Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Wed. Jan. 10, 10 -- Jury duty time; Stripers Forever hard times

Wednesday, January 20, 2010:

One of the finest days this winter and I was stuck sitting in the Ocean County Jury Service waiting room with maybe 75 other hapless folks.

Don’t go getting a chuckle that I couldn’t find a way of jury duty. The truth is I’ve long been weaseling out of this required public obligation -- required to the point you get fined $500 for not showing up when called, followed by arrest for any more missed summonsings.

When it comes to jury service, it gets to the point where it’s just not worth trying to finagle another boss’s letter or a doctor’s note. I couldn’t lower myself to claim I had hemorrhoids, the last of the conditions I could think up that I’m sure judges hate. “Juror Number 8, please quit your squirming around.”

So, seeing it’s winter, I bit the bullet this week and took to toying around on the cleaner side of the judicial system. And it was a good week, since it was graced with a holiday/ One less day I’m vulnerable to getting stuck sitting in on an actual trial.

As most of you jury slackers might know, being summonsed for jury service does not mean you’ll be on a jury, not by a long shot. Even the normalist everyday folks are more often than not turned down for actual duty, mainly due to crafty lawyers trying to sniff out only the most vulnerable people imaginable -- that way, when they do their well-staged and choreographed court presentations, the easily-mesmerized jury will be spellbound by their pizzazz; facts be damned.

Absolutely no lawyer in the mesmerization mode would have me. The very last thing either the prosecution or the defense wants – and I mean the very worst choice for a jurist – is a journalist. And the worst of that ilk is an editor. And, I have to admit, in my line of business there aren’t many trial topics and issues that haven’t crossed my desk. Personally, I’m sure I could still be very objective and nonjudgmental, providing they lock up every creep that’s being accused -– and even individuals that remind me of creeps I’ve known in the past.

Anyway, the only fun I had the whole day was when the waiting room tedium was shattered by hideous sounding fire alarms coming from every whichaway. The frickin’ alarms sounded like a bunch of trolls being skewered for a cookout. We all had to exit the aggravating-sounding courthouse – and in an orderly fashion much less. My fashion was pretty orderly since I had ironed my nicest camo gear to wear up there. The exiting was kinda slow. Just in case there really was a fire, I discreetly shoved my way ahead of the many senior citizens – who had lived plenty long enough, as indicated by the fact they actually had time for trials and such.

Once outside, I bemoaned the gorgeous day and was close to bailing out when I reread the part about the $500 fine. I added in the juicy 5 spot – yes, they pay 5 whole bucks for a day’s jurying – I might get and tabulated that staying was better than bolting. Besides, there were some high buildings nearby with tinted windows, easily capable of holding marksmen. “Looks like we got a bolter running down Hooper Avenue. Permission to fire.”

I stayed, standing by myself while maybe a hundred-plus people around me gabbed merrily in large groups as if they knew each other inside out and did this s*** everyday. In the meantime, the stupid alarms kept screaming and screaming, for maybe 45 minutes.

Getting really bored, I entertained myself by walking toward actual jurors, trying to strike up conversations with them. I knew full-well they weren’t allowed to talk to anybody by law, so here I am, “Hey, what’s your trial about, dude?” It was kinda like having the plague, the way they all but covered their mouths and scurried away from me. It was fun. Finally, some sheriff guy came over and told me to knock it off.

We got back in and all settled into this room that looked and felt exactly like a doctor’s office but with no doctors, just a buncha waiting. Just for the kicks, I asked the guy next to me what he was in for. I always here that being asked in those reality jail shows. I think he was a juror, too, since he got up and walked away.

Expectedly, I was not chosen as a juror. I did get to see a real live judge, who personally excused me – and about 50 other people -- from a criminal trial he expected would go three weeks. Hey, I’m a patriot and all but can you imagine me trying to stay focused for three weeks? Hell, by the second day I’d ask the bailiff for a glass of water and a straw -- so I could spray the undoubtedly-guilty defendant for committing a crime that forced me to sit in one place for that long.

Back to fishing, here’s an aggravating story from New England.

[Gloucester Daily Times] by Richard Gaines Staff Writer-
Jan 20, 2010 - A recreational fishing organization is pressing the Massachusetts Legislature to end commercial fishing for striped bass Ñ the great inshore migratory prize whose stocks have yo-yoed over time, and now show signs of declining again.

Stripers Forever, a Maine-based group and the author of the bill to make stripers strictly a game fish, couches the argument in economic as well as conservation terms.

'Fundamentally,' said Jeffrey Krasner, spokesman for Stripers Forever, 'our argument is economic. What we're saying is that striped bass are worth a lot more as a game fish than as a commercial fishery.'

The organization has also highlighted data showing a precipitous decline in recreational catches of stripers Ñ harvested and released Ñ from the National Marine Fishery Service.

According to NMFS, the catch along the Atlantic coast after peaking at 28.6 million fish in 2006 declined each of the next three years, to 19.1 million fish in 2007, 14 million a year later and 6.9 million last year.

The recreational striper catch in Massachusetts followed the same pattern: from 9 million in 2006, to 6.1 million, then 4 million and finally 2.6 million last year.

According to NMFS data, the 2009 catch in Massachusetts was lower than any dating to 1995, when the striper was rebounding from near wipeout status brought about by the industrial pollution of the great estuaries where the bass spawned, the Hudson, Delaware and Chesapeake Rivers, and indiscriminate fishing.

Striper catches bottomed out in the 1980s, then the bass was put under the protection of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which negotiated size minimums. Meanwhile, beginning in the 1970s, states and the federal government began to trace and prosecute polluters.

At its hearing on the bill last Thursday, opponents far outnumbered proponents before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The committee has not scheduled an executive session to vote on the bill which was filed for Stripers Forever by Rep. Matthew C. Patrick, D-Falmouth.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission considers the declining catch in recent years a return to more normal levels after optimal growth, and continues to believe stripers are 'one of the healthier (stocks) along the Atlantic coast,' said Nichola Meserve, the striper coordinator for the commission.

Gloucester's striped bass guru, Al Williams, who fishes recreationally and commercially, holds a similar view.

'My personal opinion is they are still in pretty good shape,' said Williams. 'We're fishing below the peak, but the peak ... four or five years ago ... was pretty phenomenal.'

Williams said he believes the stocks have not declined so much as they have been drawn into deeper waters away from the fishermen following bait fish.

'Migratory patterns have changed,' said Williams 'I've gotten similar observations from Montauk (Long Island, N.Y.) and Connecticut.'

Chuck Cassella, a recreational charter boat captain, said he opposed the ban on commercial fishing for stripers.

'Fisheries shouldn't be managed through legislation,' said Cassella, who charters out of Winthrop. 'There is a dynamic aspect to reacting to stocks on a yearly basis. We have a regulatory process in place that responds to stocks.'

The commercial catch in Massachusetts is limited to 1 million pounds, and is typically surpassed slightly.

The commercial season is in mid-season, until the catch limit is reached, and then closed.

Stripers typically return to Cape Ann waters around May 1 and the last laggard doesn't leave until the end of October. Some of the stock also stays over in the Essex River and other estuaries.

Stripers also winter in the south-facing rivers along Southern New England, but most of the stripers return to their spawning waters or aggregate into massive schools that live partially dormant lives off the Middle Atlantic Coast.


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