Dick Pinney's Guidelines: 'Cuckathon' fishing and new regulations
Frank Martel, of Rye, is an avid saltwater angler. Avid may not be sufficient to describe his devotion to this pastime.
He's fished the sea from just about end to end on this continent and we're not sure about other continents, but we do know that he's not one to let some kind of fulfillment of a desire to fish a faraway place to go unfilled.
In spite of all this travel to exotic places, it's hard to believe that his greatest passion, and one he enjoys many times during the course of the year, is fishing from local party boats for the kind of mundane species of cod, haddock, pollock, cusk, redfish and whatever of our local ocean species likes his jig or bait. There may be one exception. We've fished alongside him enough to know that our abundant amounts of dogfish are not on his favorite list.
He likes to fish on the boats out of the Hampton-Seabrook Harbor and most of the time he'll be seen on the rail of one of the party boats that sails out of Seabrook, as they offer some long range and often overnight fishing opportunities in places that you can't reach in a day's sailing and still have time to fish.
He's recently gone on an overnight trip to Phippenies Ledge with Captain Philip Eastman Jr. of Eastman's Fishing Docks in Seabrook. Legal-sized halibut, the trophy fish of the groundfishing anglers, are often encountered on this ledge. These fish can pull the scale down into the hundreds of pounds, but those sized fish are now quite rare. Rare but not impossible are halibut well over the 50-pound range.
We get to fish with Frank at least once a year on an all-day marathon trip out of Seabrook to our closer Jeffries Ledge, still at least a two or more hour's trip from the harbor. It's a trip that Frank has organized, just out of his love for this kind of fishing and the people that are as dedicated to it as he is. And the boat is full of these anglers when it leaves the dock, usually an hour earlier than the normal trip.
When we asked how this trip is put together and how he invites the people to join him it was a simple answer. "We're not an organization or anything like that. I just post the information through Gulfofmaine.proboards.com and really it's just a bunch of friends that get together.
"This is my eighth year of organizing this trip, thus Cuskathon VIII. Next year will be Cuskathon IX. I can't catch up with the Superbowl numbers so be it."
What makes this trip unique is that the there is a prize pool that is voluntary but is always full. That is not unique in the party boat fishing, but what is unique is that the pool is won by who catches the largest cusk, one of the less popular and kind of ugly species of the more loved cod, haddock, hake and other prettier species. Thus dubbed the "Cuskathon" fishing trip.
Last time out just recently, we were happy to catch one of the first cusk that came aboard. But it just wasn't big enough to get into the money.
There is one other feature of this trip that we really enjoy - the enormous amount of food that varies with each person's tastes that is shared with everyone onboard. It's not a requirement to do this but it seems like each year people try to out-do each other with both quality and quantity. It's really mind-blowing.
One thing that is also really mind-blowing is what our saltwater fishing governing people are doing with the groundfish regulations. We now have a record-breaking amount of haddock, a fish that is highly sought after and revered for its eating qualities. But the problem is that the population is almost entirely made up of fish in the 16-to-20-inch range. As a youngster growing up on the Seacoast, these fish were always called "scrod" and were a bargain at the fish markets and a delicacy.
Recently the federal government's so called fishery managers decided to install new regulations that upped the length limit of recreational-caught haddock to 21 inches, an almost impossible length to reach. That would have been okay to the recreational anglers if they thought it would help the overall population, but at the same time these so-called wise men dropped the commercial size limit for haddock to 19 inches and they are flooding the market with these fish.
We get all kinds of reports from recreational anglers that have caught and released (not always to survive.) from 30 to 50 of these now-illegal to possess haddock. It's pretty easy for us to accept these figures as on one of my latest trips we caught an honest count of 33 undersized haddock and never caught one that we could take home. Many of these fish, when released, were quickly snapped up by the flocks of gulls that follow the party boats, while we've seen big blue sharks also taking advantage of the discards. All this while commercial boats are in sight of us filling their holds with these small haddock.
In ending, we can't blame the commercial boats for this. If it's their legal right they have to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. It's those dumb regulators that have not just allowed but are supporting this carnage.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.