For years, there has been fear and anxiety spreading about the status of the Atlantic striped bass resource, fueled by the continuous decline in the striped bass population since the early 2000s and most recently by below-average recruitment (spawning success) in Maryland portions of Chesapeake Bay. Since 2018, when striped bass were declared overfished, the recreational fishing community has rallied to push for conservation to rebuild the striped bass fishery, culminating with the finalization of Amendment 7 to the fishery management plan earlier in 2022. It has been a bumpy journey, and we still have a long way to go, but for now, I have positive news to share.
The final draft of the 2022 Atlantic Striped Bass Stock Assessment found that the striped bass population is not experiencing overfishing, meaning fishing mortality is where it needs to be to rebuild successfully. In other words, the new slot limit regulations are succeeding at reducing the impact of recreational fishing on the struggling striper population.
The results indicate that if managers can keep fishing mortality where it is now, there is a high probability of rebuilding the overfished striped bass stock by 2029. Does that mean it will be smooth sailing and we’ll have the same striped bass regulations the entire time? Likely not, as managers will need to review updated stock assessments to ensure the current slot limit is keeping fishing mortality at or below where it needs to be. If it isn’t, they will consider further adjustments as required by the management triggers reaffirmed in the fishery management plan through Amendment 7. The next striped bass stock assessment is currently scheduled for 2024.
Although a finding of no overfishing is great news, it’s important to note the 2022 stock assessment results are based on assumptions made by a team of technical experts charged with providing the best scientific information available for management. Because of inherent uncertainty in estimating fish populations, they test different scenarios to check the robustness of the results. This assessment was no different, especially considering data challenges linked to COVID. A significant aspect adding confidence to the results is the use of a conservative assumption of low recruitment (juvenile striped bass) in future years. This means the rebuilding challenges associated with continued poor spawning are accounted for in the projections. Rebuilding uncertainty is still high because it relies on long-term projections, but taken in totality, the results represent the best scientific understanding of the population and its trajectory. If you’re feeling cautiously optimistic, you’re right where I am.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help bolster rebuilding the striped bass population, I suggest focusing on implementing best fish-handling practices. The 2022 assessment still indicates that approximately half of the total striped bass removed from the population comes from catch-and-release mortality. Following best fish-handling practices can increase the survival of released fish. Know them before you go and teach others along the way. But, most of all, get out and enjoy some fall striped bass fishing as we breathe a temporary sigh of relief that we’re headed in the right direction to rebuild this iconic fishery.
Mike Waine is the American Sportfishing Association’s Atlantic Fisheries Policy Director
The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is taking public comment and holding virtual public hearings on a series of proposed regulatory amendments to 322 CMR 4.00, 6.00, 7.00, 8.00, and 12.00 affecting commercial and recreational fisheries. The proposals are as follows:
Massachusetts’ 2022 commercial tautog quota of 60,986 pounds is projected to be taken on Sunday, October 30, 2022. Accordingly, the Massachusetts commercial tautog fishery will be closed effective Monday, October 31, 2022 (Closure Notice). The commercial fishery will remain closed through August 31, 2023. During the closed period, it is unlawful for fishermen to possess and land tautog for commercial purposes, and for seafood dealers to purchase or receive tautog from fishermen.
This advisory serves as a reminder to recreational lobster and crab fishers that buoyed trap gear must be removed from the water by November 1, 2022 and may not be reset until no sooner than May 16, 2023. This closure was implemented last year to ensure recreational trap gear is removed prior to the onset of poor winter weather when it is likely to become lost and abandoned. Moreover, it provides DMF and the Massachusetts Environmental Police with a seasonal opportunity to remove any remaining gear before the winter period when it may present an entanglement risk to endangered right whales or become fishing gear debris. This closure does not apply to unbuoyed trap gear fished and retrieved from the shoreline, which is a common technique in certain areas like the Cape Cod Canal.
Each year MassWildlife stocks about 500,000 brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout from its five hatcheries in Sandwich, Palmer, Belchertown, Sunderland, and Montague. Visit Mass.gov/Trout to get the latest information. Find a specific waterbody or town using the sortable list, or explore new areas with the interactive map. Remember to buy your freshwater fishing license before you hit the water.
Governor Charlie Baker has appointed four new members to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, the citizen-board that oversees the management and operations of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). The new members are Sasha Dyer of Barre, Emma Ellsworth of Orange, John Organ of Buckland, and Matthew Sisk of Braintree. Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Ron Amidon announced the Governor’s appointments and introduced the new members at the Board’s July monthly business meeting. “All four citizens joining the Fisheries and Wildlife Board are lifelong outdoors-people and conservationists,” the Commissioner said, “and I and MassWildlife Director Mark Tisa look forward to working with the new members and the entire Board to continue to advance the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, and habitat in the Commonwealth.” The new members join current members Bob Durand of Marlborough, Ernest Foster of Scituate, and Stephen Sears of Dalton.
The departing members are Bonnie Booth of Spencer, the Board’s Secretary for the past five years and a member for 13 years; Dr. Joseph Larson of Pelham, who had served for 22 years, for the past five as Chair; Michael Roche of Orange, who had served on the Board for 35 years, including as Secretary and as Vice Chair; and Dr. Brandi Van Roo of Douglas, who served on the Board for 17 years. “The four outgoing Fisheries and Wildlife Board members have worked very hard over the years on a wide variety of issues, from numerous regulatory reviews and amendments to the agency’s finances to MassWildlife’s engagement with its longtime constituents and the citizens of Massachusetts at large. We are a stronger, more professional agency because of their tireless service, and we salute their individual and collective accomplishments on MassWildlife’s behalf as we enter the next chapter,” said MassWildlife Director Mark S. Tisa.
The Fisheries and Wildlife Board is responsible for supervising and directing the work of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The Board's mandate is to protect and manage the wildlife of the Commonwealth as an essential public natural resource for the use and enjoyment of all people. This includes all mammals, birds, and freshwater fish, plus insects, invertebrates and plants that are listed under state and federal regulations as rare, endangered, threatened, or of special concern—over 400 species in total. The Board has the authority to make regulations, set policy, oversee personnel appointments, and make decisions concerning the acquisition and protection of land and water for wildlife. The 7-member Board serves without compensation, meets monthly, and holds public hearings as part of the regulatory process; its meetings are open to the public.
Effective September 1, 2022, there are new regulations affecting the recreational fishing limits for Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod and haddock. These rules apply to within the Gulf of Maine Groundfish Management Area, which includes all state waters north of Cape Cod, including Cape Cod Bay, the Cape Cod Canal, and those state waters east of Cape Cod north of 42°00’ north latitude. DMF is currently conducting a public comment period on adopting these emergency regulations, as well as the recently filed recreational Georges Bank cod limits, as final regulations.
This state regulatory action complements adjustments to federal fishing regulations implemented earlier today by NOAA Fisheries (Federal Register). By matching the federal limits, DMF is ensuring recreational anglers can lawfully possess and land catch taken in federal waters in the Commonwealth.
For GOM cod, the open seasons will occur from September 1 – October 7 and April 1 – April 14 with a 1-fish bag limit and 22-inch minimum size. This extends the open season during the fall by three weeks and increases the minimum size by 1-inch.
For GOM haddock, the open season will occur from April 1 – February 28 with a 20-fish bag limit and 17-inch minimum size. This increases the bag limit by 5-fish per angler while maintaining the existing open season and size limit.
This past week the rain came down in buckets and the northeast wind was howling for five days straight. Nevertheless, yesterday the weather started to turn, and it looks like this weekend will be pleasant, with sunnier skies, westerly winds, and warmer temperatures.
There is still plenty of time left if you want to catch striped bass on Cape Cod. October in particular is a fantastic month for fishing the Cape's beaches because there are far less people around. Last year I encountered great striper action throughout October and even into the first week of November. If you like fishing the beach then I'd like to invite you to join The "24 Hour Grind" My Fishing Cape Cod Surfcasting Tournament which will begin at 1pm next Saturday, October 15th and continue until Sunday October 16th at 1pm.
This is a team event and there is no cost to participate. We’re also going to have an awards ceremony and meetup at 1pm on Sunday 10/16 at Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable. You don’t have to participate in the tournament to attend the meetup and awards at Sandy Neck. Plus you’ll have a chance at winning some awesome free raffle prizes and be able to enjoy a hot cup of Snowy Owl coffee just for showing up! You can learn more and signup to join the tournament. However, striped bass are not the only fish to get excited about. Prior to the NE gale MFCC member Carol Girard-Irwin reported catching gator bluefish of up to 36 inches from the beaches of Provincetown. Last weekend I also saw anglers catching squid at the canal, so there is no shortage of species to target.
Before the northeast gale hit Cape Cod, I encountered good action with bluefin tuna last Friday and Saturday. The fish were between 48-58 inches. Live mackerel and Siren lures produced a total of 10 bites over two mornings of fishing, with 4 tunas landed. Many saltwater fish will migrate south during the month of October, but bluefin tuna fishing often gets better and better. For the latest updates I recommend checking the 2022 bluefin tuna thread inside our forum. Thank you to everyone who has been posting to that thread as your reports have proven very helpful.
As the seas calm down and the water clears up after the gale, fishing for tautog in Cape Cod Bay, Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound ought to pickup. Rocky areas in 20-40 feet of water are good bets for tog. For most situations I use a 2oz orange Joe Baggs Togzilla jig with half of a green crab. Chumming with bits and pieces of green crab can really help to draw the tautog in. I recommend cutting up a bunch of crabs and getting a good chum slick going as soon as you anchor up. Tautog are hard fighters and are a blast to catch.
UPDATE: October 28, 2022
MES received an another not-so-good update from the MA DMF today regarding the shellfishing area opening in West Falmouth Harbor. Unfortunately, the water samples collected to date have all failed to meet the necessary criteria for opening the area to shellfishing. From the biological side, what is undoubtedly happening is that recent heavy rains combined with warm water temperatures are causing persistent elevated fecal coliform levels. As with many bacteria and other very small lifeforms (including shellfish larvae!), warm water is a key ingredient in the recipe for rapid growth and proliferation. We are seeing that our estuaries have water temperatures as warm as 63° F (about 17.2° C for those that think that way) even at the very end of October. That's pretty warm!
MA DMF is scheduled to collect another water sample this Sunday, October 30th. As I have mentioned before, as soon as DMF can give us the green light from clean testing, I will send out an email confirming the new opening date. We will also continue to post updates on the Town of Falmouth website at www.falmouthma.gov.
UPDATE: October 18, 2022
Falmouth Marine Environmental Services (MES) received an update from the MA DMF today regarding the shellfishing area opening in West Falmouth Harbor. To date, MA DMF has collected only one of the two required samples for processing. The remaining sample, which we were shocked and frustrated to learn this morning had not already been collected, is scheduled to be collected on Monday, October 24, 2022. Pending both samples meeting the criteria for the shellfish opening, the earliest anticipated opening of shellfishing in West Falmouth Harbor is Saturday, October 29, 2022. As soon as DMF can give us the green light from clean testing, I will send out an email confirming the new opening date. Updates will also be posted on the Town of Falmouth website at www.falmouthma.gov.
UPDATE: October 13, 2022
Unfortunately, per order of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, the planned October recreational shellfishing season in West Falmouth Harbor will be postponed until further notice. We learned this morning that the DMF lab made an error in processing the meat sample (entirely their fault not ours) and a new sample needs to be drawn and processed. The earliest the sample can be processed is Tuesday. I am optimistic we will have results sometime next week. As soon as DMF can give us the green light from clean testing, I will send out an email update with the new opening date. Updates will also be posted on the Town of Falmouth website at www.falmouthma.gov.
As of September 26, 2022
The Fall/Winter shellfishing season is drawing near! I know folks are very eagerly awaiting news of when the season will open and I am pleased to share the info with you! We are anticipating the recreational oyster (and quahog) season in the West Falmouth Harbor Family Area to open on Sunday, October 16th! The rest of West Falmouth Harbor will be open to recreational shellfishing this same day as well. *** Please note that this October opening is pending testing by the MA Division of Marine Fisheries.
What's even better is that the Family Area will be re-seeded with harvestable oysters in mid-November so there will be PLENTY of oysters to go around! If you are interested in helping with this mid-November relay and seeding, please see the previous "save the dates" email. The remainder of fall/winter seasonal shellfishing areas are anticipated to open/close on November 15, 2022, with the Great Pond Family Area anticipated to open the following Saturday, November 19, 2022.
A document summarizing all fall/winter openings will be available on the Town website soon, and the interactive map overlay will be updated with the anticipated dates, although the areas will not be labeled in green until they are actually open.
The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) manages the state’s commercial and recreational saltwater fisheries and oversees other services that support the marine environment and fishing communities.
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries - Facebook
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries - Website
With over 1,500 miles of coastline, there is plenty of opportunity to fish in Massachusetts. Before you hit the water, be sure to get your fishing permit and check out the resources in the link below.
Marine fisheries regulations are updated throughout the year. Permit holders are responsible for remaining compliant with Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) rules and regulations. DMF receives its mandate from the General Laws of the Commonwealth. It authorizes the Director of DMF to manage the Commonwealth's marine fisheries, including how often, how many, when and where fish may be taken.
Recreational Saltwater Fishing Regulations
The information below describes the current recreational fishing limits for Massachusetts and was last updated on August 30, 2022.
The fish and shellfish in Massachusetts coastal waters are public resources. The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has the responsibility to manage these resources for all citizens, even those who do not fish. We use fisheries research to develop regulations that specify where, when, how, and how many fish can be caught each year.
Because many fish don’t stay in one place, DMF collaborates with other states and the federal government to ensure the regional or coastwide resiliency of fish stocks. Also involved in the fisheries management process are fishing industry members, environmental groups, municipalities, and other interested parties.
DMF Advisories provide official announcements of updates to permits, public hearings, opening & closing of fishing seasons and other important news. If you want to stay up-to-date on current Advisories subscribe to the DMF listserv.
Public Hearing Notices
Under the provisions of M.G.L. Ch 30A and pursuant to the authority found in M.G.L. Ch. 130 ss. 17A & 80, the Division of Marine Fisheries and the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission schedule public hearings to accept comment on regulatory actions and proposed changes to 322 CMR.
The Dawn Marie is rising and falling in the gray swells, one of a hundred boats crowded together in search of striped bass — sometimes called America’s fish — on the Chesapeake Bay. Captain John Motovidlak, 72, has six fishing customers aboard the vessel, which departed from a dock on Kent Island in Queen Anne’s County, Md. They paid $110 apiece to charter the boat, and they expect to catch and keep a cooler full of striped bass by day’s end.
It was likely they would succeed: Motovidlak has a half-century of on-the-water experience as well as a high-tech fish finder that scans the bay. It doesn’t take him long to get over a school of what the fishermen call “stripers,” also known widely in the Chesapeake area as rockfish, a species valued for its white, flaky meat. “Fish on!” one young man yells as his line goes taut.
A few months earlier, a New England-based nonprofit group called Stripers Forever, aimed at protecting the striped bass as a game fish, called for a 10-year moratorium on the harvest of stripers from Maine to North Carolina, including in the Chesapeake, the largest striped bass nursery area on the East Coast. Anglers could still catch striped bass, but every one would have to be released. Many who fish for sport do that already. For Motovidlak, his charter customers and any of the hundreds of other fishermen looking for a meal on this cool June morning, however, a moratorium would mean no fish filets. “What it means is retirement,” he said of a potential moratorium, which, if enacted, would be carried out by state officials.
Fish, particularly species known as both sporting fish and table fare like the striped bass, need to be managed, collectively, among the states where they are sought. There’s often tinkering year to year, a tidelike give-and-take of state regulations — such as rules governing how many fish one person can keep — to appease recreational anglers, charter boat captains and commercial fishermen. That tinkering extends to other species of fish the striped bass eat. In some places, like the Chesapeake, Cape Cod and Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, striped bass are intertwined with both the economy and the culture.
Stripers Forever believes the time for tinkering is over when it comes to striped bass. The call for a 10-year moratorium is an alarm meant to wake up anyone who believes the stock is healthy, says Mike Spinney, a member of the national board of Stripers Forever. “Immediately after we made that suggestion, the conversation changed,” Spinney, a Massachusetts resident, told me. “We got lambasted by some, but we received positive reception from others. The fact that people are debating whether this is the right approach is a plus for us. Why do we have to wait for a collapse to take action that is necessary now?”
Most of the Atlantic’s striped bass spawn in the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries each spring, and juveniles often stay there for years before heading into open ocean. Counting fish is not easy, obviously, and extrapolations are made based on the size of large breeding females known as cows. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which oversees management of the species for the Eastern states, has deemed the striped bass “overfished,” based on a 2018 assessment. The commission also found the striped bass’s mortality rate was high, meaning too many fish that are caught and released are not surviving.
“The stock is declining, and we’ve been seeing that in the stock assessments,” says Toni Kerns, the ASMFC’s fisheries policy director. As a result, the commission told states they needed to reduce the overall “removals” of the fish from the water, whether they are taken for food or accidentally killed. Lowering removals is often done in myriad ways, including instituting open and closed seasons, regulating the size of fish that can be kept and requiring the use of specific hooks aimed at reducing mortality. In Maryland, in June, each fisherman on Motovidlak’s boat was allowed to keep two striped bass between 19 and 28 inches. Everyone caught two legal fish, and plenty of smaller ones were thrown back. Occasionally, small dead stripers floated past the Dawn Marie and other boats.
Spinney, of Stripers Forever, says Maryland is the striped bass’s worst enemy on the East Coast, likening the state to Nero, fiddling while Rome burned. “Maryland is at the top of the list for the continued decline of striped bass and against taking action,” he told me.
Mike Luisi, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Monitoring and Assessment Division of Fishing and Boating Services, points out that managing an ecosystem is not black and white, and that one must take the needs of the fish and all types of fishermen into account when making rules. “We have to find a balance, and that’s not as simple as some people think,” Luisi told me. “There’s a lot riding on it.” The state has had moratoriums in the past, he notes, “but we don’t believe we’re at that point again. There’s other things we can try to do to help the population rebound before we do that. We can reduce the amount of fish you could take home, for instance.”
Motovidlak has been fishing so long that he’s used to most regulation changes and rolls with them. It’s the more recent hook requirements that really irk him. Traditional hooks, shaped like the letter “J,” can be swallowed more easily when a striped bass inhales bait. A fish that swallows a hook into its stomach is usually doomed. In 2018, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources required fishermen like Motovidlak to use circle hooks, which have more bent angles meant to pierce the fish’s mouth and lips.
Motovidlak says he catches fewer fish with circle hooks and some still get “gut hooked” and die anyway. He hates circle hooks so much that in 2019, undercover DNR officers posing as fishermen on his boat found that he wasn’t using them and fined him for the hook infraction and other violations. “That was my first ticket in 49 years,” he says. “I’m on probation.”
For Nick Li, a recreational angler from Yorktown, Va., who catches 50-plus stripers a year over 40 inches long in the bay and the Atlantic, the thought of a moratorium brings mixed feelings. He knows a moratorium would be best for the fish and his interests: Li, 26, has never kept a single striped bass to eat, only handling them long enough to take a photo before releasing them. “I value them as a sport fish, not for food,” Li says. But he also knows a moratorium would possibly end a way of life for many bay watermen.
On the Dawn Marie, amid all the hooking, netting, measuring, baiting and chumming, Elam Fisher, the patriarch of the family who came from Pennsylvania to charter the boat, seemed puzzled when I asked if he would still visit Maryland to fish if he couldn’t keep any. “No,” he said, after a few seconds. “What would be the point of that?”
Jason Nark is a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a freelance writer.
Published in 2005, the fact sheet on "Public Rights Along the Shoreline" was developed by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).
Coastal managers are often asked, "Who owns the sea and shore?" If you have been curious, or perhaps a bit confused about what rights the public has along the shoreline, here's a brief primer on waterfront property law.
Vineyard Wind is well underway in developing the nation's first utility-scale offshore wind energy project over 15 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The project will generate clean, renewable, cost-competitive energy for over 400,000 homes and businesses across the Commonwealth, while reducing carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year.
New England is shifting to clean, competitively-priced energy, and Massachusetts state law seeks to have 3,200 MW of offshore wind providing electricity to the Commonwealth by 2035, which could represent over 20% of electricity consumed in the state. Vineyard Wind is an important part of that goal, and will make a significant contribution to the Commonwealth’s aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while growing our economy and enhancing energy security and reliability.
The Sportfish Angler Data Collection Team (SADCT) program is a group of volunteer anglers collecting biological samples of selected recreational fish species in Massachusetts marine waters. SADCT is part of an Atlantic coast-wide effort to manage and conserve recreationally targeted species. Information gathered through SADCT is used by the Division of Marine Fisheries and provided to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to support conservation and sustainability efforts. See PDFs below to find out more about joining the team.
SADCT originally began in 2002 with anglers taking data from their striped bass catches. In 2013, three more species were added to the program: scup, black sea bass, and fluke. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/sportfish-angler-data-collection-team
Anglers joining SADCT follow simple protocols for gathering data on striped bass, fluke (summer flounder), scup, and black sea bass. Participants measure fish length, collect scale samples from each fish caught, and note whether it is kept or released. Scales are used to determine the age of the fish by counting growth rings, much like the aging technique for trees. See PDF below for sampling procedures.
In 2018 approximately 1,900 samples were collected by SADCT volunteers. Of those 1,900 samples 1,600 samples were from striped bass. Black sea bass, fluke, and scup accounted for the remaining 300 samples.
See PDF below for Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries - Sportfish Angler Data Collection Team 2018 Report.
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