In the wake of a controversy that engulfed the Derby this fall, two respected Island organizations have asked the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to ban a fishing method known as yo-yoing.
In separate letters, The Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association, a recreational fishing organization with more than 200 members, and the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby committee, which organizes one of the most prestigious annual fishing tournaments in the country, called on DMF to ban a fishing method that involves bouncing a baitfish weighted with lead. The letters are available here.
In many cases a yo-yo rig is created when a lead weight is inserted in a baitfish such as menhaden. A wood or metal skewer or wire is inserted in the fish to maintain the baitfish's shape. The hooked bait is then bounced, or yo-yoed. A striped bass that swallows the bait also ingests the weight and skewer.
The issue surfaced during the 62nd striped bass and bluefish Derby when Lev Wlodyka of Chilmark brought a striped bass to the Derby weigh station the night of 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 yo-yoing.
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 also included a yo-yo rig, had in each case ingested the gear prior to being caught and entered in the Derby.
Dan McKiernan, DMF deputy director, told The Times Friday that the letters were distributed to members of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission but the topic was not discussed when the commission met last Thursday at its regular monthly meeting.
Mr. McKiernan said DMF is considering the most appropriate way to deal with yo-yoing. That could include some type of regulatory change. A public hearing would precede any action. One challenge is how to come up with regulatory language that is enforceable in the field and would stand up in court, he said.
Regarding the possible health risks of lead weights in baitfish, Mr. McKiernan said that a review of current literature has not turned up anything that would suggest that a fish that ingests lead weight is unfit for human consumption. He said no evidence was found that the lead taints the flesh.
The risk posed to a fish that ingests a skewer and weights is another matter. "We will stay on this," said Mr. McKiernan.
The two letters highlight the concerns of the Vineyard fishing organizations.
In a letter dated Nov. 15 addressed to DMF director Paul Diodati, Surfcasters Association president Jeff Sayre said his organization condemns the practice of yo-yoing and believes it to be harmful to the resource, the environment, and the consumer. He highlighted the technique and the potential risks.
He wrote, "Commercial striped bass anglers utilizing this method usually rig many baits in advance of their time on the water. The bait is fished by affixing the entire rig to the anglers line and lowered to the bottom and jigged or 'yo-yo'd' in a manner that causes it to act like an injured baitfish. It is an extremely effective method for catching larger striped bass, but many times during a fight the rigged menhaden will fall off only to be ingested by other fish in the school. Often, a very large fish will break free from the angler. In both instances the entire rig including the lead weights and skewer, is trapped in the stomach or soft tissue of the striper creating a blockage and/or health hazard to the fish as well as the consuming angler, and in commercially caught striped bass, the fish consuming public."
In a letter dated Nov. 28, Derby president Edward Jerome noted that the Derby banned the use of yo-yoing in the tournament three years ago because of concerns over a method of fishing considered inhumane. He said that increasingly it is clear that the large amount of lead ingested by fish presents a public health risk.
"If lead is banned in paint, toys, birdshot and many other products, one can only imagine the potential hazard it could cause if lead goes undetected for an extended period of time in the millions of pounds of Massachusetts striped bass eaten each year in the Commonwealth," he wrote.