Congressional listening tour on stripers, Magnuson-Stevens, and ASMFC

Amidst the recent doom and gloom surrounding the fall 2019 ASMFC session, a ray of hope: Congressman Huffman, Chairman of Water, Oceans and Wildlife, is hosting a national listening tour regarding the concerns of anglers, scientists, and policy makers. Here are two short reports from people who spoke at the Baltimore meeting that you should read:

The first is from Charles Witek’s blog, One Angler’s Voyage.

The second is from Tony Friedrich, Policy Director of the ASGA.

The quote of the month comes from Tony, who wrote: “Here’s one more thing to ponder. The American Saltwater Guides Association isn’t even a year old and we had a seat at the table for an event sponsored by the Chairman of Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. Let that sink in folks. Profound change doesn’t happen overnight. You have a work and grind at it every day. That’s what we have done from the start at ASGA. We have already won and lost a few. This goes into the “W” column.”

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What went down at last night’s ASMFC Draft Addendum VI hearing

I attended and publicly commented at last night’s ASMFC Striped Bass Addendum VI hearing in Old Lyme. (There’s another public hearing tomorrow, Wednesday September 25 in Bridgeport, CT at Port 5 Hall. Hopefully the AC will be working!)

My general impressions: People are passionate about striped bass. The meeting was well attended, with roughly 50-60 people. About half of them chose to comment. Most are in favor of conservation, and in many cases for more conservation than is being proposed. Many aren’t thrilled with the ASMFC‘s track record. Many cited enforcement as a problem, and asked for more EnCon police and harsher penalties for poaching. (That’s not on Addendum VI, but point well taken.) Unlike the Long Island session from a few weeks ago (the video that was on Facebook), there were no angry outbursts or contentious remarks, so good job on that to everyone.

This is your chance to open your mouth and speak.

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So, what did I say? I drew my comments from the following script:

Commissioners and fellow anglers,

My name is Steve Culton. I am a resident of Middletown. I am a fly fishing guide, instructor, outdoor writer, and I run a website called currentseams which has over 700 followers, many of whom are avid striper anglers. Most of all, I’m a guy who loves fly fishing for striped bass. I am also active within the American Saltwater Guides Association, which is an organization of guides and small business owners from Maine to North Carolina. Along with the ASGA, I endorse the following options:

Option 2: 18% reductions applied equally between the sectors. As Aunt Eller said in Oklahoma!, “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!”

Option 2-A1: 1@35”. There are major cons to every option listed. It’s hard for me to support an option that allows the wholesale slaughter of the large breeding female bass off of Block Island or in the Cape Cod Canal to continue. Ultimately, it’s difficult to ignore past history, and we’ve seen the positive effect of 1@36”, which helped with the successful rebuilding of the striped bass fishery last time around.

For the Chesapeake Bay, Option 2-B1: 1@18” For the record, I’m not favor of any of the options listed for the Chesapeake Bay. Killing stripers before they’ve have a chance to spawn makes no sense. But Option 2-B1 is expected to achieve the greatest harvest reduction.

Option 3.2.B: Mandatory use of circle hooks. It would be nice if this were accompanied by an effective education and awareness program. I won’t hold my breath.

Some additional comments – and some difficult questions: 

While we’ve got to start somewhere, all this is not good enough. ASMFC has got to do better.

Real power comes not from the taking of life, but rather from the sparing of it. Why are we continuing to allow the killing of the large breeder females that produce millions of eggs annually, and are critical to producing the next big year class? Why 1@35″ and not 1@40″ (or bigger)? Why is there no moratorium or catch & release only provision in this addendum? Why are we relying on a 50% chance of success?

Why is Maryland allowed to do what they damn well please? Maryland’s harvest reduction in this Draft Addendum is based on their 2017 numbers when they were severely over their total. Why would you reward a state for overharvesting by 200%? There must be consequences when states do not live up to their harvest reduction goals. ASMFC needs to change how you analyze and manage conservation equivalency proposals. Please make sure this process gets fixed.

Finally, perception is reality, and the perception is that the ASMFC has a storied history of underachievement and little to no accountability. Not good enough. I challenge the ASMFC to rise to your mission statement this time around.

I recognize the ASMFC has a number of diverse constituencies that need to be considered. However, you have an obligation to manage striped bass for the greater good. You must manage for the benefit of our children, and for their children. Ultimately, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one. Thank you for your consideration.

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So that’s it. I hope you’ll award me bonus points for managing to work Star Trek and Rogers & Hammerstein into my comments.

You have until October 7 to send in email comments. You can find the public hearing schedule for individual states, and the email/snail mail address to send comments to here. You must use the subject line Striped Bass Draft Addendum VI.

 

Last night’s film and upcoming events

I had a splendid time at last night’s showing of “Running the Coast.” I spoke for about ten minutes on the importance of catch-and-release for our distressed striped bass fishery. The main points were:

Catch-and-release best practice begins with tackle. Use a barbless hook and a stout leader (I typically use 20, 25, or 30# nylon).

The two biggest causes of fish mortality are over-stressing the fish and exposure to air. Set your drag tight and get those fish in fast. A 28″ striper should not be taking you into your backing. “To play him long is to play him long.” — Stu Apte. We all like souvenirs of our catch, but do you really need 20 photos of 24″ fish? Keep fish in the water prior to the money shot. Don’t suspend the fish from its mouth. Don’t drag the fish onto dry sand beaches. Use common sense. Please.

Many thanks to the sponsors, benefit organizations, and most of all to Sean Callinan and Ray Luhn for organizing the event, and for their brilliant decision to hold it at Stony Creek Brewery. (Yum.)

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Looking forward: show season is upon us. I will have details on my schedule once it firms up. I will be speaking at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough and perhaps in Edison, NJ. I’ll likely be doing the CFFA show here in CT. I may even have a gig in Maine! Fly tying classes, demos …once these get locked up, you’ll be among the first to know. If your club is looking for a speaker, you know where to find me.

The shortest distance between two people is a “hello.” Come say hi if our paths cross this winter.

Hello

 

The Stripers Forever Release A Breeder Club

The Stripers Forever Release A Breeder Club encourages anglers to practice catch-and-release for striped bass of breeding age and size. To become a member, you need to catch and release a striped bass of at least 36″ (about a 20-pound fish) and provide a photo or a witness.

While club membership admittedly walks the line of narcissism, I am pleased to say I’m now a two-time member. But, let’s give credit where credit is due: this year I was simply in the right place at the right time. Still, I’ll take it. There is precious little in fishing that matches the brutish power of a twenty-pound ocean-going bass in four feet of water.

I’ve been certified.

Stripers Forever Release A Breeder Club

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Today’s word is: “shoulders.” Can you say “shoulders?” Sure. I knew you could. This isn’t the winning fish, but it’s still a good one.  

Block Island All-Nighter first keeper

Stripers Forever is a non-profit, internet-based conservation organization that advocates for the conservation and responsible stewardship of wild striped bass along the Atlantic Coast. They seek game fish status for wild striped bass on the Atlantic Coast. You can find out more about Stripers Forever and the Release A Breeder Club here.