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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.

August 27, 2015

2015 Mass Commercial Striped Bass Fishery Closed

by Jerry Vovcsko


The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) announced last week that the 2015 commercial striped bass fishery is closed for the season. The closure went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday the 21st. At that time DMF anticipated that the season quota of 869,813 pounds will have been taken.

Now through the opening of the 2016 commercial striped bass fishery, fishermen are prohibited from possessing more than one striped bass at least 28 inches in length, a DMF release said. Fishermen are also prohibited from selling or attempting to sell any striped bass in Massachusetts.

In addition to the ban on the taking of striped bass, seafood dealers in Massachusetts are also prohibited from purchasing or receiving striped bass from fishermen until the 2016 season opens. During this period, dealers may possess and sell imported striped bass, according to the release. Imported bass must have been legally caught in another state and be tagged with the state of origin. If resold whole, the tag must remain attached to the fish, DMF said. If the fish is processed after it is imported, fillet containers must bear appropriate tags and the original tag from the whole fish must be kept by the dealer.

Through Tuesday, August 25, all striped bass in the possession of dealers, caught locally or otherwise, must be a minimum of 34 inches in length. Beginning Wednesday, August 26, dealers may import "sub-legal" sized fish as approved by the state of origin.

The two other commercial fisheries that are currently closed are scup (Winter I) and tautog. All other fisheries, including black sea bass, bluefish and dogfish remain open.
- See more at: http://www.capecodtoday.com/article/2015/08/25/225931-Division-Marine-Fisheries-2015-commercial-striped-bass-fishery-closed#sthash.fP8EwECL.dpuf

April 13, 2015

Massachusetts Striped Bass Regs

by Jerry Vovcsko

Here's a message from the folks at the Division of Marine Fisheries that will certainly affect recreational striper fishing this season:

April 2015

The Division of Marine Fisheries (MarineFisheries) has adopted a 1-fish recreational bag limit for Atlantic striped bass in 2015; the recreational minimum size limit remains the same at 28". This bag limit reduction (from 2 fish) was undertaken to reduce recreational harvest in Massachusetts by at least 25%, as required by the interstate management plan. Massachusetts' commercial quota has also been reduced by 25%. Read on for further details.

This past October, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Striped Bass. The Addendum responds to results of the 2013 benchmark stock assessment, which found that fishing mortality in 2012 was above target, and female spawning stock biomass has been steadily declining below the target level since 2006.

Addendum IV adopts a 25% harvest reduction from 2013 levels for coastal fisheries, and 20.5% harvest reduction from 2012 levels for the Chesapeake Bay fisheries (this lower reduction is due to the Bay jurisdictions taking a 14% cut in 2013 based on their management program). For the coastal fisheries, the Addendum reduces the commercial quotas by 25% and decreases the recreational bag limit to 1 fish. Under Amendment 6, states may implement alternative state-specific recreational measures if they can demonstrate that the measures will have the same conservation value.

MarineFisheries collected public comment on several options to comply with Addendum IV this past winter. At the request of some representatives and participants in the for-hire fishery, we entertained two alternatives to the 1 fish at 28" FMP standard that included 2 fish at more conservative size limits; these alternatives would have applied only to the for-hire fishing mode.

After careful consideration, MarineFisheries and the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission selected the FMP standard of 1 fish at 28" minimum for all modes (private and for-hire). This change has the best chance of achieving a 25% harvest reduction, is easiest to understand, encourages compliance, and simplifies enforcement. In addition, public support for the 2-fish alternatives was limited.

Harvest projections for mode-specific regulations are less certain than for fishery-wide regulations. Confidence in the effectiveness of mode-specific regulations is further reduced if compliance erodes. Introducing a separate striped bass measure to regulate the for-hire mode from all other recreational fishermen (and commercial fishermen) would reduce compliance and complicate enforcement. Enforcement of alternative rules across the entire population of our for-hire permit holders (numbering 900), particularly when for-hire permit holders are fishing without patrons aboard, would have proven troublesome. A universal rule also removes any negative perceptions about benefits from a "dual-standard" allowed to for-hire patrons. Anglers in Massachusetts will operate under the same rules as those in our neighboring states in 2015, as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have also adopted 1 fish at 28" minimum rules. For more information, refer to www.mass.gov/marinefisheries.
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