enforce existing law in the EEZ; it is not confusing, you just cannot take striped bass in federal water.
Where’s the bite
Freshwater fishing has been outstanding all year, with fall trout stocking last week by DEM in area ponds and lakes fishing continues to be good.
Tautog fishing has been not been great. Anglers have to work for keeper fish with a lot of shorts being caught. Keeper fish have been caught in the lower ay near the bridges at Plum Light and General Rock but few reports of keeper tautog in the upper and mid bay areas.
Striped bass, bluefish and false albacore. Striped bass fishing continues to improve in the bay and is still god along the southern coastal shore and at Block Island with smaller keepers being caught in the 30” range with an occasional large fish. I continue to find bluefish on the surface in both the lower and middle bay areas. Fish have not been monster size but rather in the 4 pound range. Surface and swimming lures are working well both site fishing and casting and trolling has been successful. False albacore are around but not like the run we experienced last year.
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing for over 40 years. He 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 and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.