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They Aren’t Recreational Fishermen

Disappointing (and aggravating) news from the Cape Cod Canal that environmental police nabbed a bunch of folks for bag-limit violations. More than 300 pounds of fish were seized and charges are pending. The Cape Cod Times describes those accused as “recreational fishermen.”

Let me be clear: if they are guilty, they aren’t recreational fishermen. They are poachers. They are criminals. They are selfish, greedy sons-of…

Kudos to the anglers who saw what was happening and reported the lawbreaking. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Environmental Police are under-funded and under-staffed and so much of their enforcement activity is driven by tips called in by regular folks who observe violations in progress.

Problem is, Massachusetts has only itself to blame for lot of the poaching that takes place. The state has long resisted the practice of tagging striped bass at the point of capture and instead only requires fish reported at the point of sale. As a result, the black market is robust. The officials interviewed following the Canal action this week said that they get calls reporting lawbreaking every day, and that they probably could have written a lot more citations that day, but for a lack of manpower.

We can’t know for certain if the 300 pounds of striped bass that were confiscated (not to mention the likely hundreds of other pounds of illegally caught fish not seized) were headed to the black market, but it’s highly likely. The Canal is notorious for its black-market poaching. Trucks are known to roam the roads along the canal picking up catches from scofflaw fishermen and taking them to market. Unless caught in the act the regulations are nearly impossible to prove. Once filleted you can’t tell one striped bass from another.

But it’s not only striped bass that are suffering from ambiguous fisheries regulations. Over at, Capt. John McMurray writes about the problem as it pertains to the beleaguered bluefin tuna.

The creeping ambiguity John describes is endemic to fisheries management, and it’s not by mistake. Too many in the recreational and charter fishing business want it both ways. They claim the mantle of the concerned recreational fisherman when it suits them, but then fight for liberalization of the regulations because “cake and eat it too” rules allow them to satisfy their greed. I’ve attended public hearings with such folks who thump their chests and boast of their club or charter credentials, then try to buddy up with the real commercial guys to argue for a bigger slice of that cake.

Stripers Forever believes designating striped bass as a game fish would effectively eliminate the problem. If you can’t sell buy or sell stripers legally, it becomes more difficult to hide the illegal ones.

Kevin McKay, Owner

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