If they had a voice we could recognize, we would hear the bubbly sighs of relief from the fish who are beginning their Fall migration off the Montauk coast. The hundreds of boats dedicated to their harvesting are dramatically down in number,-- a weaker showing on weekends, almost nobody out there Monday thru Friday. For those of us who rely on Social Security checks for bait and tackle, it’s nice to have the killing fields to ourselves--just a few retired guys and some charter boats, many of which are at the dock during the week while their customers work to pay for the weekend trips.
The Fall brings other problems for the charter boat guys: the VHF radio is full of chatter about what next year’s quota limits will be. The rules change from year to year in bizarre and confusing zig-zags. Fishermen are caught in a Catch 22 trap set by the “Fish Politicians”, who make decisions that are as irrational as they are they are irreversible. If the fishermen have a good year, and the landings are high, that will be seen as evidence of “overfishing” and you can be sure next year’s quota will be lowered, but at the same time, if the landings are poor, that will be seen as evidence of a decline in the fish pool, and the quota for the next year will be lowered. Everybody is for “Conservation”, but the regulatory process appears to have nothing to do with that word: it is simply not understandable by ordinary mortals. For example, for many years, a 19” fluke taken off the coast of New York was legal if the fisherman brought the fish to a dock in New Jersey, but illegal if the fisherman, working the same piece of bottom, brought the same fish back to a port in New York; a fisherman carrying a commercial license can keep a 26” bass, but a recreational fisherman landing that fish will suffer a $500 fine; an otherwise “legal” striped bass caught 2.9 miles off the coast of Montauk or Block Island is okay, but the same fisherman, whether commercial or recreational, catching the same fish 3.1 miles off the coast could end up in court, because the U.S. Coast Guard, a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security, whose mission is protecting the homeland from terrorists and drug smugglers, is also tasked with boarding boats and ticketing anyone who takes a striped bass outside the 3 mile limit,--no exceptions. Yup, those are “Federal Waters.” Huh?
The whole issue of fish-size limits is, to me anyway, inexplicable from the git-go. I think it is simply upside down. Under the rules, only sexually mature fish can be taken! So while I am limited to one fish a day, a 24" fish that is still too immature to reproduce that takes my hook must be returned to the sea, while I can keep a 34" inch fish that is sexually mature and if left alone would go about its job to make more striped bass. Indeed, while current rules require a minumum of 28" for a legal fish, I get a bonus and can keep two fish instead of one if one of them is 40" or more. I have seen no explanation for a regulatory system designed to eliminate the fish who make more fish. Ya can’t make this stuff up.
One last example: A few years ago, the FP’s invoked a three week moratorium on taking porgies in New York waters--but only for recreational fisherman. So the guy next to me could take porgies because he had a commercial license that allowed 30 fish a day, while I, who had a limit of ten fish, could not take any. Conservation? Logic? Rationality? Pulease. I don’t eat porgies anyway, too small, too bony, but I do catch a few for use as live bait for striped bass. But I could not use them as bait for three weeks. Go figure: the State Police actually had a boat out checking whether we were using porgies or eels for bait during that three week hiatus! Hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in a boat, three armed officers, checking to see what bait I was using. How ridiculous. I couldn’t take the porgies, but the real culprits, the striped bass, could!
On terra firma, the restaurants are now actually accessible during the week. The HedgeFunders are off making bucks, leaving the turf to those of us who actually live here. Difficult for me tell you how much I miss them. And the helicopters are fewer in number too. Few of us miss the tapoticker/tapockiter that Radar heard before anyone else in Mash. Ahh, the HF’s never heard of Mash anyway. Poor babies. But then again, they have entertainment we did not: the Kardashian sisters.
But while the striped bass are a bit more elusive this year, and doubtless the Fish Pols will exacerbate the problem for next year, they cannot take away the rocking of the boat under blue skies, the rare sightings of dolphin schools seemingly charging my boat, then turning away with apparent smiles as they porpoise away on their journey to who-knows-where. And let us not forget the thrill when the rod tip suddenly bends sharply down and wiggles from side to side, the reel whines as the fish takes line, and be it bass or bluefish, the game is on. Not to mention dinner.
Fuck ISIS. And Fuck Winter.