Derby votes to eliminate striper fishing

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Caitlyn Parkhurst holds up her catch, the first fish of the 2018 derby — a 12.23 pound striper. The Derby is eliminating stripers from the tournament in 2020.

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby is eliminating stripers from the popular tournament.

“Because of the obvious significance of the striped bass — to the recreational fishing community and to the Derby — we strongly believe that the responsible decision is to remove it as an eligible catch in the 2020 Derby, including any catch-and-release component,” a press release states about the decision states.

Speaking to The Times by phone Tuesday, Derby vice president Joe-El Deiry confirmed the unanimous vote by the Derby committee to make the change for the 2020 tournament in an effort to ease the pressure on the species. This year is the 75th anniversary of the wildly popular event on the Island that attracts fishermen from all over the country in September and October.

El-Deiry said Massachusetts is expected to implement a 28- to 35-inch slot limit on striped bass. This means people won’t be allowed to keep bass under 28 inches or over 35 inches. The state is expected to make the slot limit official in April, after holding public meetings.

“The main thing this decision has boiled down to was everybody was saying the stocks are at dangerous levels,” El-Deiry said. “We don’t want to encourage fishermen going after a species if they’re in trouble.”

El-Deiry added that the committee’s meeting was “encouraging,” and “everybody was on the same page.”

The move has precedent. From 1985 to 1992, striped bass were not an eligible species due to concerns about the health of the population, a press release from Derby president John Custer states. “Since then, we have partnered closely with fisheries managers to monitor the species,” the release states. “The Derby has included minimum size requirements for striped bass that were above the state regulations. We have been and continue to be mindful about the increasing concerns about striped bass.”

How long the moratorium will last is something El-Deiry said he couldn’t answer. “We have no idea … as long as the stocks are not in good numbers,” El-Deiry said. “We only talk about each Derby as it comes.”

Janet Messineo, who is on the Derby committee, was not present during the meeting when the vote was taken, but said she was on the Island during the first striped bass moratorium. 

“We had a very successful Derby without striped bass,” Messineo said. “The decision was made that night, but the conversation has been going on for years … conservation is always a part of what we’re thinking about.”

The release quotes Ed Jerome, the late president of the tournament, from 1993: “The Derby committee is proud to have played an influential role in the recovery of the striped bass. When we excluded the striper from our tournament in 1995, it may have only been symbolic, but it sent a message to sportfishing contests and enthusiasts that without a good management plan, this treasured resource would be no more. It was not easy for us at the time, but today’s recovery of the striped bass has made it all worthwhile.”

You can read the full press release here.