As we begin another season on the waterfront, it would be an understatement to say its start, if it ever happens, won’t look like any other previous season’s start. Our world has fundamentally changed for all of us, including those who work on the waterfront, as we try to grapple with the first significant global pandemic since 1918.
Before the pandemic, it was looking like an early start on the water, as our relatively mild winter kept ocean and bay water temperatures a little higher than normal. Herring runs started earlier, as well as plankton blooms. The striped bass migration out of Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River kicked in sooner than normal as well, and fishermen have already begun to catch the first wave of schoolies from New Jersey all the way up to the Cape Cod Canal.
There have been some significant changes to the striped bass regulations for the upcoming season. For the recreational fisheries along the Massachusetts coast, the 28-inch minimum has been replaced with a slot limit: 28 inches minimum and under 35 inches maximum. The previous one-fish limit remains in force.
Circle hooks are allowed only when chunk-bait fishing for striped bass, and gaffs are prohibited on any fish not of slot-limit size. I understand why circle hooks are allowed only for bait fishing, as the mortality rate improves when removing a circle hook from an undersized fish as opposed to a treble hook. But, at the same time, swimming plugs with three treble hooks are still allowed, and I can assure readers that a fish with three swimming plug treble hooks in it has little chance of survival when returned to the water.
Recreational bluefish regulations have been modified as well. Effective May 1, recreational fishermen will be allowed to keep only three bluefish per day, but charter boat clients will be able to keep up to five. We previously had a bag limit of 10 fish per day. There is still no minimum size for bluefish keepers.
The commercial regulations for striped bass, as I understand it, are still in flux, but I am hearing that an 18-percent reduction in the quota is being talked about.
Some say striped bass numbers are once again perilously low, in part because of low catch reports both recreationally and commercially last season. Here’s the problem with that: government fish surveys are taken within the three-mile legal catch limit, and there was a very large body of striped bass camped for a while last year more than three miles from land, southeast of Martha’s Vineyard, and consequently these fish went uncounted. This is the unintended consequence of a process that is very much an inexact science.
Right whales are arriving as usual for their annual spring feed on the enormous amounts of plankton in our waters at this time of year. They can be seen from shore, Herring Cove to Race Point, and my buddies who do yacht deliveries tell me they are seeing many pods of humpback whales cruising from off the coast of Florida north towards Virginia, so they should be here soon as well.
With all these marine animals and mammals nicely falling into place for the start of another fishing and whale-watching season, there is an elephant in the room, which may or may not affect us in a way we have never seen before in our lifetimes. Social distancing might be a game changer for waterfront activities and is the issue I will address in depth in next week’s column.
Until then, stay home, be well, and let’s beat this monster once and for all.