It's go time

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 11:15am

We are extremely pleased to finally report striped bass being caught from the island shores. Once the east winds subsided and the south and west winds arrived, so too did the stripers. The ‘first fish’ honors go to Ricky ‘The Phantom’ Hall who landed the first reported striped bass last Wednesday night. Both lures and flies with a larger profile are getting the most attention. Interestingly enough, the masses of sand eels, herring, and mackerel which were present in the Coast Guard channel seem to have moved off. This can actually be a benefit because the lures are standing out and not lost in the bait, and if worked correctly, they will elicit crushing strikes. Jeff Dunbar from 247 Lures has been out for the week, field testing some new custom designs, one of which he loaned to Sammy Dissotell that caught a bass on the first cast at the cut. 

Needless to say we’ll have these in the shop this season in a custom color made for Block Island waters. Essentially, folks, it’s go time for those looking to put stripers on the beach.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) released some new regulations the past month and we will highlight two that are good news (from our perspective). First is the black seabass regulation. Fearing a one-fish limit for the bulk of the summer, recreational anglers are happy to see a three-fish limit of fish over 15 inches starting when the season opens June 24. The limit then goes to seven fish on Sept. 1, just in time to stock the freezer for the winter. As we’ve said in past articles — black seabass is the best eating fish, so if a restaurant has it, order it. 

Recreational striped bass regulations have a change this year as well. The regulation reads: “Any person recreationally harvesting a striped bass thirty-four (34) inches or larger shall at the time of harvest have the right pectoral fin removed at a point as close to the body of the fish as possible.” The news release dated May 2, 2016 on the DEM website stated that the new regulations were adopted following considerable public input to help prevent “stockpiling,” a practice that occurs when fish are harvested on a day closed to commercial fishing and then offered for sale on an open day; they also address fish being illegally transported and sold in neighboring states.

Block Island Sound, in particular, is a well-known hotspot for large striped bass that draws anglers from across the region. “Rhode Island is known for its spectacular angling and abundant fisheries,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “Our local harvest supports the health of our families, economy, and way of life. And protecting the viability of our stock and ensuring fish are legally harvested and sold are responsibilities we take very seriously. These new regulations are critical to supporting the continued vibrancy of the striped bass fishery, and I thank the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council for its leadership in engaging the public around this important topic and working to protect our state’s marine resources.”

We think this is a step in the right direction for legal fishing, but overlooks the main reason for poaching stripers from our state waters, which is the length of the state commercial season and quotas in relation to our neighboring states of New York and Massachusetts. The disparity of management methodology is too lengthy to include in one article, but basically state commercial fishermen are allowed to fish for 70 percent of the state striped bass quota between May 29 to Aug. 31. This 70 percent benchmark is typically reached in two weeks or less. So for the rest of the summer there is no commercial striped bass fishing in Rhode Island. So that ‘fresh local’ striper in the restaurant in mid-July may be fresh, but probably not local (unless it was locally poached) but rather caught in Massachusetts or New York, where the commercial season can run through the summer months. This is because these states have much larger quotas than Little Rhody. What happens, however, is commercial operations from each of these states often poach from other states’ waters, specifically Block Island waters. 

Last year, a New York state legislator introduced a bill that would have opened federal waters between Block Island and Montauk under the guise of economic development for Montauk Charter boats. What this would really do is legalize the existing illegal practice of poaching striped bass from state waters. Fortunately, Rep. Blake Filippi introduced a bill to oppose this that has been supported by the DEM and the state. What may be better for state commercial bass fishermen is a staggered summer-long season that would allow local fish to be sold and served during Rhode Island’s busiest months for tourism. The market would stay stable without a flood of product in a two-week period letting Rhode Island serve a true Rhode Island product.

So, the fish are here. Clip the fin on the striper over 34 inches if you keep it — but keep seabass instead. They taste better!

Catch ‘em up!