GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 22, 2012

Spear fish bill gets mixed reaction

By Richard Gaines Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — A bill that has passed the state’s House of representatives and would allow recreational spearfishing for striped bass is getting diverse reactions — with support and opposition from what might be seen as surprising sources.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante are among the co-sponsors of legislation, which has passed the House and is now before the Senate. The bill, with Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, as primary sponsor, would create a new form of hunting the signature inshore game fish for New England and the mid-Atlantic states.

Dave Stillman, who owns the Cape Ann Divers dive store at Eastern Avenue Plaza in Gloucester, is dubious about the idea of spearfishing for stripers, and says he does not believe it will help his business.

”I don’t take fish out of the water; I’d prefer to watch them, rather than kill them,” he said in a telephone interview Friday, adding that he does not sell spear guns.

Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, was more overtly opposed.

”No nets, no spears, do it with hook and line, end of story,” said Adler.

But two celebrated Gloucester fishermen, Al Williams, one of the cape’s premier recreational and commercial striper fishermen, and Mark Godfried, an industry consultant and retired fisherman, gave qualified support to the idea.

“Spearfishing is done in other states (New Hampshire and Rhode Island),” said Williams. “The technique is somewhat defensible. It’s not as blind as the normal hook and line method of fishing for stripers. the problem is the intermingling with other fishermen,” not to mention lobstermen.

The law in Massachusetts gives divers a 100-foot clearance from boats, based on the location of the divers’ flag; this protection has been contentious when divers were in the vicinity of lobster traps, and kept working boats from working.

Godfried said he agreed that spearfishing was, by nature, more discriminating for conservation. The spear fisherman can be “far more selective” than the hook and line fishermen, he said.

But Godfried said the safety circumference has caused problems with lobstermen. He said he’d prefer to experiment in a limited number of areas with with spearfishing for stripers

Tarr could not be reached for comment, but Ferrante offered support for the measuring, noting that “the fishery is highly selective.”

”There’s no reason not to do it, it requires a lot of skill,” Ferrante said, and it would eliminate a disincentive for visitors who gravitate to the New England ocean states that allow spearfishing for stripers.

Striped bass are, in this month, ending their northern migration for the warm weather months and returning to the offshore waters of Virginia and North Carolina and wintering in the great riverine estuaries of the Mid-Atlantic region. Stripers are also an important commercial rod-and-reel fish in Massachusetts as well as New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

Stillman of Cape Ann Divers said that, at present there is not much spearfishing in the waters of Cape Ann.

“It’s down south of the Cape (Cod),” he said.

A similar bill died was approved by the House last year, but died in the Senate.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.