To Mass. DMF Director Dave Pierce Phd., Loligo Fishing Nantucket & Marthas Vinveyard

Spencer Bode

[email protected]



To Mass. DMF. Director Dave Pierce Phd.,


I have been a consistent reader of John McMurray’s contribution to I have valued his writings due to his activity on the water and his due diligence in obtaining all the facts. With that stated I believe he has overstepped his expertise in his most recent article In Marthas Vineyard & Nantucket, There Ain’t No Stripas. As a writer and council member McMurray has substantial amount of input when it comes to policy changes within the fisheries regulatory arena. Upon reading this piece, I was inspired to write a rebuttal article with the goal of enlightenment and advocacy for the commercial Loligo industry. As a fourth generation commercial fisherman from Point Judith, Rhode Island I have generational knowledge of Doryteuthis pealaeii otherwise known as Loligo, Summer Squid, Longfin Squid and my personal favorite name, Rhode Island’s official appetizer Calamari.


I commend McMurry for doing his homework, on the scientific numbers and articles that supports his advocacy for his partnering charter fisherman. He comes across to the public as a source of reliable information when it comes to the logistics and practices, of commercial squid fishing. This rather scares me, as I know individuals who lack background and experience in the commercial fishing sector, are easily influenced by those who aim to strike fear, with the notion “the big bag draggers are catching and killing all the the fish”, this is simply not true. McMurray’s use of published reports and the overall study of the squid fishery is applaudable, but is absolutely not a substitute for “real” first hand experience, which unless otherwise proven he doesn’t he have in the commercial/trawler/dragger realm. I will cite quotes from McMurray’s article, as reference points, where I think increased elaboration is necessary. I do not wish to disrespect, harm or embarrass the author or any participating parties, but rather have an educational conversation about the “real” facts that control this extremely established trade.


Throughout its entirety McMurray’s article alludes to not wanting to economically hurt the Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket (aka Islands) charter businesses. Smartly he uses this motive as a smokescreen to be rather disingenuous about the role the Island’s Loligo industry plays in local fishing ports. Highlighting the dollar amount of 19 million pounds (number used in McMurray’s article) of squid harvested in that region last year results as follows. 19,000,000 X (80%AVG) = 15,200,000 lbs of regular squid. 19,000,000 X (20%AVG) = 2,800,000 lbs of large squid. The average dockside price for regular squid was around $1.00 and the price for large was $1.50 during the summer months, when the squid 2nd trimester quota was yet to be filled. This would equate to a total of $19.4 million USD (15,200,000+4,200,000) which is a direct contribution to small coastal communities throughout the Northeast.


 I do not know the value or revenue of the Island’s charter boat businesses, but would guess that it does not rival this fishery. For example Point Judith, RI commercial fishing port annual revenue is estimated at $87 million USD. Point Judith is not close to being New England’s highest dollar grossing fishing port. Squid fishing is a foundation for many commercial vessels, as without this seasonal fishery many if not all small scale fishing operations would not be able to survive.


John McMurray “Squid are getting wiped out off of Martha’s vineyard & Nantucket”. 


Last year, was a historical landmark in the fishery as the 2nd trimester quota was caught in record time, being finished by June 26, 2016. From conversations with captains and crew, I can say with confidence that there was more Loligo present south of the Islands during the summer of 2016 than any other time during the 21st century. The evidence being that 2nd trimester quota since 2000, has never been completed before June 26. Exception being in 2012 when the 2nd trimester quota was finished in June, only because the 2nd trimester period started 3 weeks earlier than normal, on May 10 .


The allowable harvest tonnage has stayed relatively consistent, but the abundance of Loligo recently has not. 2016 has given signs that the population has exploded, when being compared to the last 20 years catch efforts and results. Now, lets apply a little common sense to this scenario; the number of boats holding permits and fishing loligo has stayed steady, while the total amount of allowable catch quota has followed suit. The catch effort has stayed persistent, but is now resulting in an increase of production: more fish in a shorter amount of time is being caught, when compared to 21st century catch results. I am not a fisheries scientist, but this resource is being harvested at a rate where it not only provides recovery, but rather an opportunity for population growth. If “squid are getting wiped out” was a true statement, then the current documented results would tell a much different story.


I understand that those who make their living sportfishing on the Islands are hurting and are having a decline in seasonal bookings. Individuals working in the consistent perils of the North Atlantic need to be uplifted not eliminated. I myself am a licensed USCG 100 ton merchant mariner and run a for hire charter business based out of New Bedford. I agree and will testify that the Striped Bass presence around the islands have faded and the desire to sportfish this area has diminished as a result. But, McMurray’s lack of mentioning the Massachusetts rod & reel commercial striped bass industry, which is by far the largest of any state in the Union, is a clear indication that his motives for writing are beyond conservation and rather deception. The economic incentives that come with his opinionated article, fuel his manipulation of the facts in order to sway the public’s perception in an attempt to change the current regulations and rules.

As an active participant in the commercial rod & reel striped bass fishery, I know that the volume of bass is still present in Massachusetts waters, the quota has been filled every year that I have participated and I believe every year this century to my knowledge. With the generally agreed upon warming of Northwest Atlantic inshore waters, Striped Bass along with other many other species, have followed a recent migration pattern shift. Predator species have been relocating to more northern waters. For more evidence and information on this topic, go to they are doing daily research on this subject.


 McMurray’s article fails to mention any references or facts about warming waters, which again reiterates the biased and lack of credibility in his reporting. I agree with his statement that Striped Bass have recovered, and add that they have migrated and found forage in other locations North of the Islands. Striped Bass being a highly aggressive and mobile predatory species has the ability to survive and adapt in new waters. This is on display as the Cape Cod commercial Striped Bass catch effort has risen to go hand in hand with the decline of the Island’s catch effort.


To put this into context, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket charter/sportfishing fleet has a very minimal annual economic contribution to the Massachusetts economy when compared to harvesters and sellers of wild USA caught seafood. The comparison is of a small scale/sport/recreational seasonal occupation, to an all year industrial producer of food. This comparison needs to be made, for the sake of New England’s GDP and employment sector. Fishing for food is the oldest employment position or job that the human race has ever held on Earth, no other profession has a longer or more tenured history.


 McMurray belongs to this tight knit, well educated group of chartermen. Most members of this group are spending their winter months home on land and by the looks of it in front of a keyboard petitioning government regulators for change. Other local fisherman who are wild seafood harvesters who provide all year long to the New England economy, simply do not have the same ability. Do to being employed all year long in the Atlantic Ocean, many commercial fishermen do not have the same consistent opportunities to weigh in on fisheries topics and regulation changes. I am a believer  that all members of the industry should have a seat at the table. With less availability and access to these online forums many captains and crew of draggers are often unrightfully left out of the regulatory process.


Today’s governing bodies are highly influenced by internet experts and web related media/information/articles. Those who brandish the title commercial fisherman are unable to have a constant voice or message due to the sheer fact there is no wifi on any commercial fishing vessel ( in my personal working history) in the fleet. Yes there is internet, Seacom and land communication access, but nothing that is comparable to being in front of a laptop/desktop with the standard home based cox wifi. I have been fortunate enough to work on some of the best boats in the fleet, and I know this is the truth, with very little exceptions.


The Islander’s attest that there are more boats viewable from land recently, reason being there is more loligo congregating there seasonally, than during any other time this century. McMurray’s mention of AIS as a reason for the increase in volume of vessels, just highlights his overall lack of experience harvesting wild seafood in these waters. My great grandfather was born in 1903 on Block Island and was a resident there for his entire life. He fed his family through the harvesting and selling of fish, which has since been labeled commercial fishing. At this time there was no sportfish employment or seasonal fishing jobs like the operation McMurray and other for hire charter captains run. Through the reading of my great grandfather’s logbooks and conversing with my grandfather who was also a Block Island native, I know for a certainty that there has been a congregation of boats south of the Vineyard harvesting Loligo for almost 80 years.


 John McMurray “(AIS technology, now a requirement) brought the first several following boats into what is essentially a spawning squid funnel, and the fact that they just figured out that they could fish here with minimal effort and catch a (expletive) ton of squid”.


This quote might be one of the most blatantly false statements I have ever read about New England fishing. In all honesty, I normally do not put much thought to the articles of weekends warriors for the reason that they usually don’t know any better, but this statement truly frightened me. I fear the public would read this and get the perception that this writer knows what he is talking about, which in my opinion McMurray does not.


McMurray cites discard information and bycatch numbers correctly for his motives. I have worked with this observing company over the years, and agree that they do produce solid numbers. His suggestion is to increase the 3 mile limit/buffer zone, to 6 or 12 miles, distancing the draggers from their target species. Forcing the fleet out of productive grounds would result in a certain increase of fishing effort to catch the same amount of quota. Thus the same boats would have to spend more time fishing, equating to more unneeded and unwanted dead bycatch.


What will a 6 or 12 mile buffer zone mean for the many species and fishers that call south of the Vineyard home? There will be a lot less fish for recreational, charter and commercial anglers to catch. Increasing the buffer zone will dramatically increase the percentage and total amount of discarded fish when compared to the current regulatory scheme. McMurray’s suggestion could potentially lead to an increase of hundred of thousands if not millions of pounds of extra, unneeded bycatch on an annual basis, something that no ocean goer needs or wants.


But, don’t worry New Englanders the Island dwellers and visitors of Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket will no longer have to see big steel boats during their summer vacationing on the beach. Reiterating for education, draggers assemble so close to the islands,  because that is where the Loligo are, and have been documented being, for almost a century. The cleanest type of dragging, through my knowledge and conversations with captains, is done when Loligo is in tight spawning congregations. The large, dense volumes of squid that are being seen close to the Islands, makes the fishing quick and efficient resulting in minimal bycatch when compared to other locations. Offshore squid fishing is considered throughout the industry as very dirty practice (high percentage of non targeted species). When comparing inshore to offshore squid fishing, the answer is clear and definitive. Inshore is competent and clean, while offshore squidding is less effective killing more bycatch.


John McMurray “Pretty self explanatory why concentrated effort on spawning squid aggregations could be problematic down the road”.


 Again, I advise the author to to do a little history homework about the harvesting of Loligo. It has been happening for almost a century and is very well documented. History repeats itself, and the history of squid fishing shows no signs of overfishing. The catch effort, which is represented through the amount of active draggers has greatly declined in my lifetime. 2016’s “19 million pounds” was caught in historically quick fashion, even with a decreased catch effort when compared to 30 years ago.  This “self explanatory” sentence is wrong, when viewed through the eyes of someone who has a generational knowledge of spawning squid aggregations, yes I am talking about myself, my family, my captains and my colleagues who helped me with the ideas and topics for this counterpiece.


John McMurray “Yes, there is some debate on whether or not such eggs hatch after being pulled of the bottom, or pulled out of a net and tossed back in, but common sense would tell us that most of them don’t”.


I reiterate a recurring theme throughout this opinionated article, but I highly suggest this Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Panel Member to do a little more research, or maybe converse with someone who has fished on a squid boat. I have never read a scholarly article or paper on squid eggs, reason being that it is common knowledge on every vessel I have ever worked on, among all captains and crew that Loligo eggs, returned to the ocean within five minutes of being captured will survive and hatch. This attempt to manipulate these well known facts is again rather alarming and disheartening as the public looks to this Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management and New England Fishery Management Council Member as a credible, reliable voice, which in my opinion when writing about this subject, he is not.


John McMurray “And that it’s become much harder to catch any fish around the islands anymore. While there’s no causal data to prove it, historically productive fishing ground are now relatively lifeless.”


The extreme boom of the Black sea bass population has been well documented by research and advocacy organizations such as Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation and Resilient Fisheries RI, I direct readers to their websites for further explanation. I hold a Massachusetts commercial seabass endorsement and have worked in these “lifeless” zones the last 3 years and have consistently caught the daily limit of Seabass. Through local friendships, interviews and personal experience, I attest that a high volume of the allocated Massachusetts Black Sea Bass quota is caught within 3 miles of these islands.


Also, Scup are readily available year round in inshore waters, becoming somewhat of a nuisance during the summer months, when fishers are targeting the more valuable Sea Bass. I am unknowing of the Fluke abundance due to their being no available endorsement for Massachusetts commercial rod & reel, thus making it a very low effort targeted species by myself and my comrades.  The present day minimal catch effort, results in an overall low comprehension and certainty in the estimates of population throughout New Bedford and Point Judith. Anyone who keeps up with Northeast fisheries politics would agree that Fuke are highly debated, the harvest level is consistently disagreed upon by all participating parties.


            I believe economic motives is the certain reason for this fisheries council member manipulation of information, the Island’s charter boats are looking for a scapegoat for their slowing in bookings and have pointed the finger to the local commercial squid boats. Sea Bass and Scup are small game fish that is not desired by potential and current charter customers. With the Striped Bass consistent northern migration, it has left the Island’s inshore sportfisherman with a problem.  I currently do not have a solution for the small population of charter boat employees and captains that call Martha’s Vineyard Vineyard & Nantucket home.


Connecting all the pieces to this complex puzzle is key to result in a positive solution for all involved parties. I advise these Island fisherman who are presently in a booking slump to consult with their co-workers who fish on Cape Cod. With the downturn of Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket sportfishing, there has been a balancing uptick in the charter business along Cape Cod.


McMurray elaborates his opinion that the commercial draggers are fishing tight and close south of the Vineyard. I counter this anecdote, with a recent observation of the fleet of boats fishing Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, on a nice Saturday in October. This past fall 2016, I counted over 200 vessels on my 16 mile radar band. These federally protected waters sounded more like a downtown Manhattan intersection then a protected marine sanctuary. To many boats chasing to few of fish if you ask me. I highlight this in an effort to prevent commercial squid fisherman from being the scapegoat for the well connected Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket charterman and sportfisherman recent problems. My desire in this piece was to help defend the practice and profession, that has brought my family all we could ever ask for. Thank you for your time, I truly appreciate it.