To the Editor:
Captain Brice Contessa, in his March 1 Letter to the Editor [Stronger striper regs needed] has it right. The welfare of wild striped bass is all about the harvest: who sets the limits, how the harvest is allocated and what the regulatory short and long terms goals are. Unfortunately, on the two boards that regulate striped bass for Massachusetts, eight of the nine members of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Council (MMFAC) and two of the three Massachusetts delegates to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) all directly represent commercial interests.
Opposing goals. Managing for maximum commercial value means killing as many fish as possible while managing for the most recreational values means managing for the welfare of the species, having as many fishing opportunities for success (more viable fish) as possible. These are diametrically opposed management goals.
Because of short-sighted commercial management goals, almost every one of our commercial fisheries are in such terrible shape that government disaster relief has been promised to our long suffering Massachusetts commercial fishermen. Keep in mind that the degradation of our fisheries is the direct result of regulated over-harvesting.
Again, Brice is correct in that unless something dramatic is done to reduce the harvest, our striped bass fishing may be only a memory. But, for change to take place the striped bass management goals must be reversed from ongoing exploitation to conservation.
Back in 2013, Stripers Forever (an all volunteer conservation organization advocating for the welfare of wild stripers) submitted a petition to the MMFAC signed by more than a thousand concerned individuals to do just as Brice is suggesting, that is, to cut both the commercial and recreational harvest by 50 percent. The board discussed it for about two minutes, and then it was summarily ignored.
In 2012, the director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (one of our three delegates to the ASMFC) made a formal motion at the ASMFC meeting to reduce the total striped bass harvest. Our other two delegates, both of whom represent commercial fishing interests, voted against him and Massachusetts was forced, two to one, to cast our state’s single vote against its own motion.
These fish can no longer afford to be managed commercially. The myopic and tempting lure of market dollars is simply too destructive. Their greater value, both economically and socially, is as a recreational species like almost every other game bird, animal or fish that is both vulnerable and easily commercially exploited, including trout, ducks, deer etc.
Because of the unquestionable, commercial bias of the management structure, the legislature is going to have to step up to the plate and demand that the wild striper be declared and managed as a game species, off limits to commercial exploitation. The legislature has the authority and the responsibility to direct the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to manage stripers for their greater economic and social value as a game species.
For those that say the legislature should not get involved, the question that must be asked is, if not the legislature then who will save the bass? It certainly won’t be the foxes that write the rules for the hen house. The foxes have a proven track record of biased destruction based on the lure of commercial exploitation. This has to change.
Thank you, Captain Brice, for speaking up and telling it like it really is. These fish are in trouble and need to be saved from the regulated ravages of over-harvesting.
Dean I. Clark
Massachusetts Stripers Forever