Fishermen split on striped bass fishing ban

By Corey KanePatriot Ledger

BOSTON — Massachusetts fishermen descended on the State House Tuesday to renew debate over a controversial proposal that would ban commercial fishing of striped bass, creating a rift between recreational and commercial anglers.

Concerned about indications of a dwindling striper population, a national conservation group called Stripers Forever initially sought a game-fish designation for the species in 2010. The proposal has led to a series of emotional debates over several legislative sessions.

“We understand that this is a politically contentious issue, yet the welfare of the bass must come first or there will be nothing left to fight over,” Dean Clark of Stripers Forever told the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

A basement hearing room in the State House was filled with men standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Many were wearing baseball-style caps and plaid shirts.

One of the first to testify, a commercial boat captain from Marion, rejected the notion that the species is dwindling, and he said the ban would threaten commercial fishermen’s livelihoods.

“The sky isn’t falling, and we are not the boogeyman,” Peter Kelly said to the committee.

Striped bass are lucrative for commercial fishermen like Kelly. Kelly said he grossed $1,600 a day on average when fishing for stripers, four times as much as his daily average for fluke.

An oceanographer gave the legislative committee a different picture. Dr. David Ross said data from the National Marine Fisheries Service showed a decline in the striper population.

In 2006, 8.1 million stripers were caught nationally, including those released, while only 1.3 million were caught in 2011, he said.

“When you see all these stats, whatever spin you hear today, they all point to a fishery in trouble,” Ross told the committee.

Ross said the statistics show a steady decline starting in 2006. He acknowledged that 2006 was a record year, but he also said the 2011 numbers were less than half of the annual hauls in the ’90s.

Commercial fishermen have several allies in the Legislature. Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, both testified against the commercial ban.

Peake was skeptical that the fish have declined, saying that lower catch numbers may be a result of the bass population migrating further from the shore. She said trawlers that kill the bass’s food source, an increased seal population on the Cape, and a warmer ocean could all contribute to a lower numbers in the fishing waters.

Massachusetts fishermen descended on the State House Tuesday to renew debate over a controversial proposal that would ban commercial fishing of striped bass, creating a rift between recreational and commercial anglers.

Concerned about indications of a dwindling striper population, a national conservation group called Stripers Forever initially sought a game-fish designation for the species in 2010. The proposal has led to a series of emotional debates over several legislative sessions.

“We understand that this is a politically contentious issue, yet the welfare of the bass must come first or there will be nothing left to fight over,” Dean Clark of Stripers Forever told the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

A basement hearing room in the State House was filled with men standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Many were wearing baseball-style caps and plaid shirts.

One of the first to testify, a commercial boat captain from Marion, rejected the notion that the species is dwindling, and he said the ban would threaten commercial fishermen’s livelihoods.

“The sky isn’t falling, and we are not the boogeyman,” Peter Kelly said to the committee.

Striped bass are lucrative for commercial fishermen like Kelly. Kelly said he grossed $1,600 a day on average when fishing for stripers, four times as much as his daily average for fluke.

An oceanographer gave the legislative committee a different picture. Dr. David Ross said data from the National Marine Fisheries Service showed a decline in the striper population.

In 2006, 8.1 million stripers were caught nationally, including those released, while only 1.3 million were caught in 2011, he said.

“When you see all these stats, whatever spin you hear today, they all point to a fishery in trouble,” Ross told the committee.

Ross said the statistics show a steady decline starting in 2006. He acknowledged that 2006 was a record year, but he also said the 2011 numbers were less than half of the annual hauls in the ’90s.

Commercial fishermen have several allies in the Legislature. Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, both testified against the commercial ban.

Peake was skeptical that the fish have declined, saying that lower catch numbers may be a result of the bass population migrating further from the shore. She said trawlers that kill the bass’s food source, an increased seal population on the Cape, and a warmer ocean could all contribute to a lower numbers in the fishing waters.

“It is appropriate that management and allocation measures are handled by the federal government,” Peake said in testimony. Peake sits on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the regulator of the industry from Maine to Florida.

Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, and Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, two members of the committee, said they do not support the legislation. One state banning commercial fishing would not help the species, they said.

“I am very concerned about the vibrancy of the species, but I don’t think it should be settled by the Legislature,” Hedlund said.

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