>> SEPTEMBER 17, 2017 <<
Once again in speaking with a for-hire captain last night, I heard the comment about regional fishery and fishing news reports routinely being "all doom and gloom," and I just had to agree. I think back to my time beginning in the mid 1970's around the docks here in what was the most noted for-hire fishing port along the east coast in Sheepshead Bay, and just wondered... "where did it all the fishing boats and fishermen go?"
A few days ago during a stroll along South Beach on Staten Island and looking eastward towards Hoffman Island and the confines of the original 'Mothers Lap' off Nortons Pt., and repeated once again in not seeing anyone on a boat fishing on such a beautiful late summer day. Is it me that this scene is playing out daily in an area which may have one of the highest concentrations of registered for-hire and private vessels where we cannot find a handful of Joe-Fishermen anglers either going out drifting and dreaming or tossing the hook in what is a very productive inshore area for catching "something" at this time of the year.
One should be asking, "what are the root causes of fishermen, not going fishing like they used to," and anyone half paying attention over the past few years will roll off a whole litany of issues that have negatively impacted the fishing industry 'space' and more so, the recreational angling sub-sector with both the short season and catch limits in place. Here something more insidious has been spreading, as in the cause and resultant effect, that now may possibly have some serious legal and regulatory implications in the very near future.
In slightly shifting gears here, it brings me to this discussion which has now reached such a argumentative level on socialized media where one when reading the comments being made if anyone truly addresses how 'accountable' both for-hire operators and fishermen are at this time and which has brought us to this point as far as the regulatory environment that everyone must try and legally deal with in harvesting regulated marine species.
Ask yourself as you read through these points about 'accountability'...either lack of, along with consequences and implications which are impacting all fishermen.
I had heard early that evening when two weeks ago the NYS DEC was involved in a enforcement action against a noted east end inspected "meat wagon" which seemed to have entered a Stargate and transported back to a time where any fish that came over the rail could go into the pail, without either the operator or the paying customer having any after thought about catch limits concerning possession and minimum size or the NYS-ECL (Environmental Conservation Laws) matters when marine enforcement literally walks into such an unusual fishery caper.
The problem here is that we are in currently in the year of 2017 and not 1977, and when the details started figuratively spilling out on - and quoted by two online sources of a four digit count of one regulated species left behind, or the number of various unclaimed fish holding containers also left as 'gifts' onboard, or how the customers after a day of fishing, somehow found the energy to informally conduct their own gum-ball rally in being "fleet of foot" in getting off the vessel with just fishing gear in tow and their cars racing out of the marinas parking lot.
What was even more enlightening was about the "off traditional hours" sailing time...yes plausible in beating what has become hellacious traffic at times, but more so in being told about customers being so prepared for the fishing day in not only packing their panfish tackle and lunch, also in bringing along hand trucks to assist in lugging off a days catch which seems to be heavier in weight then in what a legally licensed NYS FFL commercial fishermen is allowed to take during a trip. In fact, my quick reply in hearing about hand trucks - since this was neither a tuna, tile or cod fishing trip was "in hand trucks and dollies?," where I was told that "yes in the use of such weight carrying and bearing devices" because this vessel seems to be incredibly successful in loading up on the meat.
Even from the source telling me the story, I still could not believe that this was as serious as I was told that day, or a few days later when I received a call where it seemed "act II" occurred. The old expression of "say it ain't so" seemed not to resonate as so far what came across as something that is part of the business model which first drew the attention of a east end local fish reporting website, to the news spreading to the much more widely read East Hampton Star, and finally to be feasted upon by the peanut gallery on socialized media.
So what did we see in the comments "there," and where one fishermen seemed to sum up the open secret for all to read.....
"Went on the boat one time, saw what was going on, and never went back."
What was more interesting was the comments by those in the for-hire industry, a number of which felt that they are neither personally responsible for what regulated marine species comes over the rail and then tactically secured within their fish holding container, or in their crew only cleaning a legal amount of fish and all others not being cut, or attracting a clientele who use common core fish count addition. I even had a good giggle when a particular individual, one with neither any formal background or even informal grounding in the regulatory realm was vociferous in exclaiming, "captain is 100% not responsible for what customers do with their fish onboard his vessel." Really?
I do understand some of the feelings being voiced by those holding a MMD now having to wear the hat of fish-cop on their own vessels, with the sentiment being "give me a 100k salary, pension and gun" and I will enforce the fish laws. Problem with this mindset of operators of both party and charter vessels is that they did raise their right hand and take an oath to obey the law, along with a for-hire vessel holding both federal fishery and state permits - which entail not only a privilege when providing a paying customer a service, but also a obligation with a legal responsibility to ensure monitoring and accurate reporting requirements of whatever is caught by those onboard.
One could read for themselves this "catch-all" note within this federal document:
Failure to comply with reporting requirements may result in non‐renewal of fishing permits and referral to the Office of Law Enforcement for appropriate action.
The timely, accurate reporting of your vessel's fishing activity on the VTR represents an integral part of the scientific information required to achieve the goal of sustainable fisheries.
Some would point out that the key word in the above statement is "reporting," as in 'timely' reporting, but there is the other part that requires the operator of a for-hire vessel to keep a count of what is on his vessel in order to provide accurate catch (discards + harvest) data on a signed VTR.
This question, and I am just tossing this out there for those to think about, is as far as any federal fishery investigator when asking a for-hire captain this one simple question which would be:
"Weren't you doing your own visual check throughout the trip of what was being caught and kept?"
This also brings us back to and at a minimum, the monitoring of what is being caught, and if necessary for either the operator or crew members on deck to take charge and ensure what is legally retained by customers. This reminds me of a few stories over the last few years told directly to me by a few surprised fishermen fishing upon TWO particular fishing fleet operations in New England, where the crew was going through coolers and dumping out any fish which was not legal for a customer to be retained.
Interestingly and to make note of, just a bare few years back an operator of a for-hire vessel could claim that he did his due regulatory diligence by making a public announcement of the regulations for the species being targeted and noting only the cleaning of a legal possession limit by the crew, along with posting in an accessible area of the vessel (traditionally the main cabin) where all customers could read the current federal and state regulations, and in providing the use of some sort measuring device in inches, just in case anglers wanted to check and ensure in retaining a fish meeting a minimum possession size.
In this current constrained regulatory time period, it now seems that this may not be sufficient enough for keeping an for-hire operator out of legally jeopardy, either with the USCG or state marine enforcement and in as much, NOAA - Office of Law Enforcement, especially in what was reported in this story written in the East Hampton Star does come across as "one whopper of an egregious violation of fishery regulations." It also reflects the mindset of a for-hire operator and their customers of only following fishery regulations when the fishery Po-Po are around. How could one claim different from the reported story as a spectacle was made as a noted marine specie were now becoming projectiles as they were launched through the air?
You will hear those who talk about non-compliance being the fault of the fishermen, but there is one aspect which those who sit on the regulatory side fail time and again to address especially with rebuilt fish stocks...the legitimacy of current fishery regulations which is causing and has resulted in this type of behavior on an inspected for-hire vessel.
Please keep in mind that no one is saying to condone this behavior, nor am I painting with the proverbial "wide brush" here in a intent to disparage any segment of, or within the for-hire or recreational sub-sectors. The focal point here is one where accountability is lost by all too many especially in what we read and the message being sent within socialized media.
On this sunny Sunday, there were more enjoyable stories and fish reports to pass along, but in speaking with a friend this morning who is a for-hire owner/operator in the NY-NJ BIGHT, he said to me that it has gotten to the point over the last few years that accountability is being compromised in order to remain viable in staying in business.
I do understand his point because I have not only lived it, I clearly see and hear it from so many fishermen these days. All one can say at this point is to be reminded that accountability lays upon yourself and what you do when you go fishing. I also will hedge here that this will not be the last we hear of this particular incident or the consequences therefrom in the growing creep of enforcement and regulatory requirements placed upon for-hire vessels and fishermen especially here in the once Empire State.