Poachers caught… How can we enhance enforcement?
Last week the Rhode Island Department Environmental Management (DEM) Division of Law Enforcement announced the arrest two Rhode Island men for illegally harvesting 38 striped bass.
In a news advisory last week DEM said, “Robert Majors, age 41, of Bristol and Peter Parente, age 53, of West Greenwich were arrested by DEM environmental police officers for being in possession of 38 striped bass. Both are Massachusetts commercial fishermen and were charged with 37 counts of exceeding the daily possession limit of one fish per day, and with 38 counts of failure to fin clip striped bass found in their possession as required by law. Majors and Parente are scheduled to be arraigned in 3rd Division District Court in September. The fish were seized as evidence."
Striped bass is a species in trouble. The last stock assessment showed the species is overfished and overfishing is occurring. These conditions have led to an 18 percent reduction coast wide in 2020 to try to stem the tide on this declining stock.
Large striped bass, like the 38 fish illegally harvested by Majors and Parente have prime spawning potential, they are generally females, and the larger the striped bass the greater number of eggs it can bear. A recent study in the journal Science supports this theory, finding that larger females produce disproportionately more eggs.
So this type of poaching can be devastating to a species like striped bass that is in trouble and we are trying to rebuild.
“Preserving Rhode Island’s striped bass fishery and all our marine resources is a responsibility we take very seriously," said DEM Director Janet Coit. “I am extremely proud of our DEM Division of Law Enforcement and the commitment and professionalism our officers demonstrate every day in responding to illegal activity and bringing the people responsible to justice.”
Last week’s arrest stemmed from information obtained by DEM officers during Operation Level Playing Field, a recent prolonged high-visibility law enforcement patrol conducted in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the coast of New Shoreham to protect the striped bass stocks. The EEZ is a portion of federal waters reserved for conserving and managing fishery stocks. From July 29 through August 2, officers from Rhode Island, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office for Law Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard, Connecticut State Environmental Conservation Police, and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation patrolled and boarded vessels.
This summer while I helped facilitate six angler ‘Abundant Fisheries’ conservation workshops in part for the American Saltwater Guides Association and the Ocean Conservancy in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey ‘fisheries enforcement’ was always one of the top three concerns of anglers. However, what I found most interesting were the solutions anglers came up with to help enhance enforcement including:
1. Make penalties more server, the thinking is if you cannot add more enforcement horsepower due to cost and tight budgets, then enhancing the punishment may go a long way to deter poachers.
2. Establish a ‘fishing or conservation judge’, we have specialty judges, like family court judges, traffic court judges, etc. so why not conservation court judges. At the very least these judges could be educated about environmental law, the importance of it, and the severity of poaching and how it is a crime not only against the species but a crime against all the people of the United States of American as all have a right to enjoy fish on their dinner table.
3. Use local law enforcement, this idea aims to utilize local police to help enforce environmental or fishing laws. The idea would be to train police departments in prime coastal fishing communities to help enforce fishing crimes. This would help address the horsepower is and would cost less even if additional funds are needed for training, communication and cooperation between agencies and departments.
So keep up the good work Rhode Island DEM Enforcement and all agencies involved in Operation Even Playing Field. Now it is a matter of how to keep the pressure on so all poachers can be stopped and we can save this and other species from extinction. Maybe we can start with a state or regional conference with all stakeholders at to table so we can brainstorm possible solutions for consideration that can be researched and engaged to stop poaching and other environmental crimes.
Where’s the bite?
Summer flounder (fluke) and black sea bass. The fluke bite improved this week and the black sea bass bite continued strong, particularly off coastal shores in Newport, at the mouth of the Sakonnet River and at Block Island. Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “We had some of the best fluke fishing of the whole summer last week. The week started out with a very strong catch on our last 12-hour fishing trip. Most of the boat left with a limit of fluke and sea bass.” Harrison Gatch of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly, said, “Fluke fishing has been off but anglers are hooking up with nice black sea bass along the coast.” On my charter boat we continue to reach angler limits of nice large sized sea bass at the mouth of the Sakonnet River with fluke to 25” at Elbow Ledge off Sachuest Point, Middletown. In the West Passage south of the Jamestown Bridge, Merry Bisragane of North Smithfield caught three fluke to 22” fishing about 90 minutes at Austin Hollow off Jamestown. Kevin Fetzer of East Greenwich and his party had a boat limit of black sea bass to 22” Saturday at the mouth of the Sakonnet River.
Striped bass and bluefish from the shore has been good. Gatch said, “Surf fishermen report a good striped bass but the fish are small school bass. Boat anglers are catching larger bluefish and keeper striped bass. Block Island is still hot with an early morning (before 10 a.m.) bite and an early evening and night bite. Eels are working as well as the Gravity Eel. It’s a soft plastic lure that is working real well.” Bluefish in the 18” range are being caught in the mid and lower portions of Narragansett Bay, both in the West and East Passages. John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside, said, “Blue fishing has been good with anglers caching them at Sabin Point and off Barrington Beach. They move in a couple of times a day usually in the early morning and then later in the afternoon. Most fish are small in the two to three pound range with an occasional five to six pound fish being caught. Most anglers are catching them using surface and swimming lures with some being taken on mackerel.”
Bonito, false albacore and chub mackerel. The coastal shore is experience a good bonito bite with chub mackerel being in the area for three weeks now. Gatch said, “We have not had many reports of false albacore in the area at all.”
Freshwater fishing for large and small mouth bass remains very strong. Littlefield said, “Customers are catching bass at Brickyard Pond, Barrington, the first time I have heard positive news there in a while. Anglers say the water quality is better now and the fish are responding.”
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. Follow Capt. Dave on twitter @CaptDaveMonti. He’ll be tweeting about ‘Where’s the bite’, fishing regulations, national fishing policy, and issues that impact the fish. Forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at email@example.com or visit www.noflukefishing.com.