An unsustainable number of pre-spawn bass are being slaughtered in an illegal fishery
First off, let’s get one thing straight. It’s illegal to target striped bass in Federal Waters, (aka the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ). That said, I see nothing wrong with catch-and-release fishing in Federal Waters. But whether it is intended or not, the law is pretty clear on prohibiting that as well. Of course, if there are no fish retained, I doubt any federal enforcement agency would be able to, or have any interest in writing a ticket if an angler hadn’t retained any fish. But killing a striped bass in the EEZ is certainly illegal, not to mention unethical.
For the past 19-years, federal waters (the 197-miles outside of the 3-mile state water limit) have been closed to both recreational and commercial striped bass fishing in an effort to protect strong year classes entering the population and to help with the rebuilding of a once overfished population. Today it serves a badly need buffer for an adult striped bass population. Outside of three miles stripers are temporarily protected from the overwhelming pressure of a growing recreational catch and kill fishery and a commercial industry constantly lobbying for a greater share of the resource… At least they are suppose to be.
Anyone who reads the fishing reports knows that there has been a large concentration of spawning size fish, mostly female and full of roe, staging off the New York Bight since mid April. First they were on herring, now they are on small bait. These fish have been moving around a bit, but they are mostly from 2 to 9 miles out. Undoubtedly, the large concentration of fish has remained in Federal waters, and I’d have to assume they are getting ready to head up the Hudson to spawn… If they make it there.
Yes, I’ve been following these fish. For the most part I’ve managed to stay inside the 3 mile limit but yes, I’ve been running out beyond that limit to follow birds every now and then (disclaimer: I’m looking for bluefish once I cross that line). I haven’t killed one fish though. Not that that makes much of a difference because the fleet of party and charter boats are killing a ton, not to mention all the anglers steaming out there via private boats.
It’s a freak’n circus. I counted well over 100 boats over the weekend and 15 were party boats. All of them limiting out, usually well before 9AM according to the reports posted online. Think about that… “Limiting out”. The word is out and these boats appear to be sailing with a full load. Every single boat looks like there is barely room on the rail between anglers. So figure 50 to 75 anglers on each boat. Multiply those numbers by two, then by 15, then figure in all the private boats killing their limit. And figure this has been happening since Mid April. There’s a lot of mortality happening here, and none of it is legal! Now let’s take all of this into account in the context of all the warning signs we’re seeing with striped bass, which I’ve detailed greatly in other columns here. Are we beginning to get the picture of how serious this is?
Frankly, it angers me greatly to see the gaff come out every time someone jigs up a fish out there. But what angers me more is the Coast Guard’s incompetence. There have been numerous complaints made, but they still can’t manage to scramble a boat. I don’t even care if they bust anyone. They would just need to get out there once or twice to act as a deterrent. Not a chance. Really it’s pathetic. EEZ infractions are taken quite seriously in North Carolina and Virginia where striped bass winter offshore. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.
I wasn’t out there today, but I heard those fish had finally dispersed. I really hope so… They were really taking a beating. If this annoys you as much as it annoys me, please take a minute to call the Coast Guard: 718 354-4041. Ask them why they haven’t done anything.
This isn’t the only place that it’s happening. The winter fishery off Virginia/North Carolina is a disgrace. Down there, the boats work together, watching for the first sign of the Coast Guard, at which point the vessels all contact one another and the “sportsmen” aboard each slit the fish’s bellies so that they won’t float and dump them overboard before enforcement agents arrive.
Anglers like to talk a good game, pointing fingers at commercials for their real and imagined wrongs and holding themselves out as models of propriety that are no threat to the stock. Reality tells a very different story, with both sides fully deserving of their full share of the criticism.
John, thanks for your comments on the fishing circus that has been going on off the Rockaways this last week. The Coast Guard out off Jones Beach seem to find time to stop in Island Park (right by Shell Creek Park) to get Starbuck Lates. but have a hard time patroling the coastal waterways. After what I saw this week I think it time for me and other law-abiding anglers to get more involved. The days of sitting on the sideline are over.