Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Friday, April 27, 2007:
Obviously quit spitty out there. However, here on LBI we haven’t had nearly the downpourage of folks just to the north where rain is coming down in five-gallon buckets-worth. It has actually bee fishable out there and a few folks have been on the surfside of things. Not much to show, though bass are being caught. The surf stripers are common enough that it’s more a case of whether there are keepers or not. D.M. of Morgantown (??) dropped me a line telling of a 31-incher and a 29-incher in quick order from the North End suds. Then it went fully quiet except for junkfish.
I want to lead into this upbeat email with a note. There are folks fishing at a slew of sites that haven’t been what you’d call big-name locales. The night anglers are finding bass (and soon weaks) anywhere that lights and overpasses (or bulkheads) meet. I told you about the Beach Haven West denizen who had a bass off his backyard lagoon bulkhead. Well, a few more folks are trying that backyard angle and finding fish – though mainly bayside backyards and NOT lagoon, per se, though Waretown/Ocean area casters are also seeing lagoonish bass.
“Jay, ..hot nite west bayside...same time..1-2 am.. same station ..same fly...ne
breezes blowing the bait right up in the channel and against the bulkhead...
lots of shrimp...fish breaking everywhere...an almost every cast event for
nearly an hour.. then it crashed to a halt around 2:15...tune in...ron”
This news story was passed onto me from a couple sources. I’ll put it in here but you won’t like my read on it – since I also think it’s renegade recreationalists feeding the illegal blackfish market.
BY JOHN GEISER CORRESPONDENT
Blackfish anglers may be shocked - perhaps not - that one of the top officials in fisheries management claims that tautog stocks are in trouble because of recreational fishing.
In fact, John V. O'Shea, executive director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, went on record last week claiming that "much" of the supply of blackfish to the ethnic live market comes from anglers.
O'Shea aired his thoughts in a letter to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-NJ, after the congressman asked the ASMFC about actions being taken to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for blackfish.
"New Jersey law enforcement officials report a 40 percent violation rate of recreational size and possession limits," O'Shea wrote to Pallone.
A 40 percent violation rate! Four out of every 10 blackfish anglers are landing over the limit of tautog, and keeping fish under the 14-inch minimum size, according to the reports that O'Shea has been getting.
Furthermore, they are able to land so many illegal blackfish that they can supply the live blackfish market that commercial fishermen cannot accommodate. According to O'Shea's sources, it is not the unreported, unregulated and illegal harvest from some commercial pot fishermen, roller riggers, and out-of-state pin hookers — it is your neighbor in the next slip.
The guy in the center console, the rowboat angler or the lady in the lawn chair on the bank of the Point Pleasant Canal is the real culprit. They are out there day in and day out slaughtering those tiny blackfish, and driving up the Garden State Parkway at 90 miles an hour to get their catch to Fulton Market before one of those tasty morsels goes belly up.
O'Shea points out that live tautog sell for $9 a pound. The executive director apparently did not stop to consider that, since most party boat blackfish anglers catch only one or two keeper blackfish worth $18, they are losing $32 a day to participate in this live market.
On the other hand, commercial potters, with so many pots that the state Department of Environmental Protection admits it cannot even estimate how many thousands are out there, have been landing only 20,000 pounds of blackfish a year, according to the reports they send the government.
One Shore area commercial holding operation had that many pounds alone last year. The others, obviously, had a bad season, and were not able to land any fish.
Pallone had pointed out to the ASMFC that Addendum IV to the tautog management plan contains measures to reduce only the recreational harvest.
"The board's action reflects the fact that 90 percent of the reported harvest in the last decade has come from recreational anglers," O'Shea maintained. "Given the substantial harvest reductions needed, the board decided to focus on the primary harvesting sector."
O'Shea further included in his letter to Pallone a summary of the ASMFC's law enforcement committee's findings regarding compliance with tautog regulations.
"High per person recreational possession limits allow large quantities of tautog on vessels with many anglers, making it difficult for enforcement officers to prove intent to sell," O'Shea reported.
O'Shea did not clarify whether he was referring to the one-fish limit from June 1 through Nov. 14, the four-fish limit from Jan. 1 through May 31 or the 46-day derby fishery with an eight-fish limit from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31.
He did emphasize, however, that law enforcement personnel said that illegal use of undersized tautog is still common in the recreational striped bass fishery. That was perceptive since it was thought to be a well kept secret among successful bass fishermen that live-lining blackfish is probably the most productive way to catch stripers.
The ASMFC's board did learn that field observations from qualified personnel revealed that live fish markets do not negatively affect enforceability, and outlawing live markets might drive up prices and impact demand.
ASMFC experts also thought that increasing minimum sizes above the desirable live fish size may reduce illegal harvest. That makes about as much sense as the Virginia judge who took an illegal driver's license away from an illegal visitor.
"Obviously, the success of any effort to curb the illegal tautog fishery will depend on changing the compliance rate of recreational anglers as well as encouraging law-abiding harvesters to report illegal activities," O'Shea wrote Pallone.
"The commission recognizes the importance of the tautog fishery to coastal fishermen," O'Shea continued. "That is why the board is taking action under Addendum IV toward rebuilding the stock to its full potential, providing more fish for both recreational and commercial harvesters."
James A. Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said O'Shea's response to Pallone and his comments about the recreational fishing community over the last 10 months demonstrate a hostility and bias that reflects badly on the commission and all of fisheries management.
"The blackfish stocks have gone down during the same period that the live market has increased," he said. "Any attempt to blame this on recreational fishing is ridiculous.
"We haven't been responsible for 90 percent of the blackfish landings in the last decade," he said. "Our possession limits have been steadily reduced and our minimum sizes have gone steadily up.
"Unregulated, unreported commercial fishing for blackfish is out of control," he said. "How could recreational fishing impact the stocks when we have only a one-fish limit from June through mid-November?"
Donofrio said O'Shea has demonstrated he wants to take the easy way out: saddle the recreational sector with further regulations.
"He wants to ignore the highly efficient gear," Donofrio said. "The live market has created a gold rush mentality, the resource is suffering — illegal, unreported commercial fishing is causing it — and O'Shea doesn't want to deal with it."
Donofrio goes further in blaming not only O'Shea but the ASMFC in general.
"What has the ASMFC done?" he asked. "They've been living on the restoration of the striped bass as a success story for years, and that only came about because of immense pressure from anglers and Congress.
"What else have they accomplished?" he asked. "They've put severe regulations on every recreational fishery from winter flounders to weakfish, and the only stocks that are flourishing are spiny dogfish."