The 4x4s that dot the sands of Cape Poge on Chappaquiddick Island aren’t typically lined up in what anyone would call end-to-end fashion. Even at Wasque Point, which sits at the southeastern end of the island and is one of the most popular fishing spots on the entirety of Martha’s Vineyard, pressure is usually light enough that anglers aren’t on top of each other. But, this past week, with most of the cape under beach closures due to nesting, endangered piping plovers, those of us in search of striped bass and bluefish from Chappaquiddick’s coarse-sand shores were concentrated along a relatively tiny spit of beach, giving us a bird’s eye view of each other’s comings and goings.
The fishing was slow, but the folks fishing out of the rig just down the beach from me hooked into a fish while in the midst of a teaching session. The fellow, whose proliferation of gear suggested to me that he was an experienced angler, was demonstrating the tricks of the trade to the young lady that accompanied him. As one would expect, the duo were bemused by the hookup and the fact that they were able to successfully land the small-but-respectable striper in the shallow surf, excitedly embarking to snap a few photos of the new angler and her catch.
Hoping there might be another bass or two around, I returned my focus to the surf, tossing the orange Spofford’s Ballistic Missile I had leashed to the end of my line back out into the waves. A half a dozen or so casts and retrieves later, and with the bass swimming beneath the Chappaquiddick surf refusing to cooperate, I turned my gaze back down the beach, shocked to find the couple still posing and positioning the fish, snapping one photo after another. In between shots, the fellow hung the fish vertically, suspended by its lip, or laid the small bass in the sand. Eventually, the two waded into the surf with the clear intention of releasing the fish. Try as they might to revive it—and they did try—the bass was well past the point of return. It laid dead in the surf. Visibly consternated, the fellow shrugged, and gently nudged the fish into the water, a gift to the crabs.
If you’ve spent any time along the beaches of the northeastern U.S. chasing stripers, my guess is you’ve seen a similar level of nonchalance when it comes to handling these prized gamefish. For some, it’s simply the product of a lack of ethics and thus a lack of concern, whether for an individual bass or for the health of the fishery as a whole. But for others—like the couple just down the beach from me last week—despite their best intentions, it’s the product of a lack of education or, to put it more bluntly, ignorance.
Many anglers tend to regard saltwater fish, and particularly striped bass, as somewhat indestructible—forged hardier than their fragile freshwater counterparts due a hard life won at sea. In truth, proper catch and release practices remain vital to the survival of these fish.
“Just saying practice catch-and-release isn’t good enough, since not all fish that are released survive,” said Dr. Andy Danylchuk, Professor of Fish Conservation at UMass Amherst. “Fortunately, there is a growing body of science showing anglers can make subtle changes in their behavior and how they catch and handle fish that can reduce release mortality and make a meaningful impact on the fishery we all care about.”
With stripers throughout their native range facing a myriad of challenges and with striped bass populations at a 25 year low according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commision, scientists are urging anglers that employing proper catch and release practices can yield major benefits for the health of the Atlantic striped bass fishery.
To that end, a new grassroots effort called Stripers in Our Hands—a collaboration between Keep Fish Wet, Confluence Collective, and Soul Fly Outfitters—aims to provide resources that help educate striped bass anglers on how to properly practice catch and release.
To drive this effort, Stripers in Our Hands enlisted Maine-based artist and avid angler Bri Dostie to create a free-to-use graphic with custom illustrations that highlight the impacts of catch-and-release, as well as the science-based best practices that can reduce mortality.
“Scientists know a lot about how human interactions affect the fish we catch, but that information doesn’t help anyone if it stays in a journal article behind a paywall,” said Dostie. “We wanted to make sure every angler is empowered with the information they need to protect the fish they care about — and art is one way to share that information more broadly.”
The “Stripers in our Hands” infographic is available as an open resource for guides, fly shops, and other fishing companies to use to help anglers steward the striped bass resource. And it’s also available to you. You can view the JPEG version of the graphic below, or download a printable PDF here. You can also learn more at the Stripers in Our Hands website.
Image: Stripers in Our Hands / Bri Dostie