By Chris D. Dollar
I’m not sure what to make of Jeff Nichols’ new book, “Caught” which takes the reader along his meandering trip into the seedy world of selling striped bass on the black market. A striper guide in Montauk, N.Y., for a decade, his tale is unequal parts confessional and humorous anecdotes (of a sort) topped off with a dollop of redemptive mea culpa. Nichols claims his obsession to land a 60-pound rockfish, which eluded him, forced him to sell two restaurants in New York City to fund what he calls his striper addiction.
He also claims the striped bass black market is more insidious than one might believe. In recent years, I’ve become more convinced he might be right, and that poachers — commercial or recreational — have had more impact on the most recent dip in striper numbers than some might think.
As an aside, Zach Harvey, a former colleague of mine, offers in the book’s “Afterward” some keen insight from the New England perspective as to what ails the rockfish population, and what might be done to reverse the slide. He thinks sport fishermen should re-evaluate our individual relationship with stripers. What that exactly means I’m not sure; perhaps it means killing fewer cow stripers, as Nichols says he now supports.
The same week I read the last page of “Caught” a federal grand jury in Baltimore slapped a 26-count indictment against four Eastern Shore watermen accused of running a rockfish poaching ring worth nearly a half-million dollars. Michael D. Hayden Jr. and William J. Lednum, both of Tilghman Island, along with Kent Sadler, of Tilghman Island, and Lawrence “Daniel” Murphy, of St. Michaels, stand accused of attempting to catch, via illegally set gill nets, about 20,000 pounds before the start of the 2011 commercial season. Hayden also was indicted on one count of witness retaliation and two counts of witness tampering in connection with the grand jury probe.
Prosecutors say they sold to wholesalers in Maryland, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. If found guilty the four watermen could permanently be banned from commercial fishing in Maryland.
Tony Friedrich, executive director of Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, had it right when he said false reporting puts the striper stocks at risk, especially combined with out-and-out poaching throughout the rockfish’s migratory range.
Bill Goldsborough, chairman of the state’s Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission, and Billy Rice, his counterpart on the watermen side (Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission), both praised law enforcement efforts as well as lamented the effects poaching has on management and image, respectively. More....