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Feb 23, 2010 12:49 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

In the Field

Feb 23, 2010 12:49 PM

Warm weather is on the horizon. Soon enough, the first over-wintering striped bass will be popping in the backs of marshes and creeks.

A second cold winter in a row bodes well for our baitfish supply. Species of small minnows and especially sand eels always seem to thrive after cold winters. I’m not sure why, possibly because there are fewer predators out there feeding on their eggs and larvae. Whatever it is, I think we have a real bright future ahead of us this spring.

Beyond that, who knows? There seems to be a lot of promise in the management of fisheries. Almost unbelievably, they are talking of reduced bluefin harvests in the eastern Atlantic. Some North Carolina commercial fishermen and scientists are actually working together to come up with an agreeable way to sample fish stocks. Marine Protected Areas, for all the howls of government oppression that they raise from the longlining crowd, have actually worked and there are swordfish and white marlin in the canyons again. This is one of those times when there is a faint light on the horizon. It may only be astronomical twilight with a long, long way to go before the sun shines brightly, but the potential is definitely there.

I think the fishermen’s march on Washington this week will have an impact on the consciousness of lawmakers and may get us on the road to rational management. That doesn’t mean the Sustainable Fisheries Act should be scrapped. Exactly the opposite. It needs to be reinforced, buttressed with good science and logical deadlines—yes, deadlines very much like the ones we have in place now—to get every fish species rebuilt to a level that will allow sustained, controlled harvests into the foreseeable future.

Those harvests should be weighted toward recreational fishing and low-impact commercial harvests. Dragging isn’t going away and it shouldn’t for a large number of very stable fisheries, like squid, but effective management can gently guide commercial harvests toward better fishing practices. Fishing for large inshore species like fluke, sea bass, blackfish and striped bass, and even cod and halibut, should be a hook-and-line proposition. That means pinhooking, but, yes, it also means trot-lines and longlines, which can be a very low-impact fishery inshore compared to dragging nets. Offshore it can be another story, but that’s where the MPA’s come in.

Along the same lines, for all the guff they get from surf fishermen because of their proximity to the shoreline, gillnetting on the scale it is practiced in the near coastal waters is actually a very low impact fishery. The little gillnet boats that run out of Shinnecock, Montauk and Accabonac to harvest striped bass, weakfish and monkfish make a nice living and have very controlled harvests of fish. They can fish very precisely to their quotas with relatively little bycatch.

But the key is to get the fisheries, every single one of them, to a point where they can be monitored closely. Striped bass are there already. They should be the model. There will be ups and downs in populations along natural lines but, if we have a grasp on things, limits can be quickly adjusted to accommodate them. (Striper populations will slump again, probably in the not too distant future, it’s an inevitable part of nature. But if we have good controls on harvests in place, we can minimize the impact of humans during those down years and help the fish get back on track naturally. We can’t allow the moaning of commercial and recreational fishing groups to interfere with good management where it is in place.)

So here’s to a bright future and warm, bountiful spring.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

One more thing. If you guys are angered by something I say in the column, or applaud it, or just want to offer your own opinions, you can leave comments on our website, 27east.com. Access to the full column (and recent ones) is free and more than 250 guys looked at it online last week, so your input won’t be lost in a vacuum.

Annual Decoy Show

The 39th annual Decoy, Fishing and Sporting Collectibles Show sponsored by the Long Island Decoy Collectors Association and the Bellport Historical Society will be held this coming Saturday, February 27, at the Patchogue Manor from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for all ages.

The show this year will feature the decoys of Bellport, including decoys shown at the first-ever collectible decoy show held in the U.S. in 1923. There will also be decoys carved by Wilbur R. Corwin, his son Wilbur A. Corwin, John Boyle and George Roberts as well as highlights from the collections and carvings of bluebill, black duck, goose and brant decoys of the past members of the Pattersquash Gun Club in Bellport.

More than 90 dealers and merchants from around the tri-state area will be on hand. For more information, call 537-0153.

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As always, a very intreresting column to read in the paper. Nice job, Mike.
By Dayo (33), Sag Harbor on Feb 24, 10 6:04 PM