Two fishermen participating in the 66th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby had their leading fish pulled from the contest on Monday, for not registering for a state saltwater fishing license. While the derby officials are not disqualifying the fishermen or sharing their names, the organization hopes that anglers participating in the contest get the message. To fish in the derby, anglers must comply with state and federal fishing requirements.
Last year recreational anglers were expected to register in a federally run fishing registry. This year, most recreational anglers are expected also to have a Massachusetts recreational fishing permit.
In a written release issued on Wednesday, Ed Jerome, president of the derby, wrote: “On Monday, Sept. 19, at a special meeting of the derby committee, the committee voted to disqualify two current division leading fish because the anglers who caught the fish did not possess a Massachusetts Recreational Saltwater Fishing Permit prior to weighing in the fish in our tournament.
“During the past year, the committee has worked long and hard to create a public awareness of this new regulation via all of our forms of communication. Tackle shop owners have done the same in their shops, newspapers have explained the regulation in their columns and it is clearly posted for all contestants to see as they approach the derby scale to weigh their fish in.” The full statement is available at the derby’s Web site, mvderby.com.
It was a judgment call not to disqualify the fishermen from the contest. In past years, the derby has dealt with instances of cheating and exacted far harsher penalties; some anglers have been kicked out of the derby, others have been banned for years.
Mr. Jerome said this week that “this is not about lying, this is about complying.”
He said the fishermen involved have since registered with the state for the license. One of the anglers was a visitor to the Island, the other continues to fish. He said the fishermen were just lazy in not registering.
“I am not trying to make it about the people, I am trying to make it more about getting your permit,” Mr. Jerome said.
To insure compliance, Mr. Jerome said, “We have the ability to do spot checks.” He said the derby organization can check electronically whether a derby participant is in fact registered with the state.
Derby organizers have said they do not want to portray themselves as the waterfront police when it comes to administering the annual contest. But neither do they want a derby angler who has not complied with the state regulations to take a prize in the contest. The derby gives away more than $300,000 in prizes over the month, which includes a brand new 21-foot boat and a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Mr. Jerome was among those anglers who participated more than two years ago in the process of establishing the saltwater fishing license.
Most anglers are required to register with the state, even senior citizens (for those 60 years of age, the permit is free save a small processing fee — usually $10). Those under 16 years of age, and those who are disabled, are exempt. Fishermen who are angling on a charter fishing boat also are exempt.
“I see this as an opportunity to raise the awareness,” Mr. Jerome said. Every angler joining the derby must twice attest to their compliance with the state regulations. The first time is when they register and pay their admittance to the contest, and a second time if they weigh in a big potential winner. In that moment, after weighing in their fish, they must sign a form saying they have the permit.
There are more than 1,800 anglers registered in the contest, as of yesterday. The derby began on Sunday, Sept. 11 and since then more than 724 fish have been weighed in, weighing over 7,600 pounds. Almost half of all the fish weighed in so far are bluefish. Over 3,000 pounds of striped bass have been weighed in.
Anglers are competing to catch the largest striped bass, bluefish, bonito and false albacore. There are daily, weekly and overall prizes offered.
The fish coming into the headquarters are big. The largest striped bass caught from a boat, 34.72 pounds, was weighed in Wednesday night by Emanuel Thompson, of Virginia. The largest shore striped bass, 30.76 pounds, caught from the shore was brought in by David Nash, 62, of Edgartown on Monday morning. On Tuesday, he said that in a night of fishing, this was the only hit he had, and it came in the early morning, at about 1 a.m. “I fish all over the Island, and wait for the right time and tide. It is so complicated fishing out here. The more you fish out there, the more the odds slip in your favor,” he said.
Throughout the past week, anglers have been bringing in their fish to the derby weigh-in headquarters at the foot of Main street in Edgartown. It is usually an impressive scene as the anglers carry in their fish at night from 8 to 10 p.m. They also weigh in their fish daily from 8 to 10 a.m.
The basic registration entry fee for the derby costs $45.
Beginners looking for a big fish are given this advice by Tony Rezendes, 69, of West Tisbury, whose birthday was Tuesday, when he weighed in a 26-pound striped bass. Mr. Rezendes owns the Square Rigger Restaurant with his wife, Doreen. “Put the hours in and don’t give up,” he said.
Mr. Rezendes said he has fished a lot and he gives a lot of credit to his crew at the restaurant for their time. “I missed one night,” he said. This fall he puts in a lot of time with his 35-year-old son, Dana.
Mr. Rezendes said he gets a kick out of getting advice from his son. “Sometimes he will tell me how to fish,” Mr. Rezendes said. “He knows what he is doing,”