Some food for thought for the president

Brad Chase (left) and Johnny Hoy inspect the Mill Pond dam in West Tisbury that thwarts the upstream passage of river herring. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

President Barack Obama is out of touch with a majority of America. I know this because he has returned to Martha’s Vineyard for his fourth vacation in five years and has yet to go fishing, though he has found plenty of time to play golf.

There are about 60 million fishermen in the country, compared with 21 million golfers, many of whom are ex-fishermen. Why does a fisherman turn to golf? Because fishing is not frustrating enough, that’s why.

I can think of plenty of reasons why the president should go fishing on Martha’s Vineyard. There is the excitement of pulling a snapping bluefish out of the waves on South Beach, or hauling a big striped bass from among the boulders off Gay Head. And there is Guantanamo Bay.

Were he to gain an understanding of the fishing psyche, even a glimmer, it might lead him to finally fulfill the campaign promise he made more than five years ago to close Guantanamo Bay prison, where 166 detainees remain.

I understand it is a tricky question. We don’t want them here, we don’t want them in Guantanamo — we don’t much care what the Cubans want — and we hesitate to send the prisoners back to their home countries. The solution is to teach the detainees to fish.

Guantanamo Bay sounds like the perfect spot for a fishing contest modeled after the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, the fishing tournament held every fall and now entering its 68th year. As most Islanders know, the Derby is an all-consuming event that takes precedence over most every other activity. Martha’s Vineyard is filled with once productive men and women who became Derby fishermen.

I propose that the State Department organize the Guantanamo Bay tarpon and snook fishing derby. It would present a new U.S. face to all those countries, religious organizations, and leaders we thought were not going to hate us anymore, but still do.

The Vineyard derby is organized around shore and boat divisions with special categories for men, women, and kids. The Guantanamo derby categories might include Taliban, Al Qaeda, Marines, and Cubans. Just a thought.

The detainees could spend some of the prison time they now devote to mischief and wondering when, if ever, they will return home, or face trial, to building fishing rods and lures. If the fishing is good, as I hear it is in Cuba, the bay could become a fishing destination on a par with spots in the Florida Keys or the Bahamas. It could even become the new site of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, solving yet another nettlesome political debate.

One day, the prison might become a high-end fishing resort. The cells would be luxury rooms with electrical power supplied by solar panels built in China. The detainees could return as guides.

That would be a lot better outcome than the current alternative.

Fishing stats

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, nearly 40 million licensed anglers generate more than $46 billion in retail sales, with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy, creating employment for more than 828,000 people.

According to the survey, freshwater anglers spent $25.7 billion on freshwater fishing trips and equipment. Saltwater fishing attracted 8.9 million anglers who enjoyed 86 million trips on 99 million days. They spent $10.3 billion on their trips and equipment.

Among the nearly 8.9 million saltwater anglers, 2.1 million fished for

striped bass for 18 million fisherman/days (f/d). Two million anglers fished for flatfish, which includes flounder and halibut, on 22 million f/d. Also popular were red drum (redfish) and sea trout (weakfish) with 1.5 million and 1.1 million anglers who fished for 21 million and 15 million f/d respectively.

Bass quota closed

The Massachusetts 2013 commercial striped bass season ended last Tuesday, August 7, after the Division of Marine Fisheries projected the state’s quota of 997,869 pounds would be taken by the end of the day.

Dealers can import bass from out of state, but the fish must meet or exceed the 34-inch commercial minimum size limit, bear a tag designating the state of origin, and meet or exceed that state’s minimum size.

Striped bass is a highly managed species. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is responsible for managing migratory species, including striped bass, and implementing management plans and quotas along the East Coast.

In 2012, the state’s commercial quota was 1,057,783 pounds. Fishermen caught 1,218,426 pounds, about a 15 percent overage. As a result, in 2013 the quota was set at 997,869 pounds to make up the difference.


NOAA Fisheries last week announced that listing alewife or blueback herring, collectively known as river herring, as either threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act is not warranted at this time.

NOAA said in a press release it would work with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and other partners “to implement a coordinated coast-wide effort to continue to address data gaps and proactively conserve river herring and their habitat,” according to a press release.

One of the many important steps needed to restore herring populations is to provide unimpeded access to their natal streams so they may spawn. Increasingly, communities up and down the coast are removing the dams and blockages that helped contribute to the current problem.

The installation of fishways that help herring navigate up or around obstacles, and in some cases, dam removal is part of the solution.

Last year, a partnership of nonprofit groups and state and federal agencies began a project aimed at restoring the Mill River, an important tributary of the Taunton River. The project includes the removal of three dams and the installation of a fishway. Last month, work began to remove the Whittenton Dam. River herring have begun to return.

Closer to home, the debate continues in West Tisbury over the fate of the Mill Pond dam. Earlier this spring, Division of Marine Fisheries herring expert Brad Chase said that several species of fish would benefit from some human assistance to pass over dams that now block long-lost natural water passageways. What are we waiting for?