By Gina Curreri
BU News Service
BOSTON – The continuing war over striped bass has entered a new battle on Beacon Hill with a renewed effort to eventually make the lucrative catch off limits for commercial fishermen.
A bill filed by Rep. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, would limit commercial licenses to fishermen who could demonstrate they’ve caught and sold more than 1,000 pounds of striped bass annually over the last five years on record.
Fishermen who meet that standard would be allowed to keep their striped bass licenses until 2025, when commercial licenses for the fish would no longer be issued.
A group of some 10 concerned Cape and Island commercial fishermen, clad in fishing caps and sweatshirts, joined with Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, on Wednesday to oppose the bill before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
“Let’s make no mistake about it. This bill exterminates the commercial fishery by 2025,” said Darren Saletta, a Chatham resident and founder of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association.
Saletta and his group were pitted against members of Stripers Forever, a nonprofit group with a mission of conserving striped bass. The group unsuccessfully pushed for a commercial ban in 2010. Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire ban commercial fishing of striped bass.
“We do not seek through this bill to further the economic harm that legitimate (commercial) fishermen are currently facing, but we want to get rid of people who sell a few striped bass to pay for the cost of their gas, bait and tackle,” Mike Spinney, a Stripers Forever policy coordinator, told the committee.
Under the bill, commercial fishermen who can demonstrate a legitimate reason for failing to reach the required 1,000 pounds could seek hardship relief from the state Division of Marine Fisheries.
Fishermen would not be allowed to renew a commercial license after two consecutive years of failing to land the required amount.
Proponents say the goal is to protect and conserve the species while allowing commercial fishermen to make a living off striped bass.
According to data from the state Department of Marine Fisheries, about 1,200 of the 4,000 striped bass permit holders report selling at least one fish annually.
Saletta said almost all fishermen obtain permits for many fish species as a precaution for the upcoming season.
“I check off several endorsements that I don’t necessarily catch fish on each year. I don’t know if it will be more profitable to fish for a different fish. That’s why you see all these inactive permits,” Saletta said.
William Killen, a Falmouth commercial fisherman for more than 40 years, said he fishes with two other men who have striped bass licenses even though he does all the reporting.
“They don’t want to be in a position where they can’t get a permit later on in life,” Killen said.
Killen said potential overfishing is an issue to be taken up with the state Department of Marine Fisheries, not the Legislature.
“They’ve (the department) done a tremendous job and they will continue to do so, and they’ll make decisions probably with a scalpel, not with a machete,” Killen said.
The department shut down the commercial striped bass fishery on Aug. 7 until the season opens in 2014 because the quota of about one million pounds was met.
Question about the survival of the species is driving the debate. An Oct. 31 benchmark assessment from the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission reported that Atlantic striped bass are not being overfished. The probability that female striped bass will be overfished increases through 2016, but declines after that.
“Does that mean everything is all rosy with the striped bass? Not necessarily, but eliminating the commercial catch isn’t going to do anything to help the rebound,” Peake told the committee, citing problems with a decrease in herring and menhaden, which striped bass eat.
“I’ve been to 24 (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) meetings, and not once has a person from Stripers Forever been there to speak up in support of conservation measures for the herring or the menhaden,” Peake said. “I respectfully question their motives in filing these bills.”
Peake also testified on Wednesday for her bill that would allow coastal communities to charge differential mooring fees for residents and nonresidents.
“In essence, this bill would allow communities to charge less for residents than nonresidents. Nonresidents don’t pay their excise tax to that home port community,” Peake said.
Her bill would reverse a 2004 state law that banned different mooring fees on the basis of residence.
The committee is reviewing and expected to report on this and 20 other bills, six of which address the conservation and tagging of striped bass.
This article first appeared on Cape Cod Times Online.