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Sports Center

May 22, 2018 9:54 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

For A Striped Bass Slot Limit

May 29, 2018 5:56 PM

Some scientists have finally put hard science behind what many fishermen with half a brain have long assumed: the bigger a female fish is, the more eggs she lays.In a report published in the journal Science recently, these researchers showed that the largest females in a species—they studied more than 300 species of fish—can produce 400 times more eggs than the smallest spawners.

This information should be the final straw for fisheries managers who have never latched onto the long-called-for slot limit for striped bass. It is time for us to stop killing 35-40-50-pound striped bass, almost exclusively for the sake of our egos.

The striped bass fishery in the Northeast is a unique one. It is probably one of, if not the most, economically important fish there is: both because of the demand for fillets on restaurant menus and for the billions of dollars generated by recreational fishermen out looking to catch them.

And the recreational fishery is special because striped bass are essentially the largest inshore-dwelling species on the East Coast, and therefore an unparalleled opportunity for people without the means to hunt for giant pelagics over the horizon to catch a fish that weighs 30, 40 or 50 pounds from shore or with a relatively inexpensive party boat ticket.

So if we acknowledge that big fish are the most helpful to protecting our stock of economically important fish as well as exceptionally valuable in themselves as a trophy—just ask Instagram—and therefore are one of the main draws to the fishery, we should be protecting them most of all.

Last summer’s amazing fishing off Montauk was spectacular to see, but also kind of gross when one accounted for the wholly unnecessary toll it took on striped bass. Tourists, who if they caught a 28-inch striper would have done backflips over it being the biggest fish they’d ever caught, pictured with four, five or six fish all over 35-40 pounds? Why?

One photo I saw was of two college-age young ladies, out on a local charter boat as a lark, hefting four fish, all over 40 pounds. Never mind that they apparently were being allowed to keep the limits of the captain and mate, which is patently illegal, but they had been encouraged by the crew to keep the biggest fish, or maybe just the first fish, they caught. Does anyone wonder what those two ladies, staying in a motel room for a weekend, did with 40-plus pounds of fresh fish fillets?

That particular instance is not something that one can regulate; you have to expect charter captains to have an ounce of sense, and to relay it to their customers. Sure, when you get six guys who come out for a striper trip with big coolers to take fish home in, they are probably looking to take home as many dinners as possible for the $200 or $300 they each shelled out. But most fun-seeking tourists simply do not realize how much fish flesh those five or six 30-pound striped bass are going to produce when a knife is put to them, and often don’t have the means to deal with it or dispense it to others.

Some captains—Captain Tom Mikoleski of the charter boat Grand Slam, for one—make a point to discuss with their charters what they want or need to take home, and encourage them to get photos and release the others. That is a shamefully rare approach.

Even considering throwing back a fish, of course, means putting away the gaffs and landing fish with nets—another practice that I think should be cooked into the rule books.

Other states whose fisheries rely on recreational fishermen seeking certain species in which trophies are highly sought after—like Florida’s snook and redfish in the Carolinas and Gulf Coast—long ago imposed slot limits on their money fish to protect those big trophies that will make an angler’s day, and bring them back to spend more money, several times in their life.

It’s time that we do the same for striped bass. A slot of 28 to 38 inches, or something of the like, is ridiculously reasonable. We have a big population of very large striped bass right now and the potential is there for stripers to produce outstanding trophy fishing in the next several years. But each year there is no slot, tens of thousands of big fish are lost for good.

You tough guy blockheads with the “kill ’em all” attitudes: admit it, you are just soothing some insecurity. Take it to a shrink, or get a Corvette or something—and throw the big fish back.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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