We finally got some guidance from the state about the new emergency-mandated striped bass rules, called for by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Striped Bass Management Board on May 2. Massachusetts officially began implementing the new rules on May 26, concurrently with Rhode Island. My guess is the two states had to do it together because they share the waters of Buzzards Bay and Block Island Sound.
Fishermen here know this already: the new recreational rules establish a slot size of 28 inches to less than 31 inches. The slot used to be much wider, with an upper limit of 35 inches. Anglers will still be permitted to keep one fish per day.
I believe the new regulation is misguided — and not because I don’t want these fish to be protected. Quite the opposite. Based on my experience, the unintended consequence of this rule change will be that we will see more dead fish than ever floating on the surface. That’s because during a good bite fishermen will keep fishing and returning fish to the water, trying to get one that fits in the slot.
A Mass. Div. of Marine Fisheries Study in 2021 found that 9 percent of striped bass that are caught and released die from hooking and handling damage. “In Massachusetts, we release millions of striped bass each year. When we apply the 9 percent mortality to this number, we end up with 3 to 4 times more mortality from released fish than from fish we take home to eat!” says the DMF on its website. Circle hooks, which deep-hook far less than J-hooks, are meant to help with this problem. But you can see it’s a big one.
I would argue Maryland’s regulation of keeping one fish between 19 and 31 inches makes far more sense in terms of conservation than this new rule the brain trust has come up with. Note that with the upper limit at 31 inches, they’re protecting the larger fish, which are virtually all egg-bearing females, but they’ve kept the slot wider.
And maybe I will get a chance to argue, in fact. Because one important bit of news is that, while it seemed like the process was going to bypass public comment entirely, the DMF has in fact scheduled a virtual public hearing on this — it’s set for 6 p.m. on June 21.
The hearing is coming after the fact but better late than never, I suppose. I would encourage anyone who has skin in the game to participate in this virtual meeting, particularly if you have any pertinent data to present.
Meanwhile, there have been no changes to the commercial rules regarding striped bass harvesting as of this writing. The commercial and recreational industries are at odds as to who bears more responsibility for the alleged stock shortage that’s necessitating this rule change.
It would certainly behoove the two groups to work together instead of against each other, but emotions are running so high on this issue that I’m not optimistic that could ever happen.
Commercial fishermen will continue to be able to market fish larger than 35 inches on specific open days until they reach their quota of 701,904 pounds. The rules for them are basically unchanged from last year’s.
Again this week, high winds kept fisherman at the dock quite a bit, but fishing was fair to good when they were able to get out.
Bass are still hanging around an area just outside the Pamet, in 40 to 60 feet of water, and also from Herring Cove to Race Point. Mackerel are pretty much everywhere, so getting bait is easy to do. Anglers’ best bet is by the edge of deep water in the west end of the harbor. We now have a 20-fish-per-person limit on mackerel.
Registration is required for participation in the DMF’s June 21 public hearing on the new striped bass rules. The link to register can be found at https://shorturl.at/uCLW1.