Earlier this week, angler Jake Walsh was kayak fishing around Boothbay Harbor in Liniken Bay, Maine when he came across a harrowing sight for any recreational fisherman: a massive net—stretching from the shoreline to approximately 500 yards out into the bay—loaded with dead stripers.
Although he is a Massachusetts native, Jake Walsh has spent every summer in this area for over 20 years since his childhood. “Around five years ago and each year since,” Walsh described, “my family and I have noticed more and more bunker in the bay, which led to some commercial netting. Still, I had never seen a net just dropped and left alone like this.” The pound net—a stationary netting system that uses stakes to funnel fish like menhaden into a trap or “pound”—went in the water sometime around mid to late May, according to his neighbors. Walsh said that neither he, his family, or their neighbors have seen the net tended to since it went in the water, which begs the question: what is it doing there?
After discovering the net on a kayak fishing trip with his cousin, Walsh spoke with concerned locals and charter captains who informed him that there aren’t many permits given for pound nets in the commercial menhaden fishery, so it’s strange that nobody seems to know who it belongs to. But, who it belongs to isn’t the real problem. As long as it is set up in proper fashion and the angler who owns it has the necessary permits, pound nets are totally legal for commercial menhaden fishing in Maine. See Commercial Menhaden Fishery Regulations under Section 41.30 1A and 1B.
Concerned and curious, Walsh decided to investigate. When he approached the net on his kayak, he noticed his fishfinder lit up with large marks indicating loads of sizable fish 15 feet below the surface. “I noticed the net late last week and it was nearly cutting off this entire cove where the striper fishing is usually pretty good,” said Walsh.
As he paddled along the length of the net, the marks continued to show up on his fishfinder. Striped bass of all sizes were stuck in the net from top to bottom. There were some floating schoolies, along with an Atlantic sturgeon, wrapped in twine and rotting on the surface.
Walsh said it was unclear exactly how many bass had met their demise on account of this net, but based on what he saw with his fishfinder, he estimates the number to be somewhere in the hundreds, if not thousands. Frustrated and perplexed by how this sort of “fishing practice” is even possible, he alerted the local harbormaster. At the time, Walsh was unsure if this sort of netting was a legal operation or if it was considered poaching. When he notified Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR), they informed him that pound nets are legal and there was no action that could be taken.
“After speaking with some other concerned locals, I came to find out that this net has been in the bay for the past 2 to 3 years in different areas, but I never saw it because I only recently began targeting stripers by kayak,” Walsh said. Although it’s a horrid site to see, he made it very clear that the fisherman who left it there is, technically, within their legal right to do so assuming they have the proper permit(s).
Where the main issue arises is on the enforcement side. Even though the net is legal per Maine DMR standards and regulations, it has been completely neglected. Are there any legal ramifications for leaving commercial menhaden fishing gear unattended for such an extensive amount of time? If Maine DMR knows who holds these permits, do they monitor the sites or check the licensing for commercial fishermen as they do with recreational anglers? What is to happen to all the dead stripers in the net? They certainly can’t be harvested. Was the intended use to net bunker alone? In any case, one fisherman’s negligence and disregard for their gear, and for this delicate resource, has led to a substantial fish kill of the Northeast’s most cherished fish. Not only is this an irresponsible act, but it is utterly wasteful. If menhaden were actively and continuously being harvested from this net, the stripers would not have been left unattended to die slowly for days on end.
Walsh implores fellow recreational anglers to avoid directing complaints and finger-pointing toward commercial fishermen. Instead, he urges other anglers to contact the organizations in charge who are responsible for setting and enforcing the regulations that allow this sort of careless and destructive fishing practice to go on without more stringent oversight.
Maine DMR Commissioner: Patrick Keliher, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marine Resources Scientist I & Biological Monitoring (Boothbay Harbor): Addie Binstock, email@example.com
Atlantic Herring & Menhaden Stock Assessments (Boothbay Harbor): Matthew Cieri firstname.lastname@example.org
Marine Resource Scientist I (Boothbay Harbor): Neila Cole email@example.com
Landings Program, Harvester Reporting Coordinator (Boothbay Harbor): Marissa DeCosta firstname.lastname@example.org
For firsthand video and photo of the fish kill, check out the original post on Jake’s Instagram page @baldsohardfishing.
The post Dead Stripers Found Netted and Rotting in Boothbay Harbor, ME first appeared on On The Water.
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