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Bluefish regulations

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By CAPT. DAVE MONTI Last week NOAA announced proposed 2022 and 2023 bluefish specifications for the commercial and recreational fisheries and asked for public comment on them. 

Proposed regulations were developed utilizing Amendment 7 to the bluefish Fishery Management Plan approved earlier this month. Regulations include proposed catch limits coastwide along with each state’s share of the allowable catch approved by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

The recreational daily bag limit of three fish/person/day for private anglers and five fish per person for for-hire (charter/party) vessels, would remain unchanged.

Anglers are reminded that small bluefish, snapper blues as they are commonly called, are bluefish and are subject to the three fish/person/day regulation. For details and to comment online visit www.regulations.gov/document/NOAA-0001?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery . The comment period is open through Dec. 17, 2021.

 Year in review and fishing forecast

As the year comes to a close here is a review of fishing in 2021 and what might be in store for anglers in 2022. 

First, the bluefin tuna bite off Rhode Island and Massachusetts was outstanding in 2021, the best in years. Anglers who never fished for the species bought gear and fished for school bluefin tuna with success. School tuna were all around Block Island and giant bluefin tuna in the six and seven hundred pound range were caught a mile or two off Narragansett.

The bluefin season culminated with Brandon Hagopian and Jenna Lombardo of Cranston, RI catching a 1,000 pound giant bluefin tuna off Cape Cod on their 24 foot center console. 

Why these fish were here in great abundance is a good question. The water was warm this year, which brought in a variety of forage fish in great abundance … herring, maceral of all types, Atlantic menhaden, squid, silversides, bay anchovies, etc. I am not a; scientist, but warm water, a climate change impact, brought forge fish close to shore and the bluefin tuna followed. I would expect more of the same to occur next year as warm water and bait continue to move into our area.

Another pleasant surprise this year was an epic tautog fishing season. The tautog fishing in our Bays, and off our coastal shore from the Sakonnet River to Newport, Jamestown, Point Judith and all along the southern coastal shore was outstanding. The fish were numerous with anglers catching many short fish along with keepers (16 inches or greater).

If certified by the State of Rhode Island, Paul Newman of New Milford, New Jersey will claim a new Rhode Island tautog record for the 21.57-pound tautog he caught off Newport last month when fishing on Tall Tailz Charters.

The fishing pressure on tautog has increased. Where we fish off Newport at a place called The Fountain there were as many as 50 or 60 boats fishing. In past years there might have been a dozen. We need to be mindful of these slow growing fish, many, including Capt. BJ Silvia of Middletown are leading an effort to protect large, older females with great spawning potential by releasing them and advocating for a way to reduce fishing pressure on this species so we preserve them for our future.

The abundance of black sea bass and scup continued to be a bright spot for anglers.  These fish are here in great abundance due to warming water and are expected to be hear in abundance again next year. The fear is what happens when the water warms to the point that even these fish move further north.

On the down side, a lack of summer flounder and a shaky striped bass and bluefish bite was discouraging for anglers this year. These species will remain soft as enhanced fishing and overfishing continues to threaten them.

Enhancing summer flounder Allowable Catch Limits coastwide has taken its toll on the recreational fishery. Rich Hittinger, acting president of the RI Saltwater Anglers Association, believes that summer founder fishing has been impacted negatively due to enhanced harvesting as fish mangers have granted commercial fishers unprecedented increased catch limits of 30 to 40 percent the past couple of years.

Striped bass and bluefish are both overfished according to recent stock assessments and anglers have experienced fewer of them in the water to catch. Bluefish now have a new Fishery Management Plan and will hopefully rebound with a seven year rebuilding plans rolls out.

Recruitment of new striped bass has been dismal the past three years, including recent surveys last month of fish born this past year. And, the stock assessment is showing the species is overfished with overfishing occurring. So both striped bass and bluefish will continue to be tough to catch, not as abundant as in the past, for the next several years until rebuilding plans are successful.

Overall 2021 was a good year to fish, and 2022 will be too, but anglers need to continue to apply pressure on fish managers to rebuild fish stocks quickly, particularly in light of climate change impacts.  We need more fish in the water for all to catch, eat and or release.

Where’s the bite?

Striped bass

and bluefish. “The water is still warm and we have bait in the water (peanut bunker) so we are hopeful for a fall fun along the beaches. Fish both striped bass and bluefish are being caught off Montauk as well as Cape Cod so we are optimistic. We do have school bass along the coastal shore too, with the warm water they have not gone back into ponds and estuary in mass at this time,” said Doug Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly.

Tautog and cod.

“The tautog bite is good. Customers are fishing and catching their limit. We just sold out of the last or our crabs and that’s it for the season for us,” said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside. Cod fishing at Cox Ledge is good with party boast venturing there doing well. “We are catching fish closer too, just before Shark’s Ledge. The tautog bite is still very, very good. We are catching our limit each time we go out,” said Doug Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters.

Mackerel.

  AJ Coots of Red Top Sporting Goods, Buzzards Bay, said, “The mackerel bite has been very good. Customers are catching them from the on the Cape Cod Canal from fishing pier in Sandwich.”

Freshwater.

“Customers are catching freshwater fish. Weather permitting anglers are fishing. One customer and his son caught some nice pike at the pond behind the Cowesett Inn in West Warwick. They were using shiners and worms to target fish,” said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle. For ponds stocked with trout in Massachusetts visit www.mass.gov/service-details/massachusetts-trout-stocked-waters-list  and in Rhode Island visit www.dem.ri.gov/programs/fish-wildlife/freshwater-fisheries/troutwaters.php.

Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and charter fishing license. He serves on a variety of boards and commissions and has a consulting business focusing on clean oceans, habitat preservation, conservation, renewable energy, and fisheries related issues and clients. Forward fishing news and photos to dmontifish@verison.net or visit www.noflukefishing.com.

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