Game fish is a dirty word it seems

I spent the last few weeks fielding phone calls from “interested” parties. No idea how otherwise to call them, but they all seemed to want to know where we stand on the new striped bass proposed regulations. These are all “recreational” fellows under this or that umbrella. And I would finish every conversation by same question, asking them what is their opinion of why for-hire fleet and “recreational industry” in general is always skittish about even broaching the subject of game fish for striped bass. Not that game fish status is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but I been curious for a long time why there is no love from recreational “industry”

Now lets make one thing clear. People say game fish status for striped bass does not do a damned thing for conservation. All it does is take fish to be consumed from one user group (commercials) and gives them to other (recreational).There is A LOT of truth to that. If resources are just relocated from one user group to another, then yes, game fish or no-sale for stripers does not conserve a single bass. Game fish inn itself in NOT conservation measure

However, I have heard from numerous sources in last few weeks, including at ASMFC hearing that poaching in NY might be BIGGER than a whole commercial quota! I am naïve, I never thought poaching was a BIG problem but according to those who know better, it’s a big problem in NY.

Be that as it may, my question on why there is zero support from recreational ” industry” was purely academic. For the life of me I could not understand why would not a charter or party boat support game fish for striped bass. They are as they call themselves a “taxi service for the recreational anglers”. They transport those who cant to fishing grounds and provide opportunity for them to fish.

In case you are confused what game fish status is, it simply means no commercial sale. There are still size, limits and seasonal restrictions to every recreational angler. Just like they are on snook and redfish in Florida. You can catch it, you can eat it. You just cant sell it. Which alone would destroy all the poachers. Or at least most of them. But again, this has nothing to do with me wanting to take fish away from someone’s plate or impede commercial guys from making a living.

No, my question always was, for years now , why there is no support from people that would actually BENEFIT from game fish status? After all, if striped bass could only be caught and kept by recreational anglers, then there would be a bigger pot from which for-hire fleet would be able to draw. More fish per customer, lower sizes, what is the downside?

So I am sitting at the ASMFC hearing on striped bass in Stony Brook and I listen to for-hire fleet captains and then it hit me! According to testimony of many of them, they are not only “taxi to recreational anglers” BUT they also hold commercial striped bass tags! Now I get it! Why hasn’t someone filled me in on this before, its so simple. I feel like such an ass for never even considering this.

The same people you and I call our “allies” in protecting this fish we so adore are also commercial fishermen for the same species. How do you like that? Does recreational organizations that these for-hire captains fund and belong to, and who support them know that they are actually representing commercial fisherman at the same time? The non-naive part of me would have to say yes.

This has nothing to do with right or wrong. I don’t think there is right or wrong here. You do stuff that is legal, even if that means you are a surfcaster and you take your “legal” limit home every day, its ok with me. It might not be ethical, I might not agree with it but it is legal. And I am a big believer in respecting the existing laws. So these for-hire recreation/commercial charter boat captains are not doing anything wrong. But did you ever consider that they are also commercial striped bass fisherman? I never did but then again, I am naïve. We tend to separate for hire fleet from commercial guys but maybe we shouldn’t? Of course they are not going support any stinking game fish bill. They will not be able to commercially fish for bass if that happens

There are a TON for hire and party boat captains that do not hold any commercial licenses. The Montauk Mosquito fleet, the ones surfcasters most detest when they get between them and the blitzing fish are actually the most conservation minded. We’ve seen that at the hearings and we known that for years. Yeah, they will always be annoying with their run-and-gun fly fishing between you and fish, but at least take comfort that your feelings on conservation and health of the species is in line with theirs. They won’t drop off their customers after preaching about conservation to them and then go pin-hooking!

I contacted DEC for a full list of all commercial striped bass tags holders. I thought it would be neat to have it accessible to all. Don’t bet on DEC responding to my request with any urgency..haha

But seriously, for the first time in my life I clearly understand why many for-hire captains do not support even conversation about game fish status. Sometimes I am a little slow, but even a slow poke gets there in time.

23 comments on “Game fish is a dirty word it seems

  1. Mark Pirani

    I am constantly amazed that many who clame to understand fishery management don’t understand what gamefish status actually means.

  2. Bill H

    I don’t have the technical knowledge of the fishery / stocks to comment on how we have to reverse and stop the obvious decline of the bass. I also can’t take sides since I’m not really sure who is making the most negative impact, although I think we all have a hand in this. I’m 56 years old and been thru the last decline. I just want to pass this along to all who reads this that we are in BIG trouble. I was out east twice in the last month. First trip didn’t put a fish in the boat, very unusual. Second trip a week ago was tuna/bass fishing. Tuna good, bass none. Spoke to a couple pin hookers (and no I’m not looking to comment on how anyone feels about them, this is just a look at the health of the fishing). They can’t fill there tags this year. There was a tournament last weekend and the best captains in Montauk couldn’t put a fish in the boat. So whatever the solution is we need to take action now if it’s not to late already. I’m a surf guy that gets to take a couple trips a year on a friends boat and we generally put fish on the boat which I love to do and didn’t so far. Soon we will be selling all our surf gear to buy equipt. to go porgy fishing on a party boat.

  3. bucktaill1169

    That,s what I love about this blog and the magazine . I learn so many different things about so many different areas of surfcasting and striped bass , it’s crazy . Great blog today . I never even thought about for hire boats in this way and I’ve been on plenty . I still can’t believe poaching is being done . It seems like the bottom line is so many people are after these fish in one way or another that unless there is a major adjustment the fish are doomed . Any idea of what the ultimate outcome will be for management of the stock will be ?

  4. andy_k

    Right, the state of US bass stocks is nothing to do with me, really speaking. I live in the UK and love following this blog / magazine and other than being gutted to read constant “no catch” reports, I have no right to comment on the rights and wrong of various interested parties within the striped bass fishery of the N.E. USA.
    However, I have to ask myself the simple question: Why is it that people everywhere allow other people to come into power who do nothing about fish stock levels until they are either crashing or have crashed completely? It doesn’t seem to matter what species of fish we are talking about or what language the guys who make the crucial decisions, speak. It always seems to be left until it’s simply too late.
    My own opinion to this is simple. As long as their is money involved in the killing and sale of any given species of fish, there will be both corruption and greed. Not even sensible greed where people might think of their “donations” as a long term income. “It all has to be taken today and screw tomorrow”, seems to be the line of logic.
    I have angler buddies in Japan who tell me that to help deal with poaching and the illegal sale of fish over there, the following tactics are adopted by the government:
    If someone is caught selling their catch to a hotel, shop or restaurant, then both parties receive massive fines. But on top of this, the commercial guys then completely refuse to sell them any more fish.
    Surely you can see the effects this would have on any business buying in fish of any species for resale?! A fish restaurant for instance, would suddenly have it’s whole point for trading cut from its supply. Effectively forcing it to either change its trading habits completely or close. Unfortunately, this approach to poaching isn’t undertaken world wide. No doubt because once again, there is a financial value attached to killing the fish.

  5. Csr

    Great read. I didn’t know exactly what “gamefish” status meant. It seems that we are our own worst enemy, and not enough of us care about the future of the fish. It won’t happen, but it seems that putting a moritorium in place now, would be the best solution.

  6. TonyF

    After attending the ASMFC hearing at Stony Brook I too was taken aback about the poaching thats going on in NY. I had no idea it was on such a large scale. I have written the Governor, my State Senator and Assemblyman in addition to Tom Schlichter at Newsday. We need to get on these folks to increase enforcement and do what we can within our own state. Step up guys/gals contact your rep. today and keep on them about stopping poaching.

  7. Marc Levy

    Tag holders have a maximum of about 250 tags. The season in New York is ( give or take a few) 250 days long. So we are to believe tag holders are making a living catching one Bass a day. Now we know that they can and do catch more than one Bass a day so they need to catch other fish during the year after their tags are used up. The reality is thats not the way it works. Under enforcement equals the sale of untagged fish. The goal is to preserve the tags for as long as possible. The untagged fish are poached fish. Most of the poaching is done by tag holders who are trying to preserve their tags.

    The restaurants and markets sell the untagged Bass as fillets or steaks labeling them with a fictitious names. It’s a dirty business -Bad for the Bass and bad for society in general. Remember the poached fish are sold “under the table” so that very little if any tax revenue is gained from this part of the industry.

  8. Tony Marchisotto

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments and thanks to the responders for their insight and concerns. This is a complicated issue and the solutions to date have not only been frustrating but ineffective.
    I am afraid nothing will be done under the present laws, administrations and governing bodies (ASMFC)
    The entire concept of conservation as currently structured and maintained needs a total revamping.
    It is strange to see that only a segment of the “concerned” fishing public understands this. My 2 cents

  9. Greg O

    $$$ = greed = no BASS !! No Sale = no $$$$ = no greed = bass its that simple. Last time around PCB’S caused a ban on sale and the moratorium saved the bass. IMHO this time gamefish status and 1 fish bag limit could save striped bass again. Join stripers forever goal of making it a gamefish !

  10. Johnp

    The argument I’ve heard is that for hire operations would not survive if it were not the ability to sell fish on the side. I’ve also heard that the for hire contingent helped defeat the gamefish bill that was in discussion years ago in NY. The for hire contingent has most certainly forced some magazines and writers to back off and soften their written opinions on conservation – or risk advertising getting pulled

    This is an ugly topic.

    Makes me have a little more sympathy for full- time commercials

  11. sioca

    “Game Fish” status means, ‘NO COMMERCIAL SALE” Simple enough!!!

    Aaaahhh!!!! The game changer:
    “they are not only “taxi to recreational anglers” BUT they also hold commercial striped bass tags!”

    “maximum of about 250 tags.”

    Thanks Zeno and Marc Levy

  12. Dooley


    If you get the list of tag holders, please post it on the site or in SJ magazine. It could and should dissuade customers sailing with those party/charter boats that hold them.


  13. sgressak

    Tag holder or not….there are shady cats out there and they will find a way to sell thru someone who has tags.

    I took a charter this year and I informed the captain we were only going to keep one fish and C&R the rest. The captain wanted to use the headcount of our 5 pack to limit the boat. Limits would be 12 fish.

    I wonder what he was gonna do with that fish that was caught on a non-commercial day on MA?


    After and argument with him I informed him that we were not going to do it. Even though he insisted that it was legal. Yeah…legal, if the angler wants to keep the fish.

    I would be willing to bet that a high percentage of charters are shady. It is human to be greedy…

  14. Steven MacDonald

    The Commercial “season” here in Mass is so short. Add that to the fact that you cant rely on perfect weather for those handful of days these guys can fish. Thats why there’s alot of “Hybrid” guys out there. Well, which are they? Commercial guys that Guide on the side? Or Guides that Commercial fish on the side? Either way, these guys are the types that also plow snow in the winter and do landscaping or light carpentry and stuff to fill in the gaps. Its not like shutting down the Commercial industry is akin to say, shutting down the Airline Industry and laying off all its workers. And the problem of not hearing from Recreational fisherman much is just that. They’re Recreational. Part-timers with real jobs somewhere. Theyre not organized because its too hard to organize them. Aside from readers and bloggers like you and I, most of them have no idea they’re in a War, much less that they’re on its Front Lines

  15. Johnp

    Here is the “industry position”

    Michael W. Waine
    Fishery Management Plan Coordinator
    Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
    1050 N. Highland Street, Suite 200A-N
    Arlington, VA 22201

    Mr. Waine,

    I wanted do get my comments into the record and the positon I feel my listeners and viewers have on the striped bass management plan the ASMFC may be planning to take.

    I am the host of the Fishing Line radio and TV shows, now in our 20th season. It is primarily a saltwater program with about 10% freshwater. These are educational programs and registered as such with the federal government. We teach people how to fish and how to be best at it in the Long Island, NY, NJ, CT and the entire NY metro region. The radio show is heard on WGBB 1240 AM radio Saturdays at 4 p.m. and has been so for 20 years. We are in over 14 million homes and heard round the world via live streaming of our show through our web site at

    My television show is now in over 30 million homes through free video on demand television through the Mag Rack ( on all cable, over the air, Dish and Direct satellite systems.

    The Fishing Line reaches and represents far many more people of all races, cultures and income than the Fisherman Magazine does by a wide margin, so I had to chuckle when I heard from first hand attendees they claimed to represent the recreational community. The Fisherman may represent sport fishermen and surfcasters but last time I saw, by their own media kits, they claim more than 85% of their limited readers own their own boats.

    Statistics show surf fishing is the smallest segment of the recreational fishing community next only to the fly fisherpeople and both groups are very conservation minded anyway releasing 90% of what they catch. Therefore this group has no problem seeing a 32 inch and one fish per day regulation which I hear they voiced at the meeting last week.

    The larger segments of the fishing community I represent are NOT in favor of that change. They are anglers of all races and creeds that want to eat the fish they catch.

    The Fishing Line does represent the entire recreational fishing community with a larger segment of every day “fish for the table” minded anglers as well as sportfishermen and surfcasters. I also represent the 10’s of thousands of people that jump aboard open “head” or party boats and these are the people I hear were not in attendance at the meeting. The Americans who are black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian and others who were not present and these are the user groups that fish for the table as do I.

    Striped bass is a public resource and all user groups have a right to put fish on the dining room table a few times per week no matter what specie it is. If conservation minded anglers want to return fish to live as I do, they have every right to do so, but they do NOT have the right to be the only user groups represented at a meeting to speak for the rest of us that want to keep a fish or two, as do I.

    I was the first to come out and promote the 28 inch size limit back in 1995 while The Fisherman magazine made the claim the party boat industry would decimate the striped bass population with the 28 inch size limit. That was quite some time ago and things seem to be in good shape with little exceptions.

    I have fought the NY DEC for 20 years on slot limits on both bass and fluke. While most anglers in NY fish fluke for the dinner table, it is a widely known fact striped bass is a trophy hunter’s game; therefore most of the big fish caught on the charter boats say in Montauk are killed and brought home. The delayed mortality of striped bass after a prolonged battle in the surf around the Long Island area is also a factor in the bass population.

    Having followed and more importantly been a leader in fisheries management, dedicating numerous radio and TV programs to this subject for the 20 years I have been on radio and TV, I have followed the almost overnight resurgence of redfish in SC, FL, LA and TX with the use of slot limits. I have heard Jim Gilmore try and tell me on the radio program slot limits would allow anglers to kill all the fish before they reach the spawning grounds.

    You and I both know this is not true and that the rod and reel fishery can never catch every fish passing through a slot limit before sexual maturity, that’s why slot limits work.

    We are less than two years removed from a major hurricane that decimated the NY Metro region. We know and must presume the populations of all species, with bluefish and stripers in particular, were severely affected by this and NOT by overfishing. The main questions that should be asked are;

    1. Have bait patterns and bait migration changed because of Sandy?
    2. Has bottom structure and beach structure changed because of Sandy?

    We know these have to be true and had to have changed as beaches and sand structure of both the South and North shores of Long Island were drastically destroyed and / or changed by the storm and the replenishment dredging that followed.

    Add to this the economic hardship the recreational party & charter boat industry will suffer if we move this size to 32 inches.

    I am now on the record and ask the ASMFC to recommend we keep the current striper reg’s in place for 2015 and 2016 as shoreline and ocean repairs are done by man and by Mother Nature. It takes time for the ocean to come back after a drastic storm like Sandy.

    I also ask the ASMFC to seriously look at and ask the NY DEC to adopt slot limits for the striped bass reg’s if not 2015 then 2016. Slot limits are used in almost every state in the country except for NY. This very well may be the exact right time to institute slot limits on bass in NY with one fish of 24 to 28 inches.

    While striped bass should not be made a game fish, the “trophy” tag needs to come off the striped bass and keep it a table fish like other fish species for all to enjoy.

    Richard Johnson
    The Fishing Line

    1. Joe GaNun

      Please, please stop with the Sandy and baitfish junk. As much structure as was rearranged, old destroyed etc, there is new structure created by the storm. Baitfish are all abundant, unfortunately unmolested by bass and harrassed only by the abundance of bluefish. Last year saw more 20# plus bluefish reported than any other season in recent memory with loads of cocktails running the beaches into early November. When you see the commercial guys coming up short against quotas you know there are less bass. The word is that most of the poachers had to work a lot harder to fill their coolers and some did not bother this past spring. Too many tournaments with no fish or just a few entered from NC to Mass is another easy to read indicator. To quote Zeno ” Bob is not there any more”. Bob is the secret honey hole fish who was almost always there season on season.
      To say there is nothing wrong is irresponsible. You are not the “industry ” position.

  16. JimmyS

    Agreed! Enough about this nonsense about Sandy and the bait fish. Sure, there were some issues with bait fish caused by Sandy; however, that is not the case now. Between the South Shore of LI where I fish and Jamaica Bay, I have seen plenty of bait fish around. If that was the case there wouldn’t be so many Fluke around. The reason why they are around is due to the strict regulations that were put in place over the past number of years of over fishing. I was witnessed firsthand their abundance, then decline and now their abundance again.

    The issue is not with Sandy or the lack of bait fish. The issue is we are killing Striped Bass faster than they can reproduce while also having poor recruitment. I do not have a problem with someone taking a fish for the table; however, I have a problem when I do not have a reasonable chance of catching a Striped Bass along with a reasonable chance at some bigger fish. Each year I am watching the fish get smaller, being less spread out, along with less fish around. To me, that is not fair.

    I know too many people that fish with the same sentiment as mine, along with my many, many years of experience (which included fishing during the 80s), and my education, tell me the current regulations are not sustaining OUR fishery. Less fish along with are larger size limits need to be implemented now and not later. People have been saying this for years and we shouldn’t have to wait for history to repeat itself all over again because that is the direction we are going.


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