By Steve Chaconas
In 2015, Capt. Martin observed the practice of staking one end of a long net and dragging it out to the end and then making a loop to return to the stake. Fish are trapped in the net, containing a pocket to hold fish. Harvested by hand nets, non-target species are released. Haul seining is legal on the Potomac River. Local watermen opt for Maryland’s shorter regulation of 960 feet (VA allows 1000 yards). Initially, he didn’t pay much attention. However, after having successful fishing days in very clear water, Capt. Martin found his shallow area getting muddier, loaded with floating, chewed-up subaquatic vegetation, and fishing became difficult. Scrutinizing commercial fishing activity with boats churning the water and long nets ripping through grass, Capt. Martin determined this activity produced muddy water, chewed up SAVs and invaded prime spawning areas.
Haul seining takes place from spring into June when SAVs emerge. Once grasses are destroyed, they take time to come back or they become overgrown with less desirable grasses. It’s also when bass move into shallow spawning areas. Martin contends any spawn taking place in these areas will be disrupted from the time nests are made, eggs are laid and bass are hatched. He also adds several spawns take place during this period. Destruction of SAVs has a continuing impact on the life cycle as any surviving bass are in open water, becoming easy prey. Food sources for growing fry disappear.
With hundreds of pounds of catfish, carp and other species confined as they’re hauled in, Capt. Martin also feels the haul seining harvesting process is hard on bass already stressed from the spawning ritual. In addition, he believes confinement restricts oxygen intake for extended periods of time, as he has noticed many dead fish after a haul seining operation has vacated. Since this is an ongoing process, entire bays are affected as watermen harvest for several months. Realizing the impact this practice could have, Capt. Martin contacted guides and anglers to get their thoughts. He took responsibility of this issue. Tracking down jurisdictional authority took some time. For Virginia tributaries it was the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Maryland presented a complicated situation as counties claimed authority.
As for VMRC regulations, he found it was not legal to disrupt SAVs nor was it legal to operate in water less than 3 feet deep, although the regulation was unclear as to the tide. He was told, from his description, commercial fishermen might be in a gray area and VMRC would contact the operators. Nothing changed. Attending a VMRC meeting was next. In March 2016, waiting through other issue discussions, Capt. Martin made his presentation but was told he was not addressing the correct group. He met Robert O’Reilly, Chief of Fisheries Management Division and reported subsequent incidents directly to him. Later in 2016 he observed haul seining in Belmont Bay and photographed SAV destruction and boats working haul seining. He also noticed, and photographed, herding, another vessel scaring fish into the net. Noting haul seining is regulated as a one boat operation, the Marine Police were notified and determined they would have to observe the activity before it would become a violation.
As for Maryland, Capt. Martin presented his case to the Black Bass Advisory Subcommittee. This issue also topped the BBAS concerns as more anglers have taken note of SAV destruction. Finding no real authority, he supported the move for MD DNR to obtain authority for these commercial activities, which would have to move through the General Assembly. Noteworthy, a waterman presented blue cat harvesting data showing only 2% were harvested via haul seining.
Capt. Martin is asking anglers to report to VMRC (VA) and MD DNR (MD) with any observed haul seining activity, photos, location, and day and time. Proposing 5 recommendations, Capt. Martin makes it clear he’s not opposed to commercial fishing. First, no haul seining in less than 5 feet at mean low water. No haul seining where SAVs are present. Before haul seining can be performed, responsible authorities would have to be informed of the area to be fished 24 hours in advance to verify SAV presence and depth. Maintain maximum net length to 1000 yards with only one-vessel operations. And he’s asking for herding to cease.
A lifelong resident, recreational and tournament angler and guide, Capt. Martin says he’s just doing his part to protect the fishery and feels haul seining does more damage than angling activities. Reiterating he’s not opposed to watermen making a living, he says haul seining needs to be reined in to end potentially destructive impacts on the environment and fishery.
Potomac River Bassing in April
Decent weather patterns and longer days have fish up shallow in grass and around grass, wood and docks.
Using a Lucky Craft LV RTO lipless crankbait on GAMMA 12 pound test Edge fluorocarbon line with a strong reel like a Quantum Smoke HD will help winch fish out of thicker grass. When water is a bit cooler into the 50-degree range, try a suspending Lucky Craft Pointer 78 in the clown pattern. Using Mustad short shank KVD triple grips on lipless cranks and Mann’s Baby 1-Minus is a good idea. They hold fish better when forcing them out of grass. Firetiger, red, and shad patterns are best depending on sunlight and water clarity.
Pitching Texas rigged Mizmo tubes on 3/0 Mustad Mega Bite hooks with 14 pound test Edge to docks, wood and grass clumps is a good idea. Also Carolina rigs with Mann’s HardNose Reel N Shads in white, watermelon and green pumpkin will work too. Use 3/0 Mega Bite hooks. Torque braid combo with 12-pound Edge leader is best. Soak all soft plastics in garlic Jack’s Juice Bait Spray.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.