Thursday, January 10, 2019

Fishing will be mixed bag in 2019

 Capt. Mike Littlefield of Archangel Charters, Portsmouth, with a 15 pound tautog he caught off Jamestown, RI using a tautog jig and green crabs.  The tautog bite was on in 2018.

 This 24.5 inch black sea bass was caught off Newport using a pink buck tail on a three-way swivel.  The black sea bass are expected to be plentiful (and large) in 2019 in Buzzards Bay and off RI.

 Ed Doherty of Mattapoisett (East End Eddie) with a 27 pound striped bass he caught on the Cape Cod Canal.  Fishing was good in July of 2018 with Doherty catching a 25, 27 and 31 pound fish on consecutive days.

Lucy Churchill and fiancĂ© Chris Monti of Providence with the 24” summer flounder she caught at Austin Hollow, Jamestown in August.  Fluke fishing was difficult in 2018 but some large fish were caught in lower Narragansett Bay.
Fishing will be mixed bag in 2019

The 2018 season

If you worked hard, you caught fish in 2018.  Maybe not what you wanted to catch, but there were fish to catch.

The school striped bass fishing was awesome with a number of large fish taken at the Cape Cod Canal, at the Southwest Ledge Block Island, and with shore anglers catching keepers in the 30” range mixed in with all those smaller bass.  However, the bass bite compared to recent years was way off the mark for most shore, Bay and ocean anglers.

The tautog season was great with anglers catching their limit and a number of larger fish, many over 15 pounds, being caught throughout the fall season.  And, once again this year we filled out our fishing with large scup, a great black sea bass bite (particularly in spring at Buzzards Bay, off Newport and Block Island) and sea robins (which more and more anglers are keeping, cleaning and eating).

Other species such as summer flounder (fluke) fishing, large striped bass fishing in general, the false albacore run in the fall were not as robust as we would have liked to see.  Offshore we fell short on the bluefin and yellowfin tuna bite but had an abundance of sharks offshore.

What’s in store for 2019?

Striped bass. Even though a new striped bass stock assessment is done data from it will not be used for management decisions until 2020.  So for 2019 striped bass regulations are expected to be the same as this year… one fish 28” or larger/person/day. The striped bass fishing for keeper sized bass will hopefully improve in 2019 with some of the small school size fish we have been catching in abundance maturing to keeper sized fish. 

However, the stock assessment, is not good.  With the biological reference points we now have, specifically the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB), the amount of spawning fish needed in the water to insure sustainable stock levels, is showing that striped bass are overfished and overfishing is occurring. 

However some fish mangers and policy makers, being pressured to keep people fishing for striped bass, are thinking about lowering the amount of spawning stock biomass needed in the water to insure a sustainable fishing.  This is troubling and equated by many to lowering the basketball rim to eight feet because at ten feet it is too hard to get a basket.

Data presented to anglers at a December 19, 2018 Rhode Island DEM public workshop on striped bass clearly shows show fewer and fewer keeper striped bass have been caught in Rhode Island and Massachusetts over the past four years.  Lowering our SSB goal to take more fish is being frowned upon by most conservation minded anglers. 

Additionally, the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), the way fish mangers measure recreational fishing harvest, has recalibrated its data due to enhanced data collection strategies.  The new recalibrated data shows that over the years, anglers have been catching more fish than originally thought.  In the case of striped bass, the data is showing anglers have been catching more than twice the amount of striped bass than originally thought. 

So next year we will be status quo on striped bass, and the prediction is that the striped bass fishing for smaller fish will be good, but the bite for the 30, 40 and 50 pound fish will continue to decline in 2019.  How fish mangers decide to use new stock assessment data will be determined at the February, 2019 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting. We may have an indication of the 2020 season after that meeting.

The black sea bass bite will be enhanced in 2019.  But the summer flounder bite will likely remain spotty.  The black sea bass bite is expected to get better with large fish being caught in 2019. Some monster fish were caught in 2018 (like the 24.5 inch fish caught off Newport on my boat last year… the State of Rhode Island and U.S. record is 26 inches.)

Summer flounder (fluke) is experiencing overfishing and with a reduced bite this year, the bite is expected to be the same in 2019… spotty.

Tautog fishing in Massachusetts and Rhode Island will likely be status quo next year which is a minimum size of 16”.  In Rhode Island there is a split season with three fish allowed in early spring, no fishing during the spawning months of June and July.  The season opens again in August with three fish and then jumps to five fish/person/day in mid-October.  A ten fish boat maximum is still in place for all seasons.


Where’s the bite?

Cod and haddock fishing were strong again this week when boats were able to get out.  Party boats from Rhode Island sailing for cod this time of year include the Frances Fleet at , the Seven B’s at, and the Island Current at .

Fishing law revised in 2018

This past year the fishing law of this nation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), was revised focusing on recreational provisions to the law.

Two bill versions of what was commonly called the Modern Fish Act, one in the U.S. House (H.R. 2023) and a different second version in the Senate (S. 1520) were introduced. Additionally, H.R.200, which included pieces of the Modern Fish Act was introduced as well. 

The good news is that H.R. 200, which passed the House on mostly party lines, did not gain any traction in the Senate.  The bill contained many harmful provisions to fish conservation which would have made it harder to grow fish to abundance so there are more in the water for all to catch and eat.

Additionally, at the end of the Senate session, as the Senate was considering their version of the Modern Fish Act (S.1520), our Senators in New England working with Senators across the country had most of the anti-conservation provisions contained in the bill removed before its passage.

Although the Senate bill S. 1520 is not perfect, and some smaller issues still remain, the bill was significantly changed to remove the most objectionable provisions that were originally in the bill at introduction.  This was done through bipartisan discussion to advocate for a bill that aimed to preserve conservation provisions that have proven to grow fish to abundance.

In particular, the bill removed language that would have required a mandatory allocation review process for the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic councils that would have been overly burdensome and prevented the Councils from attending to other important conservation and management issues.

Harmful provisions deleted from S. 1520 have allowed important conservation provisions to prevail in the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  Annual catch limit requirements are still in place, conservation measures needed to regulate overfished species are still in place, we will continue to have a balanced process to address reallocation of catch from sectors moving forward, and fishers will still have the ability to utilize Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) as a way to explore new and innovative management tools.

Meredith Moore, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation program, said, “When first introduced, we had real concerns that this bill would hamstring efforts to sustainably manage fisheries, including the recreational fisheries it intended to help. Thanks to the leadership of a bipartisan group of Senators willing to work cooperatively across the aisle, these harmful provisions have been removed from S. 1520. We look forward to working with these Senators next year to ensure we have healthy fisheries that can support fishing businesses, our ocean ecosystems, and access to our natural resources for future generations.”

Advocates for the Modern Fish Act, seemed to be please about the bills bipartisan passage as well. 

Gary Zurn, senior vice president at Big Rock Sports and chairman of the American Sportfishing Association’s (ASA) Government Affairs Committee said, “Through passage of the Modern Fish Act, Congress is providing direction to NOAA Fisheries on a variety of policies that will ultimately lead to more stable fishing regulations, and better management and conservation of our marine fisheries.”

In a press release last month the ASA said, “The bill still helps to address many of top priorities for improving federal marine fisheries management”. 

ASA said Bill provisions include clarifying the authority of NOAA Fisheries to apply management approaches more appropriate for recreational fishing; improving recreational harvest data collection by requiring federal managers to explore additional data sources to improve the accuracy and timeliness of harvest estimates, such as state-driven programs and electronic recording; requiring a study on how mixed-use fishery allocations can and should be periodically reviewed by the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Councils; and a study on limited access privilege programs including an assessment of the social, economic, and ecological effects of the programs. 

This win for fish conservation would not have been possible without the tremendous effort of conservation-minded Senators in New England and the nation. Our sustainable fisheries champions in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have done tremendous work over the past two years to negotiate language changes, doing a great job to ensure a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act.

This is not the last we will hear of bills that make changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.  In 2019, we are hopeful for more bipartisan cooperation in the name of sustainable fishing. If and when reauthorization comes up in 2019, we are in good hands with our federally-elected representatives here in New England.

In 2018 bipartisan collaboration paid off for the fish and fishermen throughout the United States of America.  We just need to keep this bipartisan approach moving forward.

Value of fishing up in MA and RI

John Migliori with a largemouth bass he caught Saturday on an Aquidneck Island pond.  Freshwater fishing has been good when anglers have been able to fish with warmer weather and no ice on the edges of ponds. 

Value of fishing up in MA and RI

Last week the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their Fisheries Economics of the United States 2016 report. Both recreational and commercial fishing in the nation and in Rhode Island saw gains since the last 2015 Report.

In 2016, commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the United States generated approximately 1.7 million jobs in the U.S. economy. In addition, commercial and recreational fishing together generated $212.2 billion in sales impacts, $64.2 billion in income impacts, and $99.5 billion in value-added impacts throughout the economy.

In Massachsetts NOAA said recreational fishing had $1,070-billion in sales, $495-million in income, $716-million in value added to the economy, and the industry supports 9,957 jobs. But the commercial seafood industry is MA generates a greater value to the economy creating $2,318-billion in sales, $851-million in income, $1,161-billion in value added to the economy, and the industry supports 55,384 jobs without imports.

In Rhode Island recreational fishing led the way with $412-million in sales, $176-million in income, $270-million in value added to the economy, and the industry supports 4,173 jobs. The commercial seafood industry is also very valuable in Rhode Island, creating $333-million in sales, $120-million in income, $169-million in value added to the economy, and the industry supports 5,193 jobs without imports.

A copy of the report, NOAA’s Fisheries Economics of the U.S. 2016, can be found at:

Senators advocate for fishermen with BOEM

Last week Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jack Reed (D-RI), sent a letter advocating for fishermen to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).  The letter urged the agency to continue to adopt policies for the offshore wind leasing and permitting process that bring fishermen and other marine stakeholders into the conversation early.  The Senators said that early stakeholder involvement will help minimize spatial conflicts and reduce the risk of economic harm to the fishing industry.

As wind developers lease areas in federal waters for the first time, the Senators contend that existing stakeholders must be thoroughly consulted both before and after leases are granted.

In their letter, the Senators pointed to Rhode Island’s success fostering collaborative and meaningful engagement on the Block Island Wind Farm, proving that offshore wind and other marine industries can operate in harmony.  

The Senators note that while BOEM has tried to improve communication between the fishing industry and wind developers, many of their constituents consider the existing efforts to be ineffective.  For a copy of the letter click HERE or visit .

Quahogs still king in my house

This time of year… the quahog is still king in my house. Last Saturday I had the chance to dig a few quahogs in Narragansett Bay and host a linguini and quahog dinner for my brother-in-law’s sixtieth birthday.

Quahog shell fishing can be cold this time of year, the water temperature was in the high 40 degree area. So anglers must layer up.   My two pairs of wool socks, two pairs of pants and rubber waders with build-in boots kept my submerged body parts warm.  I also wore thin cotton gloves under shoulder to fingertip large rubber gloves.  It was great to get out and shellfish.  Here’s my linguini with white quahog sauce recipe.


½ cup virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic thinly sliced (or 4 teaspoons chopped garlic from jar)

1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley (plus four to five good pinches)

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup lemon juice

Red pepper to taste

3 dozen (scrubbed) littleneck quahogs (1 ½ to 2 inches)

Meat of 6 to 8 large quahogs cut-up and cleaned (optional)

1 pound linguini pasta

Scrub littleneck quahog shells thoroughly and put them aside.  Cook linguine while making recipe. Heat extra virgin olive oil in heavy pasta pan over medium heat, cook garlic in oil until golden brown (about one minute).  Add and stir in 1/3 cup chopped parsley and all the unopened little necks, let simmer for two minutes.  Add wine and let simmer for one minute.  Add lemon and the meat of six to eight large quahogs cut up and cleaned (extra quahog meat is optional; if I catch them I put them in).  Add red pepper to taste.  Cook for eight to ten minutes or until all quahogs are open. Discard quahogs that are not open.  Lower heat and put in one pound of cooked linguini and toss the entire mixture, put into large pasta bowl, then garnish with four pinches of fresh parsley. (This recipe is a variation of one I first saw in the May, 2002 issue of Bon AppĂ©tit magazine by Lori Demori).

Where’s the bite?

Cod and haddock fishing were strong this week.  Capt. Chris Cullen of the Island Current III, Snug Harbor, RI said, “Saturday anglers enjoyed steady action throughout the day with black sea bass, cod, haddock and jumbo porgies.” Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “We are still finding a good amount of haddock on the grounds as well. We really thought this was just a fluke a few weeks ago, but it seems like they are sticking around. Friday did have the best action on the cod fish with high hook catching five keepers. Between the cod, haddock, cunner, ling and sea bass there was always a fish coming over the rails.”

Party boats sailing for cod this time of year include the Frances Fleet at , the Seven B’s at, and the Island Current at .