SACO — Traditionally the middle of May is when striped bass start appearing in Maine. Saltwater fishermen who were casting at their usual haunts last weekend – by the Cataract Dam on the Saco River or by the jetty at Camp Ellis – seemed happy just to be able to drop a line.

A new bag limit that went into effect May 12 – one striper per day of 28 inches or larger – did little to dampen their enthusiasm.

“Fishing is an addiction, a rush,” said Barrett Johnson, 49, of Lyman, who was out with his 12-year-old son, Wyatt. “My son is the same way I am, he’s just happy to catch anything. The fishery has gone up and down. I still see people catching fish. I’m not overly concerned.”

Earlier this month, the state’s Department of Marine Resources voted to tighten the daily bag limit for stripers, whose numbers have dropped precipitously in the past decade along the northeast U.S. coast. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is requiring states to reduce the 2015 recreational harvest of striped bass by at least 25 percent from 2013 levels. The striper harvest in Maine that year was 443,789 – down from more than 4 million as recently as 2006.

There was widespread support across Maine’s fishing community for stricter regulations. The previous daily limit allowed saltwater anglers to take one striper 20 to 26 inches or one greater than 40 inches.

Even though biologists are at a loss as to exactly what has led to the decline of stripers, Maine fishermen last weekend blamed overfishing to the south.


They’re angry that human beings have a tendency to harm the environment, and that behavior may be at the root of the striper’s demise.

“It’s the way we treat the Earth. It’s a result of how we treat our environment, where the fish live. That definitely has a lot to do with it,” said Jasper Tripp, 21, of Old Orchard Beach as he cast from the mouth of the Saco River.

“And it has to do with how we fished them hard back in the ’80s. I know that just from old guys telling me stories.”

Fisherman Andrew Whitaker, 35, of Buxton blames companies producing fish-oil pills.

“Our new found obsession with omega-3 has hurt the stripers’ dinner table. They are a predator, they need a large amount of biomass to effectively support,” Whitaker said. “We are obsessed with the oils present in their feed, large companies are involved in the harvest of this feed for sale in pill form.”

Dan Gayer of Cape Elizabeth, a saltwater fisherman of 20 years, recalls the moratorium in the 1980s, when the recreational striper fishery was closed in Maine.


Gayer blames climate change, pollution and the recreational catch.

But as Gayer cast with his 2-year-old daughter, Hope, on his back, he was just happy to be able to fish for stripers.

“You look at the party boats in Cape Cod. They take a lot of dead fish. There is a lot of pressure on party boats in other states,” Gayer said. “I think recreational fishing in Maine is a relatively new thing, the last 20 to 30 years. The tradition here for 150 years was trout and landlocked salmon. I think the catch-and-release ethic from freshwater fishing has translated to the saltwater fishing here. Other states see it more as a food fish like cod and haddock. Here we put the striper on a pedestal.”


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