DMF agrees to examine 'yo-yoing' issue
The director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) last week agreed to examine the possible detrimental effects of a striped bass fishing technique known as yo-yoing and consider possible regulatory action to restrict its use.
Paul Diodati, DMF director, addressed the yo-yoing issue in a letter received last week by Jeff Sayre, president of the Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association (MVSA), one of several recreational fishing groups that has asked the division to take action against a fishing method they consider harmful.
In separate letters sent in November, the 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 the fishing method.
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 baitfish to maintain its shape. The hooked bait is then bounced, or yo-yoed. A striped bass that swallows the bait also ingests the weight and skewer.
In a letter dated Nov. 15 addressed to Mr. Diodati, Mr. 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 angler's 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.
In his written response, Mr. Diodati, a marine biologist and acknowledged striped bass expert, wrote, "Marine Fisheries advocates for responsible fishing practices in all fisheries. We believe that most informed fishermen would take responsibility for conducting their fishing activity in ways that benefit resource conservation. Accordingly, the Division will conduct an educational initiative to encourage responsible fishing during 2008. We will examine regulations of other coastal states with regard to rigging natural baits, discuss with environmental police possible regulatory effectiveness as a deterrent of the practice, and consider possible rule-making to restrict this activity later next year."
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, concluding instead that the bass - and a bluefish containing a yo-yo rig that was weighed in earlier in the Derby by Glenn Pachico - had ingested the gear prior to being caught and entered in the Derby.
DMF would hold a public hearing before making any regulatory changes. In the past, recreational and commercial fishermen have often squared off over striped bass management. Any effort to ban yo-yoing, a technique popular with commercial fishermen, would likely prove controversial.
A letter to the editor from a recreational fisherman published in this week's issue of The Times in response to a letter from a commercial striped bass fisherman published earlier last month provides a prelude of the possible arguments.
In a letter published Dec. 20, Scott Terry, of West Tisbury and Cotuit, an Island commercial striped bass fisherman with a reputation for catching big fish and lots of them, said "...the petition to the state to ban an ethereal and poorly defined method of fishing by the Derby committee and the Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters displays an appalling lack of knowledge, research, and is indeed, in many cases, a sad display of hypocrisy."
Mr. Terry said that any regulations would be unenforceable. He called for education and better rigging techniques.
Mr. Terry wrote, "Contrary to popular opinion, many commercial fishermen are very concerned about the health of our striper population, as we personally have more at stake than most recreational anglers. We bear the brunt of every fluctuation in striper stocks and every self-serving whim of sportfishing lobbies and associations. Yo-yoing has become the commercial fishing target du jour, while sportflshing still accounts for more than 70 percent of striper mortality (DMF estimates). I, and many other commercial fishermen, have developed methods of attaching the yo-yo weight to the hook, ensuring that it is always retrieved."
This week Ron Domurat of Edgartown, responded to Mr. Terry. Mr. Domurat, a member of the Derby committee and Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association treasurer, said that irrespective of the lack of scientific study it would be unwise for anyone to consume a striper with lead in its digestive system.
He took issue with Mr. Terry's claim that recreational fishermen are targeting commercial fishermen. Mr. Domurat pointed out that the Surfcasters' letter to DMF asked that the practice of yo-yoing be banned from use by recreational as well as commercial anglers.
"Mr. Terry believes that the prohibition of yo-yoing is unenforceable by the DMF," wrote Mr. Domurat. "I disagree and believe that any method of fishing that forces lead, cement, spark plugs, wood, steel, or any unnatural substance into a bait that could potentially wind up in the stomach of a striped bass can, and should be, enforced."