How Much Striper Do You Really Need?

IS IT JUST ME??? By Capt. John McMurray Or does reading the local fishing reports annoy the (expletive) out of you also? There’s one fairly widespread and comprehensive one that that gets emailed to me daily. Judging by the fact that you are reading this, my guess is that you receive this report also. So, while I can’t mention it here for obvious reasons, you probably know which one I’m talking about. It’s like a bad car accident. I know that slowing down to look at it will only bum me out and jam up traffic, but every time I come across such a thing I still slow down and look anyway. And so each day when this well-known report shows up in my inbox, I click on it despite the fact that I know it will get under my skin. Not only do I waste valuable time that I should be using to get constructive work done, but I get annoyed to the point where it changes my entire disposition and jams me up for a good portion of the day. “Joey Brooklyn, or Vito Staten Island or Larry Montauk limited out on stripers up to 40-pounds.” Underneath the reports are a few silly photos of 4 or 6 guys straining to hold large but sickeningly pail dead bass by the gills, one in each hand. It would be one thing if this was a once in a week occurrence, but it isn’t, it’s daily. It would be another thing if it was a few guys, but it’s not, it’s many. If you read this column regularly, you know that in no way shape or form am I against killing fish. For many of us, it brings us close to the resource and that translates into more folks with an interest in keeping it healthy. But enough is enough! What on earth are all of these people doing with all of these 30, 40 even 50-pounders? I mean one fish like that can feed a large family many times over, and the big ones have those gnarly purple veins on them, they taste pretty awful really. I don’t care how you cook them… And who has a freezer that big? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is a lot of people don’t even eat them. Case in point, one of my wife’s friend’s husband took to me immediately when he heard I was a “fisherman.” He proceeded to drag me down to his basement where he had one of those coffin style freezers. Inside were three frozen big dead stripers. “What the (another expletive)!” He had no intention of eating those fish and furthermore, had no idea why I was remotely upset about it. And then there was my college buddy, who thought it was funny that he still had two thick striper filets in his freezer from the last time we fished. And that was two years ago! While a smack-down was probably warranted for both of these folks, I can’t blame them. After all, those were legal fish and it was their right to kill them. But, I do blame the captain. At what point can he say, “listen, one is enough, you can keep one more, but really don’t need anymore.” I know for certain that both of the above mentioned poor slobs would have listened, and really they just didn’t know any better. I would think it would be in the Captains best interest to keep some of the bigger fish in the water, but who knows how those guys think. Sure, striped bass appear to be in good shape, but can you base that on these catches we are seeing? Both the 2003 and 2004 stock assessments showed that we were fishing older larger fish over the mortality threshold set by amendment 6. I mean sure there are fish around, but we are killing them all! Anyone can see that plain as day. For certain; the number of old, larger breeders being harvested is increasing dramatically each year. Can the stock keep up with this kind of mortality? The fact that I’m catching less and less large bass each year leads me to believe that it can not. The bait guys may be having a field day, but we are saltwater flyfishers and light tackle anglers; the canaries-in-the-coal-mine. Because the technique we use makes it harder to catch large fish, we are the first to see the effects of a decline, and despite what the reports are saying, we are seeing it. And the lions share of the mortality isn’t coming from the commercial’s it’s coming from anglers. And what does this say about the possibility of a future gamefish law? I don’t know how supportive I am of it unless the entire commercial quota was turned into a conservation buffer instead of going to greedy angling hands who just want to be able to kill more. And that very well may happen. What’s the solution here? There is none, at least not now, and that’s why I feel so helpless when I read these repots. At some point things are going to start heading downward and people will realize that the sky really is falling. I guess we’ll wait and see.