Lawmakers favor spearfishing for striped bass to boost tourism

Striped bass may soon become the target of spearfishermen in Mass waters. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Recreational fishermen who dive and pull in their catch with spearguns would be allowed to fish for striped bass, something currently prohibited, under a bill approved by the House on Tuesday.

Spearfishing enthusiasts say it’s a popular way to fish for striped bass in several states and that Massachusetts loses tourism dollars to Rhode Island and New Hampshire because of its ban on spearing striped bass. Opponents of spearing striped bass argue it is already an overfished stock.

Rep. Sarah Peake, a Provincetown Democrat who sponsored the bill (H 247), said it is the only fish spear-fishers are not allowed to catch. Flounder, cod and fluke can all be caught with a speargun.

“What I have learned through working with my constituents is in the summer there are tournaments held every weekend. Right now almost all of those tournaments take place in neighboring states,” Ms. Peake said. “We have money leaving Massachusetts.”

Officials from the state Division of Marine Fisheries do not have a problem with changing the law, and are prepared to develop regulations around spearfishing bass, according to Ms. Peake. This is the second time a striped bass spearfishing bill has passed the House. A similar bill stalled in the Senate last session.

Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said while they don’t typically comment or take positions on legislation, “we are watching the bill and look forward to working with legislative partners and advocates.”

Cape and Islands Sen. Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), another sponsor, said during a legislative hearing on the bill last June that the risk of catching and killing undersized striped bass is greater from those blindly using hooks and lines.

Representative Tim Madden told The Times in a telephone call Wednesday that he voted for the bill. Mr. Madden said supporters made a good case. “I thought, why not allow someone else to participate in the fishery,” he said. Spear fishing requires a license like other types of fishing.

Faye Swenson, who has spearfished for 15 years, described it as more selective way to catch fish. “We are picking the one or two fish we are going to take, and letting numerous other fish go by if they aren’t the right size,” she said. “It is a really gorgeous way to get in touch with nature.”

Ms. Swenson said lifting the ban on striped bass will allow Massachusetts to hold tournaments like other states. The club sport is very popular in California and Florida, according to Ms. Swenson. Next August the national tournament will be held in Rhode Island.

“It is a million dollars in revenue lost because of this law, because striped bass is the main catch around here,” Ms. Swenson estimated.