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Jerry Vovcsko

First dunked a worm in Otsego Lake (upstate NY) some 68 years ago and began pursuing striped bass in Cape Cod waters 40 years ago. Pretty soon I should be able to get it right...maybe.

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December 08, 2015

The Fat Lady Ain't Sung Just Yet

by Jerry Vovcsko

"With me, fishing has always been an excuse to drink in the daytime."
Jimmy Cannon
American sportswriter

I knew there was some reason I drag myself out in the cold and rain to throw garish bits of wood, plastic and metal into the ocean hoping something good will happen. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Jimmy.

For years we've heard dire warnings about high concentrations of mercury in swordfish, tuna and other pelagic fish. That's not news. But now we're told that the striped bass we catch in state marine waters may contain high levels of toxins that make eating too much harmful to one's health, especially for pregnant women and children.

Striped bass, folks! The fish we breathlessly await every spring so we can resume our quest for a thirty, forty or even fifty pound specimen. Now we hear our beloved stripers may be laden with all manner of toxic contamination. Massachusetts, of course, is the only state on the East Coast that does not specifically mention striped bass in its fish consumption advisories. While some states issue broad blanket advisories, especially for pregnant women and children, others offer

Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire all recommend that children as well as women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant not eat striped bass at all. Some states in New England warn the general population not to eat more than a maximum of between four and 12 meals per year of striped bass caught in state waters. Rhode Island has the most stringent advisory, urging striped bass not be eaten at all.

Now, Massachusetts activists are pushing for a bill that would create a statewide consumption advisory to warn the public about high levels of mercury and PCBs, a likely carcinogen that may be in striped bass. They say fish in Massachusetts have the same risk of toxins as striped bass in other states where there are advisories for the fish.

"Folks cannot make informed health choices if they are not being told of the dangers of consuming what they otherwise are being misled to believe is safe to eat," said Dean Clark, Massachusetts co-chairman of the conservation organization Stripers Forever, while speaking at a state Joint Committee on Public Health hearing on the bill in September.

"This labeling bill corrects a public awareness oversight in immediate need of fixing."

No federal warning specific to striped bass exists. Instead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends consumers look to their states for advice on eating fish caught in local waters. While all adults are at risk of mercury poisoning, children, infants and fetuses exposed to high amounts of methylmercury — the form mercury takes once it filters into waterways and is absorbed by aquatic organisms — may be at risk of impaired neurological development, warns the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

While striped bass are not specifically mentioned in Massachusetts' consumption advisory for fresh and saltwater fish, the advisory does include a recommendation that at-risk populations limit consumption to 12 ounces, or about two meals, per week of fish or shellfish not covered by its guidelines.

The bill, pending before the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives, also calls for the state advisory to inform consumers concerning toxin levels in other ocean fish, such as tuna, mackerel, swordfish, grouper and bluefish. Massachusetts advises at-risk populations against eating bluefish, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna steak, and more than 12 ounces of canned tuna per week but provides no consumption advice for the general public.

Water temperatures hover right around the fifty-degree mark. Still, there are bass to be found in local waters, tautog continue hanging around in deeper water and mackerel in numbers cavort at the east end of the CC Canal. The macs are fairly small with most barely registering twelve inches on the tape measure, but there are some bigger guys mixed in as well.

There's lively action happening in local freshwater ponds, though. Peters Pond in Sandwich has been delivering ample catches of rainbow trout to anglers employing shiners and PowerBaits. Peters has been stocked over the years with salmon until the fisheries folks decided to stop stocking them. However, there are still plenty of salmon in residence and they've gotten larger every year, so it's worth taking a run at these broodstock Atlantics as they're not paying attention to fisheries department policies.

The ponds in the Brewster area have also produced robust catches of trout and will continue to do so right up until the January freeze puts the kibosh on open water fishing efforts. And Wequaquet Lake in Barnstable serves as a particularly popular destination these days because in addition to bass, trout and panfish, the lake holds a thriving population of pike, some of which tip the scales in double figures and upwards. The fat lady hasn't sung just yet and good fishing continues around these parts.

And now, after watching the past two Sundays worth of NFL football, I'm afraid the New England Patriots Scorched Earth Tour has fizzled out. The loss of such titans as Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Donta Hightower and Dion Lewis to injuries has brought low the once mighty Pats and until Coach Belichick and his cohorts can get things turned around, the team will continue to struggle. But hear this, sports fans: The Pats will rise again and they have a deep and abiding familiarity with the road to the Super Bowl. Don't count them out just yet.

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