Serenity now.

While fishing the steelhead-laden horror show that is New York's Salmon River one weekend, I was introduced to a very simple but truly spectacular little fishing accessory by guide and friend Walt Geryk, and I've been positively giddy about it ever since. If you're a Maxima user, you either know about these little gadgets (or a similar equivalent), have fashioned your own solution, or—like me—have chronic high blood pressure resulting from years of struggle with spools of Maxima.

ASMFC Votes in Menhaden Protection

Years of efforts by conservation groups such as Menhaden Defenders and the Pew Environment Group paid off late last week when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted in the first ever protection measures for the tiny forage fish Atlantic Menhaden, commonly known as bunker. Bunker play a vital role in the marine ecosystem off the eastern coast of the United States, and advocates have warned for a long time that the reduction of their population could have catastrophic impacts on the entire food chain. In the days leading up to last Friday's historic vote, a myriad of advocacy groups and individual citizens delivered over 90,000 comments to the ASMFC in favor of placing protections on the number of menhaden that can be harvested from Atlantic waters. Their efforts paid dividends, as the ASMFC voted in protections that are expected to reduce the overall catch of bunker by 37%.

Specifically, the commission voted to set a harvest target of 30% of MSP (maximum spawning potential) as based on an unfished stock of menhaden. This new limit is to be achieved by 2013. The commission also voted to increase the overfishing threshold from 8% of MSP to 15%. This means that if the population of bunker falls below 15%, the population is considered overfished.

Airflo Striper Sink 7 (left) spooled on an Allen XL reel.

November is striper time in New Jersey. Schools of striped bass that have remained in waters farther north finally return to the waters of coastal New Jersey, to be greeted by many a waiting angler. Once November rolls around, I try to get down to the beach as often as I can. Given that the steelhead rivers of the Great Lakes are at least four to five times a farther drive for me, these returning stripers are the best show in town. For the last couple of years, I've been making due with a mutli-tip line system that ventures to be, and accomplishes doing so fairly well, a line system that can fit any purpose. Even though this multi-purpose line hasn't been a thorn in my side, it also isn't ideal and I've known for some time that I wanted to start fishing lines specifically tailored for the task at hand. The reasons are obvious, so I won't go into them here.

Most often, when fishing for stripers, I'll fish an intermediate line. Something that sinks at around 1-3 inches per second. However, in New Jersey and elsewhere, a good deal of my fishing is done from jetties. When fishing from the jetty or in particularly rough surf, I'll often prefer to use a full sink line. On a few recent, premature trips to the beach in search of stripers that hadn't yet shown up, I had the chance to test out Airflo's Sniper Sink 7. This is one of Airflo's fastest sinking cold saltwater lines. Unlike the Ridged Striper series of lines in Airflo's cold saltwater lineup, this line is un-ridged. If you're unfamiliar with Airflo's ridge system, it is a unique style of fly line coating that allows for tremendous shootability.

Omega Protein accounts for over 90% of the current bunker harvest.

In an article published last week, Don't Let Bunker Go Bust, Captain Paul Eidman detailed the current threats looming to the population of bunker (formally known as Atlantic Menhaden) and the potential catastrophic impacts of a collapse of that population. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is set to vote tomorrow on a proposal to protect Atlantic Menhaden through the imposition of catch limits, which do not currently exist for bunker. According to advocates for the protection of menhaden, the absence of these limits is the main culprit for the sharp drop offs in populations of bunker. Representatives of the fishing industry responsible for the bulk of the bunker harvest in Atlantic waters, Omega Protein, disagrees.

According to H. Bruce Franklin, author of 'The Most Important Fish in the Sea', “if we do not put the heat on the ASMFC to do the right thing in November, Omega Protein will prevent any meaningful protection, the menhaden population will continue to crash, and species after species of the valued fish dependent on menhaden will crash with them." It is this sort of scenario that has proponents of catch limits motivated. This motivation has led a variety of environmental advocacy groups, recreational fishing organizations and individual concerned citizens to deliver over 90,000 comments to the ASMFC in order to make their voice heard pending tomorrow's vote.

Menhaden are harvested for use in aquaculture feed, pet foods, livestock feed and dietary supplements. (Photo: NOAA)

Raritan Bay is home base for many of New York and New Jersey’s fishermen. In season fishermen leave the many marinas that dot the bay shore of Staten Island, Monmouth and Middlesex county and head out to the bay in search of striped bass, bluefish, summer flounder (fluke) and other game fish. In order to have a successful day on the bay, anglers look for baitfish. Find the bait, you find the gamefish. The predominant baitfish in Raritan Bay is bunker (formally known as Atlantic Menhaden), both large adults and immature small bunker that we call “peanuts”. Without bunker in the water, you might as well play golf.

Ranked right up there with the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, Central New Jersey’s Raritan Bay is one of the predominant nurseries/estuaries for Atlantic Menhaden stocks. Bunker spawn out at sea and the fry get caught up in the currents and ride them into the back bays and estuary areas where they stay the summer and grow larger until fall. The adult bunker are herring-like fish which swim together in very large schools and feed on micro-organisms like algae, copepods and plankton. They are a lynchpin in the ecology of the bay – converting the micro organisms into flesh and becoming a protein enriched package for our carnivorous fish, marine mammals and marine birds.