Derby allows Wlodyka's big bass, minus lead weight
The gale of controversy that blew over the 62nd striped bass and bluefish Derby last week subsided in the wake of a Derby committee decision to allow a striped bass caught by Lev Wlodyka to be entered in the tournament minus the amount of lead weight found in the fish.
Many Island fishermen hailed the decision made at a special meeting of the committee on Oct. 3 as the right thing to do. The vote followed a Derby meeting and vote two days earlier to disqualify the fish.
John Custer, Derby chairman, told The Times this week that in retrospect, the committee might have acted too quickly at first and without possessing all of the information it needed to make the best decision. He said it was a very difficult and sleepless several days for all involved and he regretted any confusion.
Fishermen cast into the channel at Big Bridge looking for a Derby winner as the contest enters its last week. Photo by Louisa Gould
Undoubtedly, the fisherman most relieved by the committee's reversal was Mr. Wlodyka. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Wlodyka told The Times that he was thankful that the Derby decided to take another look at the issue and grateful for the support he received from the entire Island community. "I'm relieved, and I'm happy with the outcome," he said.
Mr. Wlodyka brought the fish to the Derby weigh station Sunday night, Sept. 30. The fish weighed 57.56 pounds on the scale, but it was found upon examination to contain 10 lead weights weighing a total of 1.68 pounds consistent with a fishing technique known as yo-yoing.
Yo-yoing commonly involves bouncing a weighted baitfish such as menhaden on the bottom for striped bass. Because the baitfish contains a weight and in many cases a skewer used to maintain the baitfish's shape, striped bass that take the bait also ingest the weight and skewer.
The committee did not suspect that Mr. Wlodyka used the technique, which is against Derby rules. What the committee members thought was that the fish caught by Mr. Wlodyka, and a fish weighed in earlier in the Derby by Glenn Pachico that included a yo-yo rig but was not immediately brought to the attention of the committee, had in each case ingested the gear prior to being caught.
Last week in a statement following the meeting, Derby president Ed Jerome said that after reconsidering the issue and hearing about the prevalence of yo-yoing in Island waters throughout the fishing season, the committee decided that it would not be fair to penalize Mr. Wlodyka or any other fisherman who catches a fish that contains yo-yo rigs.
In the future, the committee will determine if the weights were in a fish prior to the catch. If that is the case the weight would be deducted, Mr. Jerome said. The committee retains the right to disqualify a fisherman if there is any evidence of stuffing or cheating.
Meanwhile Mr. Jerome, retired Edgartown School principal, and Mr. Custer, a Tisbury School teacher, said the Derby committee would press the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to take a close look at yo-yoing and any associated health risks it might pose to fish and consumers.
Yesterday, Mike Armstrong, DMF recreational fisheries program director, said that the Derby's actions had brought the issue of yo-yoing to his agency's attention and it would be addressed. He said the division is concerned about any fishing method that is harmful to the resource. He said the division must first gather information about the extent of the practice. Any regulatory change would be preceded by a public hearing, he added.
The annual fishing Derby is run by a nonprofit corporation led by a committee of volunteers drawn from the Island community. The tournament, which annually attracts more than 3,000 registrants, is used to fund a college scholarship program for Island high school students interested in marine or environmental fields.
Mr. Wlodyka, 28, is a well-known Derby fisherman and frequent top place finisher. On Sunday night his fish moved him into the first place boat division slot marking another dramatic moment in his fishing exploits. But, when the Derby fillet master cut open the fish to examine it, a standard procedure for any potential first-place fish, 10 lead weights fell out of the body cavity.
Moving quickly, the committee met on Monday and disqualified the fish. But at that same meeting the committee members were surprised to learn that a boat bluefish weighed in on Sept. 16, by Mr. Pachico of Tisbury, a former Derby grand prize winner, was allowed because the committee members on duty that night concluded that the rig had been present in the fish for some time.
As word of the Derby vote circulated around the Island, committee members learned more about yo-yoing. They also heard from many fishermen who did not agree with the committee's decision.
Mr. Wlodyka made his views known in a letter provided to the Derby committee and fishermen. He wrote, "I did not cheat, the fish did not cheat; this old fish simply employed good technique in snagging many baits. Basically, I am being punished for catching an extremely smart fish.... In spite of everything I want to thank the derby committee for giving us the best that they are able. I understand that you all put a lot of time and energy into this event. I hope that somehow together we might find ways to continue to make the derby better than it is, in this case getting rid of interpretable rules and setting a clear precedent.
"It's the amazing spirit of the derby that we all love so much. In the end, I guess this fish and I had a lot in common - we both got something that was totally indigestible and hard to swallow. See you on the water."
On Wednesday the committee met to discuss what to do about Mr. Pachico's fish. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Pachico called a committee member and said he understood the difficulty the committee faced and surrounding controversy. "He offered unsolicited to withdraw his fish entirely or have it readmitted with the deducted weight if that was the committee's decision," said Mr. Custer. "He was very gracious."
The Wednesday meeting provided an opportunity to revisit the earlier decision that had left many committee members uneasy, Mr. Custer said. Better informed about yo-yoing and with the expectation that more fish would be found to contain lead weights, the committee decided that it needed a rule to address the situation.
The committee voted the following rule: "Any inorganic item(s) including, but not limited to, fishing tackle, wire, rocks, and rope found to be attached to a fish or inside a fish's mouth when a fish is caught shall be removed by the angler prior to weigh-in. If any inorganic material is not visible to the angler and is discovered when the fish is cut open, this material shall be examined by the Derby Committee and, if deemed to be inside the fish prior to it being caught by the angler weighing it in, the weight of such inorganic item(s) shall be deducted from the official weight of the fish. If, however, the Derby Committee deems that the inorganic material was intentionally introduced to the fish after that fish was caught and prior to the weighing of that fish, additional action may be taken including, but not limited to, the disqualification of the fish and angler."
The committee then voted to readmit Mr. Wlodyka's fish under the new rule.
In a statement issued after the meeting the Derby committee said, "It is now apparent that, because of yo-yoing, confronting this issue was inevitable. We regret any confusion, and we appreciate the patience and trust demonstrated by those following the issue.... We hope that the events of this Derby will provide an opportunity to learn more about the harmful effects of yo-yoing. The Derby has always acted in the interest of protecting fish and recreational fishing, and we will voice our concerns over this issue. In managing the Derby, we attempt to be as proactive as possible. In this instance, we were required to react. We view our new rule as a positive step towards addressing yo-yoing and protecting the tradition of the Derby."
The 62nd Derby ends at 10 pm Saturday.