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Aug 29, 2017 10:48 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

More Bunker Means More Of Everything Else

Aug 29, 2017 10:55 AM

It seems that each summer, for several years now, we have seen a new spectacle of nature in our local waters, mostly thanks to the surging numbers of bunker.One year it was whales lunging skyward, their cavernous mouths agape. Another year it was fat striped bass swimming out of the ocean in pursuit of frantically fleeing bunker.

Last year’s spectacle was the death of millions of the oily fish in the Shinnecock Canal, felled by their own numbers. This year, it is the sharks and dolphin that have lined up for the daily buffet along Long Island’s beaches.

The number of bunker residing on our shores is truly astounding. There is nary a mile of shoreline between Montauk and the Rockaways that is not flecked with the brown schools of bunker—tens of millions of fish, if not hundreds of millions.

While some landlubbers may not love the idea of all these shark fins in the water, they should rest easy (or uneasy): The sharks have always been there. We’re just getting a better look at them now because the fish they’re eating are on the surface of the sea instead of the bottom.

The bunker are the engine of all this natural wonder, and the surge in numbers is a testament to what a species of fish can do when it’s managed well.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is right now considering how it will manage bunker going forward. The rising numbers have commercial interests salivating at being given access to more of the swimming fish oil pills.

But sportfishing advocates are endorsing an “ecosystem”-based approach to looking at bunker, which doesn’t just look at the number of fish and how many can be killed while keeping the numbers from going down, but counts the fish as important cogs in the natural gears of the ocean, as forage for fish species that drives the billions of dollars a year that come from recreational and food fish commercial fishing.

After more than two years of work, the commission is set to vote on the new management plan on November 14. But first fisheries managers are eager to hear from fishermen one last time. There will be a public hearing on September 12 in East Setauket at the state headquarters there, 205 North Belle Mead Road. Having a few folks there from the surfcasting community and maybe a Montauk charter captain or two would be a large point made.

Also, check out the story in the news section this week, or at 27east.com, on the legal and ethical issues of fishing for sharks from shore. Shark fishing from the beach has become a rage in Florida, where guys are battling 300- to 400-pound fish on big-game stand-up tackle. But, here, the small brown sharks and sand tigers, which get big, are protected and are technically illegal to fish for. Sure, you can say you’re fishing for something else and caught it by accident—that will get you out of the ticket, as long as you don’t sit on its back or hold it up for a photo.

But, the truth is, if you’re shark fishing from the beach, you are 99.999 percent likely to catch a species of shark that is in a population slump, even though it doesn’t seem like it this year. Just take note.

Beyond that, catch ’em up. See you out there.

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