Derby committee tosses bluefish for ice in gut
The Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee Saturday removed from the competition a bluefish that Stephen Pietruska, a seasonal resident of West Tisbury, weighed in October 5. The fish would have taken over the top spot in the boat bluefish division.
The committee based its decision on the presence of ice chunks found in the stomach of the bluefish when it was cut open and examined. It is standard Derby procedure to open any fish that takes over one of the leader spots.
Mr. Pietruska's fish tipped the Derby scale at 13.86 pounds. At the time, the current leading boat bluefish weighed 13.81 pounds.
The Derby awards prizes in both shore and boat divisions for bluefish, striped bass, false albacore and bonito. The top prizes are a new truck awarded in a random drawing to one of the four boat division leaders and a new boat to a shore leader.
Mr. Pietruska, a retired Fall River firefighter and commercial fisherman, is the current grand leader in the boat striped bass category with a 44.68-pound fish. Had his bluefish been allowed to stand he would have been in the unique position of holding two of the four grand leader boat spots.
When there is a question about a fish, it falls to the Derby committee to weigh all factors and arrive at a fair determination. It is not always an easy or comfortable spot to occupy in the closely knit Island fishing community.
"Each and every member of the committee takes his or her job seriously," Derby chairman Greg Skomal told The Times Tuesday. He said the members look at the facts and try to come up with an answer that is equitable to all parties, and that is what was done in this case.
Derby president Ed Jerome was notified about the discovery of the ice the night Mr. Pietruska's fish was weighed in. He and other Derby officials asked Mr. Pietruska for a statement and told him that the fish would be held and removed from the list of results until the committee could meet to discuss it.
The Derby committee met October 7 and again on October 10 to discuss the situation. Mr. Pietruska was present at the latter meeting.
A former district chief with the Fall River Fire Department, Mr. Pietruska retired in July after 35 years on the job. He is also a commercial fisherman.
In a telephone call Monday evening, Mr. Pietruska said he was very relieved to put the incident behind him. He praised the committee and Derby officials for their actions.
"I was just so upset about this the whole week," he said. "I hadn't been eating, I hadn't been sleeping. It just bothered me that much."
On Saturday, the full committee interviewed him for more than an hour. "They were very thorough," Mr. Pietruska said. "I didn't know what to expect because this is the first year I fished the Derby. They did what they had to do and did a very professional job."
Mr. Pietruska said he entered the Derby several years ago but was too busy fishing commercially to actually compete in the competition.
Mr. Pietruska said he still is not sure why the bluefish had ice in its stomach. He suspects it occurred because he forced the fish with its mouth open into a cooler filled with ice. "I have no clue," he said. "I did do a lot of forcing of the fish that day into the ice."
Mr. Pietruska said Ed Jerome and the committee members showed great professionalism and weighed all factors before arriving at a decision.
"I was more concerned about my name, my reputation," Mr. Pietruska said. "The truck, that is nice, but it is not important. My name is more important than anything."
Mr. Jerome told The Times in a telephone call Sunday morning that Mr. Pietruska cooperated and understood the Derby committee's actions.
Mr. Jerome issued the following statement Sunday morning on behalf of the committee:
"The Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby Committee voted to remove a boat bluefish caught on October 5, 2009, by contestant Stephen Pietruska for failure to remove all particles of ice from the cavity of his fish. The weight of the ice particles increased the weight of the fish by 1.8 ounces or .11 of a pound.
"Although the angler's intent may have been to protect the freshness of his fish for the filet program and to reduce the loss of weight of his fish from catch to weigh-in, it is the responsibility of the angler to bring a fish to the Derby scale without any ice that may add additional weight to his catch.
"There was insufficient evidence to prove intent to deliberately increase the weight of the fish, so no further action is to be taken."