Bluefish deserve more respect… also windmills in the ocean
I fished in the Newport area this weekend and saw schools of bluefish working in the Bridge area. As I returned to Greenwich Bay, I came upon five separate schools of bluefish between Quonset and Prudence Island, all pushing bait to the surface in feeding frenzies. It made me think about all the fun anglers on my vessel (particularly my wife and I) have had fishing for blues on the surface.
I don’t think bluefish get a fair shake. Anglers often say, “You like to catch bluefish?” with a tone of wonderment in their voice. And as far as eating them, people have a strong opinion, usually “I hate bluefish. They taste too fishy.”
Well it is time we gave bluefish the place they deserve… after all they are a ferocious game fish and when the catch is cared for properly, out of the water to the dinner table, they are very tasty.
We owe it to ourselves and nature to eat what is provided and bluefish are nutritious, plentiful and economically beneficial to catch and eat. I feel the same way about scup that have appeared in large numbers too. We should educate ourselves, family and friends on how to prepare and eat these plentiful fish.
Bluefish are fairly easy to find, but that has not always been the case. Bluefish populations have experienced periods of abundance and scarcity. Massachusetts Marine Fisheries relates “…the number of reproductively mature fish has declined since its most recent peak in 1979, dropping the estimated number of adults coast wide… in recent years, the total harvest by recreational anglers (which is typically at least 90%) has been stable.” In 2009 the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council declared the fishery fully rebuilt and in 2010 Rhode Island increased the possession limit for bluefish to be consistent with Federal regulation from ten fish to fifteen fish/person/day with no minimum size and no closed season. These regulations are in effect for 2011 as well.
Small bluefish arrive in New England Bays and estuaries in May, larger fish arrive later in spring and leave in October as the water cools to sixty degrees. They inhabit deeper waters and move into shallow areas as the summer progresses. Bluefish are cannibalistic. Wikipedia says some “Hypothesize that because of cannibalistic behavior, bluefish tend to swim in schools of similarly sized specimens. Others hypothesize that bluefish school with like-sized individuals, because they swim at the same rate, thus expending the same energy when traveling, and thus having identical food intake requirements.” Bluefish feed in schools aggressively pursuing prey along tidal rips and in shallow areas close to shore where food can be trapped. Bluefish aggressing rip through schools of prey biting and killing many fish that do not get eaten.
The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (RISAA at http://www.risaa.org/ ) has a great online resource for fish research. RISAA says, “During feeding frenzies the most productive way to catch bluefish is to cast a surface “popper” plug at the boiled up water. Cast out the plug to the edge of the boiling water and “pop” it back toward you at a moderate speed. You are trying to imitate a wounded or frantic bait fish breaking out of the school.”
Anglers use steel leaders when fishing for bluefish as their teeth can easily cut monofilament line. Anglers must be extremely careful when handling bluefish, particularly when removing hooks as they can bite and cut anglers causing severe damage (and in some cases finger loss).
Bluefish rarely exceed 20 lbs. and 40 inches in length. The larger fish caught during a given year generally run between 10-15 pounds. The Rhode Island record is 26 pounds, 39 inches caught by D. Deziel of Woonsocket, RI in August of 1981 and the North American record bluefish, caught in North Carolina, weighed 31 pounds, 12 ounces.
Watch next week’s No Fluke column for tips on how to care for and cook your bluefish catch from water to dinner table.
Windmills in the ocean
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. joined Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and other national and state leaders last Friday to recognize the pioneering Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (visit Ocean SAMP at http://seagrant.gso.uri.edu/oceansamp/ ). This new, innovative ocean management plan is the first of its kind in the nation. It improves state review processes and policies to facilitate the development of offshore projects that could lead to the creation of hundreds of wind energy jobs and balance energy development with transportation, fishing, recreation and environmental stewardship along the state’s coast and adjacent federal waters.
I asked Captain Rich Hittinger, vice president of RISAA, how RISAA felt about the possibility of wind farms in RI. Rich said, “We are not opposed to the platforms as long as they avoid prime fishing spots and they are constructed in a manner that enhance bottom structure and fish habitat and so long as they are not made off limits by some form of "safety zone". Rich said at Friday’s event he chatted with Ed LeBlanc of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), the person responsible for wind platform issues in the Northeast, and LeBlanc said there is no interest on the part of the USCG to have any form of safety zones.
Captain Rick Bellavance, president of the Rhode Island Party & Charter Boat Association, said, “NOAA’s approval of the SAMP is good, it can be used as a tool to apply consistency in Federal waters.” However, Captain Bellavance cautioned, “The decision as to where to site windmills in Federal waters is out of State control, actually out of the hands of NOAA and the Department of Commerce, but rather it is now in the hands of the Department of the Interior”. He hoped wind farm developers would be required to conduct “Extensive environmental impact studies rather than the less extensive environmental assessments.” He said this is now not guaranteed. Concern is not just over 100 or 200 wind turbines but the thousands of wind turbines planned for the northeast.
Commercial fishermen have related that it would be impossible to turn a vessel dragging nets in a wind farm. This may eliminate prime fishing grounds. For example the proposed Deepwater Wind farm places turbines around the rim of Cox’s Ledge where water depth is lower and ideal for turbine placement. However, this location has been a prime fishing ground for commercial (and recreational) fishermen for years. Lobstermen, who set their pots along natural structure, would no longer be able set pots in a string in this area. Additionally, the artificial structure created by wind turbine foundations may attract the lobsters, and leave few for lobstermen to fish for in open fishable water.
East Bay Anglers to hold clam boil
The East Bay Anglers will sponsor a clam boil Sunday, August 14, 2:00 p.m. at the Riverside Sportsman’s Club. 50/50 raffle, door prize and a prize raffle. Must reserve tickets in advance by calling Mike Gillies, 401.228.6310.
Where’s the bite
Striped bass bite remains good off Block Island North Rip and southeast side. Angler Jamie Schiffer said striped bass were on the surface at the North Rip this weekend, “It was crazy. I couldn't believe how long it lasted. Stripers were anywhere from 28 to 45 inches”. Bass are also being caught off coastal shores in Newport and Narragansett. “Customers have said striped bass were swimming among bathers a Scarborough Beach”, said Buzz, an associate at Maridee Bait, Tackle & Canvas on Point Judith Road, Narragansett.
Fluke (summer flounder) fishing remains strong in the lower Bay and around Narragansett, Jamestown and Newport. Alfred Bettencourt of East Providence and friend Brian caught fourteen keeper fluke in just ten drifts while fishing off Newport said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside. Littlefield said, “Keeper fluke also being caught by customers at Conimicut and Warwick Lights with shorts mixed in.”
Blue crabs have made their presence know in the East and West Bay passages. Still not as strong as last year, but anglers and crabbers hope they will become plentiful soon.
Bluefish schools heavy in the West Passage north of Jamestown to Greenwich Bay. Fish also surfacing under the Newport Bridge mixed in with school striped bass.