BOSTON — Commercial fishermen pleaded with lawmakers this week not to interfere with striped bass catch limits, saying it is not the Legislature's place to manage fisheries.
But others who run recreational fishing charter boats argued if state lawmakers do nothing, striped bass stocks will continue to dwindle and tourists who come to Massachusetts to fish in coastal communities will disappear, hurting local economies.
The two sides spent nearly five hours trying to convince lawmakers of their opposing viewpoints during a packed hearing of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The committee is chaired by Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, and Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer.
The commercial and recreational fishermen, charter boat captains, scientists and seafood restaurateurs testified about the potential impacts of four bills aimed at restricting striped bass catches and declaring it a "game fish," essentially prohibiting commercial fishing. Five other states have passed similar legislation declaring striped bass a game fish, including Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
Recreational fishermen fell on both sides of the issue with some pushing for limits, while others argued restrictions unnecessarily pit one group of fishermen against another.
Capt. James Goodheart, who runs a charter boat for recreational fishers out of Newburyport, said his business depends on an abundance of striped bass being in the water. Goodheart said people who fish with him catch and release the bass, but they enjoy the sport of catching them. Without more fish, they will not come, he said, testifying in favor of catch limits.
Fishing tourists travel from all over the country, staying in local hotels, buying bait at area tackle shops and dining in Newburyport restaurants, Goodheart said.
"There is an economy that wouldn't be there without these fish," he said.
"There is a myth out there that the recreational fishing community is behind this bill," said Patrick Paquette, from the Massachusetts Striped Bass Association. "To pit a commercial fisherman against a recreational fisherman ... I would hope legislators would sit back and say this has to be the wrong thing to do. Please don't take one group of extremists as being the voice of the recreational community, because they are not."