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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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August 30, 2014

Mass Division of Marine Fisheries Requests Opinions From Anglers on Striper Policies

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is soliciting opinions from recreational anglers regarding striped bass management issues for 2015. According to these folks the recreational catch has taken a serious plunge (75%) and the management people want some input on what to do about it. Size and bag limits will more than likely be a starting point for changes in fishery regs. The Sept 30th deadline for comments and opinions gives rec anglers about a month to have our say. This is an important regulatory matter coming under consideration so it behooves all of us to have our say. Details below.

Opportunity for Angler Input on Two Recreational Fisheries Issues:
Your opinions matter! Below are two important issues for Massachusetts recreational fisheries for which public comment is being sought. Marine Fisheries encourages you to get involved in the management of YOUR recreational saltwater fisheries by providing your views.

1) Striped Bass Management Measures in 2015
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – which coordinates management of shared fisheries resources along the Atlantic Coast – is accepting public comment on proposed revisions to the interstate management plan for Atlantic striped bass. Draft Addendum IV proposes reducing fishing mortality because even though overfishing is not occurring, spawning stock biomass has been steadily declining below the target level since 2006 and is projected to fall below the threshold level due to a series of years with poor juvenile production. While recreational harvest of striped bass in Massachusetts has not changed appreciably with the decline in the stock, recreational catch (including both harvested and released fish) has fallen by roughly 75% since 2006, a trend anglers like you have likely noticed. In response, the draft addendum offers a range of management options to reduce both commercial and recreational harvest throughout the striped bass' range beginning in 2015. Specific options under consideration include various bag and size limit combinations for the recreational fishery and quota reductions for the commercial fishery. Please read the addendum for more information.

Draft Addendum IV is available here or through the Commission's website, www.asmfc.org, under "Breaking News". The document includes instructions for submitting written public comment through the comment deadline of September 30. There will also be four public hearings in Massachusetts on the Draft Addendum during the first week of September. Details on the hearings are available here or through MarineFisheries website, www.mass.gov/marinefisheries, under "Marine Fisheries Notices."

2) National Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Policy
NOAA Fisheries (www.nmfs.noaa.gov) is developing a national policy on saltwater recreational fisheries to outline a set of principles to guide the agency's management actions and decisions over the long term. The new policy will make clear the values NOAA Fisheries will keep in mind when implementing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the legislation that governs fisheries management in federal waters. The policy will also serve as the underpinning to the agency's recreational fishing Action Agenda.

NOAA Fisheries would like to know your thoughts on what should be in the policy. Comments will be accepted through September 12. Check here for more information, including how to submit comments: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/management/recreational/policy/

We
don't often get the chance to have our say on these issues so it's worth taking a few minutes to let these folks know what's on our minds. I plan to.



August 26, 2014

Where Have All the Codfish Gone, Long Time Passing?

by Jerry Vovcsko

The Cape Cod Times recently published a story noting that as of the third week in August, striped bass is still on restaurant menus and being sold in fish markets. That's a situation that hasn't existed for six years and with 33 percent of the total striped bass quota — nearly 368,000 pounds — still left to be caught, it appears restaurants may be able to keep stripers on their menus right through the summer, maybe into fall.

That's good news for fishermen who are getting between $4 and $5 per pound, up from the three dollars a pound that was the going rate last year. The news is less pleasing for consumers, however, as the price to retail customers is a whopping $17 to $26 a pound. The time may well be coming when customers will have to settle for lobster because striped bass is too expensive.

The current striped bass season is now more in line with what the state Division of Marine Fisheries had in mind when it dramatically changed striped bass regulations this spring. The DMF wanted to bring some order to the commercial striped bass fishery for years. That was especially true over the past two years when the state bass quota, which used to last for months, was filled in just 16 days as fishermen flocked to a relatively small area near Chatham. The glut of stripers flooded the market, resulting in reduced prices for fishermen and it wasn't especially good for consumers as striped bass disappeared from seafood cases and menus by the third week of July.

This spring, the DMF implemented new regulations that cut the number of fishing days each week from four to two, and lowered the daily limit of striped bass per fishermen from 30 to 15. Commercial surf fishermen fishing from the beach could only take two fish. The strategy appears to have paid off, although it was probably helped when the big "bite" off Chatham did not happen this year. There are also fewer adult fish, something the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission wants to address with a new management plan that could ask for a 25 percent cut in the commercial quota for next year.

Striped bass were brought back from record lows in the 1970s to record highs in the 1990s and are still considered a healthy fish stock, but fishery managers worry about environmental and other factors in their breeding grounds in the mid-Atlantic states that have resulted in years of low numbers of juveniles reaching spawning age which translates into fewer adult fish coming north.

Maybe DMF's plan will eventually prove effective in protecting striped bass stocks but it sounds disturbingly familiar to me. It's pretty much the same approach that Canadian officials took in managing the Atlantic cod fishery and that turned out to have disastrous consequences when those same officials ultimately had to close the cod fishery putting every single fisherman on the dole and shutting down ALL cod fishing activity, including recreational and even subsistence fishing. Sure hope the prospects for the striped bass fishery don't go the way of the cod.


Oh, and speaking of cod, the level of codfish spawning in one of the most critical fisheries in the Northeast is at an all-time low, putting more pressure on a fishery already dealing with declining catch and dramatic quota cuts. National Marine Fisheries Service scientists say the amount of cod spawning in the Gulf of Maine is estimated to be 3 to 4 percent of its target level. That number has declined from 13 to 18 percent three years ago.

Low levels of reproduction in the fishery are holding repopulation back, scientists say. They are investigating what might be driving down the numbers of cod but believe temperature change — which they have also linked to a declining Northern shrimp stock and northern migration of herring — may be one factor. A recent assessment of the Gulf of Maine cod shows the fish spawning at levels lower than seen in data stretching back to the 1930s, scientists say. Records of cod catches dating back to the 19th century indicate the population has never dipped this low before, according to Russ Brown, deputy science and research director at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.

Before the 2013-14 fishing season, federal regulators cut the Gulf of Maine cod harvest quota by 77 percent, to 1,550 metric tons, in the hopes of spurring growth in the fishery, and that's still in effect. Instead, however, commercial catches have plummeted, with Maine dropping from more than 560 metric tons of cod in 2009 to less than 130 metric tons last year. Massachusetts, the most productive cod-fishing state in the Northeast, fell from 6,810 metric tons in 2011 to 4,075 metric tons in 2012, federal data show and the number of fish surviving their first year has also dipped since 2009. Which is to say, no news regarding the cod fishery sounds promising and time to fix the situation may well be running out…if humans aren't able to find a suitable answer, Mother Nature may just step in with far more Draconian results.

The recent mackerel bonanza that triggered daily striped bass blitzes in the Cape Cod Canal appears to have petered out now and the easy pickings that prevailed last week have become things of the past. There still bass in the big ditch, yes, but they're not showing up en masse these days. So it looks like it's back to deep jigging with plastic and jig combos or working needles on the surface in the early morning hours. A few Old School types have done well for themselves with eelskin rigs worked during the night hours but those ladies tend to be close-mouthed about where they fish and what they catch.

Vineyard Sound has seen increasing numbers of bonito showing up and cruising along driving baitfish and providing great sport for anglers employing light gear. There's nothing quite like the sizzling runs the funny fish display when they're hooked on less-than-heavyweight-tackle and allowed to show off their speedy antics.

Bluefish continue to make up the bulk of catches in the Sound these days as stripers require a bit more savvy and experience to hook up with. A few anglers have done well on bass around Quicks Hole and Cuttyhunk recently but nothing spectacular in the way of size. There have also been striper reports over near Chatham and Monomoy. Last year at this time there were huge numbers of striped bass showing up east of Chatham which pleased anglers as well as the resident seal population; this year, not so much. Action seems to be picking up along the outside beaches especially between Truro and Race Point. The surf lads working live eels in the wash around Head of Meadow Beach have been taking a few Large on the outgoing tide between dusk and dark.

The appearance of a Great White shark – estimated at 12 to 14 feet – just off Duxbury Beach caused considerable excitement over the weekend. Locals know that Mako and Thresher sharks are fairly common in Cape Cod Bay but Great Whites had so far kept their appearances limited to the Atlantic side around Nauset and Chatham. Having them show up in the Bay is not good news to swimmers and kayakers. Vacationers on the beach at Duxbury got into the swing of things with the message they wrote in the sand: "You're gonna need a bigger boat!"

Where's Quint when you need him?




August 16, 2014

Messages On the Coconut Telegraph

by Jerry Vovcsko

"They're closin' down the hangout
The air is turnin' cool
They're shuttin' off the superslide"
The kids are back in school

The tourist traps are empty
Vacancy abounds
Almost like it used to be
Before the circus came to town"
(When the Coast is Clear)

Well, Mister Jimmy Buffett sang those lyrics when he played his annual New England gig over at what used to be Great Woods Performance Center, now known as The Tweeter Center, which lets Parrot Heads everywhere know that summer is officially on the wane. But I didn't need the coconut telegraph to tell me that because when I came downstairs to grab that first cup of morning coffee the living room thermometer read a crisp fifty-nine degrees. Chances are, the local striped bass population also caught a whiff of that chill and the message it carries, namely: "Get ready…it won't be long now."

No, it won't be long before those bass, whose arrival we waited for so long back in the spring, get ready to depart for the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay and points south as the annual fall migration kicks into gear. There's still some time though before fall happens, but it's coming and we should make hay while the sun shines, as the old saying goes.

Striper activity in the Canal has been ratcheting up over the past week or two. There was mid-week blitz action near the visitors' area on the mainland side and some of those fish were keeper size or better. Needle plugs and jig/plastic combos took bass up to 24 pounds and the parking lot filled up fast as the word got around. At one point there were so many rods sprouting from pickup trucks it looked like a surf caster's jamboree had just gotten underway.

Bottom fishing in Buzzards Bay continues to produce scup, sea bass and tautog although the ‘tog action has slowed considerably of late. The Weepeckett Islands are probably the best bet for tautog and green crabs bring best results.

The Elizabeth Islands on the Vineyard Sound side continue to harbor striped bass and Quicks Hole is the likeliest place to tangle with a plus-thirty-pound fish. An angler working a live eel in the vicinity of North Rock has a chance of hooking up with the fish of a lifetime and the charter boats out of Fall River make a nice living plying their trade in the rugged currents of Sow and Pigs reef. Wire-lining a big swimming plug at Sow and Pigs at night in rough seas will satisfy even the most daring angler's taste for adventure. These are Big Waters that open to the Atlantic and they can get a little scary when the southwest wind kicks up.
Scattered appearances of bonito continue and they should be here in force over the next two weeks, especially around the Vineyard and possibly at Nantucket. Right now bluefish are the current catch de jour…they are ubiquitous (always like to toss that word in there when I get the chance…ubiquitous, yeah…)

The good-old-days up at Race Point seem to have taken on a more summer-doldrum-like appearance and even the blues have moved on to other locations. Stripers are off-and-on along the outside beaches although a thirty pounder was reported taken around dusk near Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro by an angler dunking sea clam bait from a sand spike. (Guys like that are the ones who get those $400 winning scratch tickets too…I hate ‘em.)

Bluefish have cruised into the area between Barnstable Harbor and Scorton Ledge with a couple of double-digit fish taken just off Sandy Neck Beach by anglers tossing metal slabs. One Old Timer that I've known for a whole lot of years swears that the way to avoid cut-off lures by toothy bluefish is to drop down to ten pound test braid. Counter intuitive it may be, but he says the skinnier line slips between those sharp teeth and he's caught a helluva lot of blues in his day so I figure he probably knows what he's talking about.

Those estuaries along the south side of the Cape hold an increasing number of snapper blues and local anglers look forward to livelining those guys to tempt big stripers. The pin-hooker pros do the same thing with scup which is probably why they fill their skiffs to the gunnels when their season opens. I remember doing the same sort of thing on an upstate New York lake when I was a kid. I'd catch a half dozen sunfish or rock bass and live line them around weed beds to catch big chain pickerel. Worked back then in the sweetwater; works now in the salt.

And then there's this uniquely colored lobster that was brought into Cape Tip Seafood in Orleans by a local fisherman along with his regular catch. According to experts, calico lobsters are the second rarest lobsters--second only to albinos. Calicos, with a mottled orange and black shell, are a one in 30 million find, according to the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine.

Other rarities include blue, yellow, split color and albino lobsters. According to Lobster.org, shell color can be genetic or inherited as is the case with calicos. The scientific laddies say shell color in some lobsters can also be affected by their diet. This one can be seen at Cape Tip Seafood at 18 Old Colony Way in Orleans.

August 08, 2014

Striper Regulations From Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

by Jerry Vovcsko

The latest newsletter from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries included a description of new regs aimed at improving the management of the commercial striped bass fishery. The following is excerpted from that source:

Effective 2014: New Rules to Improve the Commercial Striped Bass Fishery

This past winter, MarineFisheries and the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission proposed a suite of regulatory revisions to the management of the Commonwealth's commercial striped bass fishery. Most of the proposals were developed to improve the performance and administration of the commercial fishery given recent resource distribution patterns.

One item, a commercial tagging program, was in response to an interstate plan requirement of every Atlantic coast state with a commercial striped bass fishery. As anticipated, these proposals garnered a lot of public comment, some of which significantly shaped the final measures being implemented. The following regulation changes are in effect starting in the 2014 season. The number of open fishing days has been reduced from four to two days to assist with market glut, ex-vessel value, and season length.

Based on public input, Mondays and Thursdays were selected as the new open fishing days in order to accommodate supply to both out-of-state and local markets. Notably, Sunday was eliminated as an open commercial day to reduce user conflict, primarily between recreational and commercial harvesters. While the number of fishing days per week was reduced, the number of open days per season may stay the same or even increase given other rule changes, such as the lowering of the daily possession limits. Like the number of weekly fishing days, the commercial bag limits were also reduced to improve market conditions and extend the season. In addition, two different daily limits were applied to harvesters based on the type of commercial fishing permit held.

A 15-fish limit was set for fishermen issued a Commercial Lobster or Boat Permit endorsed for striped bass, whereas a 2-fish limit was set for fishermen issued a Commercial Individual or Rod & Reel Permit endorsed for striped bass. The reduction from prior years' 30-fish limit may discourage long-distance travel to the Chatham bass aggregation, alleviating vessel congestion and diffusing the repeated site-specific heavy fishing effort that has implications for the stock's health.

The lower limit for non-boat permits aims to accommodate the occasional catch with intent to sell that occurs from shore, while also discouraging the illegal practice of fishermen selling an overage of the possession limit by attributing the excess harvest to a second permit. To further combat this illegal activity, dealers are now prohibited from purchasing more than one daily limit from a commercial fisherman regardless of the number of commercial Striped Bass Permit Endorsements in the fisherman's possession.

Both the 15 and 2-fish limits apply to the permit holder regardless of the number of Striped Bass Permit Endorsements held or trips taken in a day. The 15-fish limit also applies to the vessel regardless of the number of Striped Bass Permit Endorsement holders onboard or trips taken in a day. The season start date was moved forward from July 12 to June 23 based on industry interest to provide fish to the busy 4th of July market, as well as increase access to the resource in more areas of the coast (that is, start the fishery before the Chatham aggregation forms). With reductions to both the number of open days per week and the daily limits, it is not expected that the earlier opening date will curtail the season's end date (recent closures have been in early August). Rather, it is hoped that this suite of options will extend the season later into the summer, benefiting both harvesters with better prices and consumers with better availability of local, fresh seafood.

A control date of September 8, 2013 was also implemented by which future access levels in the fishery may be determined. Any person issued a new Striped Bass Permit Endorsement after the control date may be restricted from participating in this fishery or may be subject to different eligibility criteria than those persons who did hold a Striped Bass Permit Endorsement on the control date. Several previous control dates applied to the commercial striped bass fishery in the early 2000s, but these were never used to condition participation in the fishery and have since expired. Another control date of March 6, 2008 applies to all other commercial hook and line fisheries. One more date to remember is the Striped Bass Permit Endorsement application and renewal date, which is now the last day of February beginning in 2015 (moved up from March 15 this year so as to align with other permit renewal deadlines). The rules by which for-hire vessels may sell striped bass caught during for-hire trips have also been adjusted.

A for-hire 2014 rule changes aim, in part, to disperse congregations of striped bass commercial fishermen that have occurred east of Chatham in recent years. A vessel on a for-hire trip must now abide by all recreational rules for striped bass (i.e., no more than 2 fish per person, 28" minimum size), but could sell part of the striped bass catch if unwanted by the patrons at the end of the trip, provided the commercial rules are also met (the for-hire vessel is also properly permit- ted for commercial bass sales, 34" minimum size met, it's an open commercial day, no more than 15 fish sold per day, etc.). This differs from past years in which a for-hire vessel with a commercial permit endorsed for striped bass could take a for- hire trip and fish under the commercial rules for striped bass (30 fish in prior years at 34" minimum), patrons could leave with up to two fish each, and the for-hire captain could sell the remaining fish. This change will improve data collection on both recreational and commercial harvest. Fish kept by the patrons will be accounted for by MRIP, the recreational fishing survey, while the sold fish will be reported on commercial trip-level reporting forms.

MarineFisheries will be considering whether to extend to other species this special allowance for the sale of striped bass caught during for-hire trips. Lastly, a dealer (or point-of-sale) tagging program now requires all primary buyers of striped bass to affix a valid MarineFisheries-issued Striped Bass ID Tag to each striped bass at the place of primary purchase and prior to transit. The tags must remain affixed to whole striped bass until the fish are processed into fillets; thereafter, the tags must accompany the fillets while in possession for re-sale. Tags are to remain on the premises of retail seafood dealers or food establishments until all portions are sold, at which point the tags must be cut into two pieces and discarded.

Primary buyers are subject to tag accountability measures following the close of the commercial striped bass season. It is unlawful for any individual to possess whole or portions of striped bass for the purpose of re-sale without the fish being tagged in accordance with these provisions. The objective of the coastwide tagging program is to increase accountability in the supply chain and give law enforcement a greater ability to detect poaching. MarineFisheries will be working closely with primary buyers of striped bass to achieve as smooth an implementation as possible of this new requirement.
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