Gone fishin’: Coast Guard proposes to remove local navigational aids

The Coast Guard says it will save money, but Island boaters question the wisdom of cutting costs at the expense of safety.

The Coast Guard is proposing to remove the buoys that mark the channel through Robinsons Hole, seen here looking north.

President Barack Obama has asked Congress to approve a proposed budget request of $582.7 billion to fund the Department of Defense in fiscal year 2017. That budget request includes $10.32 billion for the Coast Guard.

In about a month, the Coast Guard will park a cutter and two patrol boats off Menemsha Hills in Vineyard Sound around the clock for 17 days to provide security while President Obama and his family vacation in a house in Prospect Hill, which will already be surrounded by police from several agencies.

Yet to save money, the Coast Guard wants to remove 31 navigation buoys from the waters of southeast Massachusetts, and that includes seven buoys marking the passage through Robinsons Hole; the buoy on the corner of Lucas Shoal; the Lone Rock Buoy 1 and the Oak Bluffs Harbor Approach Obstruction Buoy; Vineyard Haven Buoy 4; and Edgartown Harbor Channel Buoy 9.

The Coast Guard outlined the proposed changes In a marine safety information bulletin issued in May. Coast Guard Captain J.T. Kondratowicz, who retired this month, said the Coast Guard had evaluated approximately 450 buoys in Vineyard Sound, Nantucket Sound, and Buzzards Bay.

“Our review suggests that 43 aids identified in the proposal consume Coast Guard (and taxpayer) resources that exceed any navigation safety benefit delivered to the boating public,” he said.

I appreciate that the Coast Guard wants to save taxpayer dollars, but I am certain I could find a few other places to squeeze out some dollars in the Defense Department budget. I just read that weapons shipped to the so-called Syrian rebels were sold on the Jordanian black market. I’ll bet if some CIA analyst decided that buoys were needed in the Red Sea or the Sinai Desert, they’d find the money.

In the overall scheme of things, I do not understand why the Coast Guard wants to nickel and dime our navigational-aid program. The Coast Guard has been soliciting comments. Rez Williams of West Tisbury commented on the proposal in a letter to Mr. Edward G. LeBlanc. He shared his letter, which follows:

“I write as a 73-year-old with a 19-foot sloop which I sail on a regular basis between New Bedford and my home port, Lake Tashmoo on Martha’s Vineyard. My navigational aids include a compass, a foghorn, and an anchor. Given the treacherous current and landward rocky protrusions in Robinsons Hole and the lack of speed over the ground of my otherwise sea-kindly hull, it would be dangerous and foolhardy for me to attempt a passage there were the USCG to remove the buoyage as proposed. As it is now, I can judge how to proceed and accommodate other vessels in that narrow passage, based on the types of information (such as velocity of current) the buoys provide. I regard Robinsons Hole passage on a par with or exceeding the risk factors of Woods Hole.

“Other proposals to eliminate gongs and whistles, etc., on other existing buoys may have a cost benefit to the Service but — once again — will eliminate critical information for the navigator in poor sea conditions and put the boating public in a heavily trafficked area at risk.

“I appreciate and support the good work of the USCG, and hope you will reconsider some of these proposed changes.”

Boaters have until the end of June 30 to chime in on these proposals. Contact Mr. Edward G. LeBlanc, chief of the Waterways Division, at 401-435-2351, or Edward.G.LeBlanc@uscg.mil. Mr. Kondratowicz said, “We will carefully consider all comments submitted, and adjust our proposal if warranted. Only then will we begin to make on-the-water changes to aids to navigation, and in no case would any of these changes take place before Nov. 1, 2016. Refer to Project No. 01-16-103 when referencing this project.”

Norton Point, Chappy closures

It is that time of the season when The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) must juggle public demand for access to some of the Island’s finest fishing beaches with state and federal requirements to protect nesting shorebirds.

Chris Kennedy, TTOR Martha’s Vineyard superintendent, said that this has been a very good season for birds, particularly along Norton Point Beach, which has double the number of nesting plovers — eight pairs — that nested in 2015, and large numbers of terns.

The locations of the nesting sites have left about four-tenths of a mile of narrow beach open to off-road vehicles from the gatehouse entrance at Katama to the first nest. As a result, on nice summer days like those we witnessed over last weekend, the beach is closed once its capacity is reached — about 120 vehicles.

Fishermen who want to pack up the family, the coolers, and the rods and head to Norton Point may check the closure status by calling 774-310-1110, a number Edgartown tech guy Adam Darack set up for that purpose with the caveat that it is a work in progress.

Chappy is also experiencing closures. The presence of a plover chick is barring access to Wasque, but hopefully it will take wing soon. A good portion of Leland Beach is also closed, Up-to-date information is available at the beach hotline, 508-627-8390.

Commercial bass season opens

The 2016 Massachusetts commercial striped bass fishery opened on Thursday, June 23. It will remain open until the quota of 869,813 pounds has been caught and sold. That is more than 51,000 fish, based on an average size of between 34 inches (the commercial minimum) and 36 inches long — a size biologists estimate would be a 13-year-old fish that weighs more than 17 pounds.

As of Monday, the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) quota monitoring webpage reported 7,655 pounds harvested. I assume fishermen were getting a good price, with striper selling for more than $27 per pound on Wednesday on the Vineyard in fish markets.

There are a number of new rules governing the commercial harvest of striped bass. Fishermen are only allowed to fish on Mondays and Thursdays, and keep up to 15 fish whole — meaning no filleting on board.

The 15-fish limit applies to the vessel regardless of the number of permit holders onboard or trips taken in a day. Commercial fishermen engaged in commercial fishing for striped bass may not fish aboard the same vessel at the same time as recreational striped bass fishermen.

There is one very important new rule. When not on a commercial trip, or on a closed day, commercial permit holders may fish for striped bass for recreational purposes if they hold a recreational fishing permit, but they must immediately remove the entire right pectoral fin of any striped bass 34 inches or longer that is retained. This rule also applies to any person fishing aboard a permitted boat. This rule was implemented in 2015 to prevent the unlawful stockpiling of striped bass on closed commercial fishing days, DMF said.

Commercially harvested striped bass can be sold only to dealers authorized to purchase striped bass from harvesters — meaning no casual backdoor restaurant sales unless the restaurant is on the list of striped bass primary buyers. These include State Road restaurant in West Tisbury and the Square Rigger in Edgartown. By my count, there are 14 primary dealers on the Vineyard, and that includes local fish markets and fish dealers.

All dealers are required to tag the striped bass with a state-issued striped bass tag. This tag remains with the striped bass through resale and can only be discarded once all portions of the striped bass are sold.

For more information about striped bass management, visit the DMF webpage or call 617-626-1520.