The recreational season is off and running and no one can appreciate it better now than Capt. Scott McDowell of Chilmark. His boat is in the water working perfectly after a mishap earlier this year.
Captain McDowell’s charter fishing boat, the Lauren C., a 35-foot Duffy, was drydocked at the Niemiec Marine boatyard off Pope’s Island in New Bedford this winter when a fire broke out in March. One side of his boat was exposed to extreme heat from the blaze. But the Niemiec Marine crew took charge to make sure Captain McDowell’s boat would be ready and fully restored for the season; this marks his 20th year as a charter fisherman.
“The boat looks better now than when I dropped it off at the marina,” Captain McDowell said. “They polished her from top to bottom.”
He said the crew at the boatyard made a point of telling him that the boat would be in better shape when they returned it than it was when he dropped it off. He picked it up two weeks ago.
The season ahead looks better than he has seen it in years, Captain McDowell said. “There is plenty of bait out there, bait in the Menemsha channel, bait out in the sound,” he said.
On Monday, he went out fishing with Maureen Murray. “We went off Gay Head. It was slick calm, incoming tide and there were fish. Maureen outfished me. She caught a bluefish and a striped bass and I caught nothing,” the captain said.
Steve Morris of Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop agrees the fishing season is looking just fine. “There are some decent bluefish out there and the striped bass fishing is getting better,” Mr. Morris said.
The weekend ahead marks Mr. Morris’s 18th annual Dick’s Bait and Tackle Shop Memorial Day weekend derby. Last year he had 80 fishermen participate; with the weather so good and fishing already in full swing, there is every reason to think the participation will be higher this year.
Lines go in the water this morning at 12:01. The last weigh-in is at noon on Monday. Registration is $30. It is a bluefish and striped bass tournament, boat and shore and it open to all anglers, young and old. A blackboard just outside the store on New York avenue is marked with the daily catch reports.
Simple by design, the tournament survives changing times; the only awards are bragging rights and cash. All the money collected in registration fees goes back to the winners. “I do it because my customers and everybody wants me to do it. If it keeps them coming in the door, I am going to keep on doing it,” Mr. Morris said.
A brand new fishing tournament starts on the following weekend. The Martha’s Vineyard Bass and Blues Shoot Out is a one-day tournament that will be held on Saturday, June 5. Lines go in the water at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and come out of the water at 3 p.m. Registration and weigh-in is at the Edgartown North Wharf. The fishing contest picks up where the former Pink Squid Yacht Club contest left off. That popular contest ran from 1995 and ended in 2008. Steve Purcell of Larry’s Tackle Shop in Edgartown has decided to revive it. Steve is the weigh-master and he is also selling registration forms and circulating posters.
The entry fee is $50. A silent and live auction are planned for the afternoon weigh-in. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish will perform. If enough people register, top winners could receive as much as $500 for landing the biggest bluefish or striped bass. Any money left over from the contest will be donated to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard and the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Edgartown. The contest has a number of sponsors from Cape Cod and the Vineyard.
But this week, Mr. Purcell was thinking more about squid than a fishing contest. Earlier in the week, he had bought 200 pounds of fresh squid harvested from Nantucket Sound by a dragger. On Tuesday afternoon, he and Rob Peatie were seated outside the tackle shop, in the summerlike warm air, wearing blue rubber gloves, packaging the squid into one-pound Ziploc bags.
Mr. Purcell said the squid will be frozen and sold throughout the summer. His prescription for success in bottom fishing: line, hook, sinker and a bag of frozen squid. With a smile, Mr. Peatie said: “This is free-range squid.”
And there is one more fishing tournament around the corner. The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club’s 19th annual striped bass flyrod catch and release tournament takes place on Saturday, June 5, and runs into Sunday morning. Tournament headquarters will be in the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria. Registration is $35. The contest remains unchanged from past years, and is open to anglers 18 and over. Lines go in the water at 7 p.m. Saturday, and come out of the water at 2 a.m. Sunday. To read the rules, go to the Web site mvrodandgunclub.com. This premiere fishing contest attracts fishermen from around the country.
The Atlantic sturgeon, a fish that once swam in these waters, has fallen to such small numbers that one organization has petitioned the federal government to designate it an endangered species.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York city, argues that without special protection, the sturgeon is in danger of becoming extinct.
Though the fish was once abundant and filled rivers by the hundreds of thousands from as far north as the St. Lawrence River to southern Florida, it is now nonexistent in at least nine U.S. rivers.
As anadromous fish that must move to freshwater rivers to spawn, sturgeon are especially vulnerable to pollution. They can grow to be 60 years old; some fish have been found weighing hundreds of pounds. Sturgeon take 12 years to reach sexual maturity.
Though a federal moratorium has been in place on catching Atlantic sturgeon since 1998, they still show up accidentally in fishing nets.
Gus Ben David of Edgartown, the former director of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, recalls hearing a verified sighting of a sturgeon in Vineyard waters back in the 1970s. “It has been a number a years. The last time I got a reliable report . . . it cleared the water right off along East Beach. Oftentimes, people will see a sturgeon breach and mistake it for a great white shark. Great white sharks don’t breach around here, though it can happen elsewhere,” he said, adding:
“When I was growing up there were local fishermen who caught them. The reports of their catching was either on the south side of the Island or East Beach.”
Jim Morgan, a retired Menemsha fishing captain, recalled catching sturgeon in the 1960s. “I got one dragging down by Tuckernuck,” Mr. Morgan said.
Sturgeons look prehistoric. In 1967 the Vineyard Gazette featured two stories about the sighting of sturgeons; at first, no one knew what the fish was.
In a 1998 Vineyard Gazette article about the federal moratorium, the late Capt. Franklin Benson, then 84, said: “We caught plenty of them. My father quit fishing in 1963. We’d see a number of them three or four feet in length. We used to throw them overboard, instead of bringing them in because for a time you couldn’t get any money for them.” The late Alfred Vanderhoop of Aquinnah recalled seeing them at the Katama Bay opening. Others who have seen sturgeon, according to the story, included Cooper A. Gilkes and Scott McDowell.
Kate Taylor, a fisheries expert with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, saw a sturgeon for the first time off North Carolina earlier this year. She is charged with overseeing the management of the fish; she said the commission is reticent about the endangered species designation. The regional commission oversees the management of a large number of species, from striped bass to lobsters. Ms. Taylor said there are five distinct populations of sturgeon. The shortnose sturgeon was listed as an endangered species in 1967. “Because the shortnose sturgeon is already listed, the designation of the Atlantic sturgeon as endangered wouldn’t provide any additional critical habitat protection. The habitat is already being protected,” she said, adding: “There are already a lot of studies going on. There is still not a lot known about the Atlantic sturgeon.”
Mike Armstrong, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries expert on anadromous fish, agreed. “I think they are protected enough. We have a recovery plan already in place with the ASMFC. We think that is going to be effective,” he said.
Mr. Armstrong said sturgeon have been known to travel 50 miles upstream to spawn. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which is petitioning for the designation, identifies the Taunton River as a key spawning ground for sturgeon. The 40-plus-mile river empties into Fall River and is polluted in parts. Cleaning it up could help the fish recover. Young sturgeons were taken in the river accidentally by a fisherman in June of 2004, according to a report written for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Brad Sewell, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said an endangered species designation would give additional tools to fisheries managers to protect the fish. One big concern is the bycatch problem, which often harms the unwanted fish.
“The ASMFC has proposed having bycatch controls in place as far back as three years. But they haven’t been implemented,” Mr. Sewell said.
There is added concern about ship strikes, he said, and an endangered species designation could lead to speed limits in spawning rivers.
Some species of salmon are listed as endangered. No saltwater fish that spend their entire life in the ocean are listed as endangered.
Action on the petition is expected sometime this year.