Big Stripers And Bad Bunker Decisions This Week


Even though a 40-pound striped bass and a fair number of “keepers” were hauled from the surf this past week, Sunday’s howling winds and a wisp of snow in the air Monday morning have had a lot of local sportsmen thinking more about the coming waterfowling season than about the fishes in the surf.Despite the gale, I and other duck hunters spent Sunday wrestling with boats and blowing grass to get blinds ready for Thursday’s opening day.

For those of us mutually obsessed with fishing and hunting, this fall has not afforded a lot of time for getting hunting gear shipshape, what with false albacore still lurking in the area, blackfish and black sea bass fishing being off the charts, and lots of striped bass, albeit mostly tiny ones, stacked in the surf zone for the last couple weeks.

For those who have been the most intrepid, there have been some nice stripers to be had on the sand beaches from Moriches to Napeague, primarily on the night tides. The one truly big fish, a 40-pounder according to the rumor mill, was apparently caught on a live eel, which is a bit of an odd choice for the ocean but obviously an ingenious one that filtered out the micros. Thinking outside the box pays off more than the lazy in us likes to admit.

With bass fishing in future seasons in mind, a lot of fishermen and ecologists are shaking their heads this week about the vote by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on the future of the bunker/menhaden fishery. If you recall from these pages, the commission was considering amendments to the management plan for this important forage species, which recreational fishing advocates and conservationists had urged be reduced to allow the already astounding resurgence of bunker populations to continue.

Alas, the commission ignored their pleas and opted to keep the status quo with regard to the harvesting of bunker—which in the grand scheme is primarily the realm of one company, Omega Protein, makers of the fish oil pills that Americans gobble up by the millions.

Now, I’m not sure this was one of those potentially cataclysmic decisions that some management committees have made in the past—two striped bass per day limits, for instance—but ecologists have been pushing the commission to consider the role of bunker in the health of other species’ population, not just their own. It’s a strong argument, that having huge numbers of bunker in the ocean is good for dozens of other species of marine fish and mammals.

A lot of advocates for stepping up bunker conservation have called the decision “shocking.” But when you consider the giant political influence of Omega Protein, I’m not so sure that anyone should be shocked that a panel with a substantial industry presence sided with not tightening the screws on a giant corporation.

The upside, I guess, is that they did not loosen the rules either and give Omega room to start vacuuming up even more bunker up and down the coast as they have in the past. Presumably, at the very least, this will allow growth of bunker stocks to continue at least gradually as it has in the years since large-scale purse seining was winnowed down to mostly just a couple of states.

There are still plenty of bunker slinking by the South Fork, though they seem to have mostly stayed deep and silent since last week’s cold snap. Thankfully the large amount of anchovies, sandeels and silversides that are hugging the suds as they skedaddle are keeping plenty of stripers within range. So as you don your camo and bask in the warm sun of a fruitless day of duck hunting, make sure your surf rod is still atop your truck.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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