Kevin Fetzer holds up a 25-inch spring striped bass. An early fishing season is expected this year due to warm ocean waters.

Last week, Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), announced 2020 saltwater fishing regulations. A memo outlining regulation decisions can be found at http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/marine/pdf/dir02102020.pdf.

Director Coit made a courageous call on striped bass on two counts: First, it was the only regulation where she did not follow the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC) recommendation, and second: she expressed a new policy philosophy of supporting sector separation for the for-hire industry (party and charter boats).

State fisheries management leaders from both Massachusetts and Connecticut had urged Rhode Island to comply with coastwide measures for regulation consistency between states.

“I find that it is in the best interest of the striped bass resource, and the Rhode Island recreational fishing community as a whole, to enact the coastwide measure set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), of one fish/person/day slot limit of 28 to 35 inches,” Coit said in her striped bass regulation memo. “The decision dissents from the recommendation of the RIMFC, which was to adopt the split-mode conservation equivalency proposal involving one set of regulations (30- to 40-inch slot limit) for the RI for-hire sector and another set (32- to 40-inch slot limit) for RI private recreational anglers.”

The feeling of many conservationists coastwide (particularly those in neighboring states) was that striped bass 35 to 40 inches in length protected in Maine-Massachusetts and Connecticut-New York would have been open to harvest in Rhode Island if the split mode option was adopted; while fish 28 to 32 inches (or 28 to 30 inches) in length protected in Rhode Island would have been open to harvest in Maine-Massachusetts and Connecticut-New York.

Many believe, including Director Coit, that the projected reduction in removals associated with Rhode Island’s conservation equivalency options were too risky and would possibly not be realized.

Separate rules for charter boats

About a dozen charter boats have been recording catch and effort electronically for nine years now in Rhode Island, most of those years as volunteers to help prove that reporting electronically on tablets, iPads and now smartphones works. Rhode Island is the first state that has mandatory electronic reporting for charter and party boats.

Mandatory electronic recording gives fish managers a robust database of fish being taken and released. The data allows managers to know if charter boats are staying within a harvest limit or not, which was not the case before electronic reporting became mandatory.

“Advancing the interests of the for-hire industry is a core principle of our fisheries management program in Rhode Island,” Coit said. “The industry provides access to the resource for those unable to access it on their own and supports jobs and economic activity. As such, DEM plans to continue our efforts to pursue separate for-hire sector guidelines across species. Striped bass may follow suit, however, given the circumstances, there is too much risk doing so at this time.”

I believe sector separation is good for fish conservation. Mandatory electronic reporting allows us to control a portion of the recreational fishing community to ensure overfishing in that sector does not occur. The idea is that if the for-hire sector is accountable staying within fishing limits, they are given some fishing flexibility allowing them to function more like a business, staying away from fish that are close to their harvest limit and fishing for those where there is an abundance of harvest limit left.

Fishing for a Cause tournament and seaside dinner

The Fishing for A Cause Catch & Release Tournament from Cape Cod to Block Island will be held June 12-13. Top prizes include striped bass — $2,500, bluefish — $1,000, summer flounder (fluke) — $750, and black sea bass — $500.

Registration is $150 per person which includes a day of fishing, cocktail reception and awards ceremony, or $250 per person with the seaside dinner added. Funds for the tournament go to Meeting Street’s Schwartz School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts which serves children, young adults and their families in our community, providing high-quality educational, developmental, and therapeutic programs for children from birth through age 21. For information and to register, visit www.meetingstreet.org/FFAC .

Licenses online

Visit www.mass.gov/massfishhunt to purchase Massachusetts fishing and hunting licenses, permits and stamps online. In Rhode Island, anglers, boaters and hunters are encouraged to purchase their 2020 fishing and hunting license and renew their boat registration through DEM’s Licensing and Registration portal at http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/managementservices/licenses/.

Freshwater and Opening Day

Fishing has been good at open trout ponds in Massachusetts. Opening day of the trout and fishing season in Rhode Island is Saturday, April 11. This date will likely not change, however, allowing anglers to fish in large groups at the same time is not appropriate in this coronavirus environment. At press time, we are waiting to hear from DEM on how fishing will be handled on Opening day.

Fishing show canceled

The New England Saltwater Fishing show at the Rhode Island Convention Center scheduled for March 27 -29 has been cancelled due to the coronavirus.

Where’s the bite?

Saltwater fishing: Cape Cod Canal fishing expert and author East End Eddie Doherty of Mattapoisett said, “We are expecting an early season this year. We have already had herring sightings in the canal. That’s a lot earlier than I can remember.” Capt. Cory Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “One day last week, we fished a mix of hard and open bottom for cod. Things started off great, with the first fish in the boat being double header keepers. The water is already starting to warm. This is a good sign for the upcoming fluke and squid season.” Call ahead to make sure charter and party boats are fishing. Elisa Cahill of Snug Harbor Marine said, “We have reports of anglers getting bumps from what we think are school bass off Charlestown Beach. I think the season is going to be early with all this warm weather and water.” John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle in Riverside, said, “Customers giving school bass a try at Conimicut Point and in Providence. They are using clam worms and clam tongue. No reports of fish yet.”

Dave Monti is a charter captain and member of the American Saltwater Guides Association, RISAA, the RIPCBA, serves as vice chair of the RIMFC and is a communications practitioner. Forward fishing news & photos to dmontifish@verizon.net, visit www.noflukefishing.com or www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com.

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