Exotics among us

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 7:45am
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To start this week’s fishing report, the pelagics — being the false albacore and bonito — are still running through the pond and at the Coast Guard Station. The striper bite from the shore still remains light, but fish are still being caught from the east beaches and southeast corner. The heavy east wind has sidelined many of the boats from leaving the harbor, but last reports were of bass out near the southwest ledge and Matt of Hula Charters getting some at the Boulders.

A major enforcement operation landed 11 fishermen in hot water with state and federal agencies for fishing beyond the three-mile limit outside state waters (on the southwest ledge) for striped bass — they were essentially poaching. Remember, if you’re fishing for striped bass, you need to be in state waters (three miles around the Island). Sea bass fishing has been tremendous with three, four and five pounders being the normal catch. Hank landed keeper sea bass and fluke at the No. 13 buoy in the Great Salt Pond while kayaking, but most of the sea bass-ing has been done past the Hooter Buoy or on the Finger. 

While talking fishing with Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy, he mentioned catching a juvenile surgeonfish and bonefish while survey seining in New Harbor. A bonefish, as in the kind you find in Florida, the Bahamas, or basically anyplace warm and tropical. He went on to tell me that, three years ago, some juvenile-permit fish were caught in Old Harbor, and last week he hooked a juvenile amberjack. All these species are warm water fish. What…?

Now Chris did explain these juvenile fish are making their way to the harbors as eggs and larvae on the Gulf Stream currents that are pushing north. The harbors of Block Island serve as an enormous nursery for every species found in New England, and apparently for some found further south. The Gulf Stream may be 75 miles south of the island, but eddy currents often push tropical species close to the Island. This year, we noticed man-o-war jellyfish and lion's mane jellyfish on the south side — and with it, Mola Mola and turtles. Barrel fish, lion fish, and mahi mahi are a few other odd sightings in and around New Harbor. Warm water will bring in warm water fish.

As for rod-and-reeling odd catches, Rhode Island anglers caught three cobia in 2014. The largest was caught off Newport and weighed in at 36 pounds. In 2011, a 49-pound red drum (redfish) was caught in the Charlestown Breachway and a 35-pounder in the Cape Cod Canal. Another 45-inch red drum was caught and released this year off Yarmouth, Mass. These fish are warm water dwellers and are rarely seen north of the Delaware. On the commercial level, fish trappers in Rhode Island have frequently caught warm water fish like red drum, cobia, and tarpon, a phenomenon that is becoming more frequent each year. In 2013, while fishing off of Mansion Beach, Capt. Chris had a customer catch a bar jack (similar to a Jack Crevalle) on a fly rod, something we’ve never heard of being caught in Rhode Island. This year, a spearfisherman shot and brought one by Block Island Fishworks for identification, saying he saw a school of 300 or so off Mansion Beach.  

Global warming, climate change, rising sea levels, melting polar ice caps and fierce weather patterns — these interrelated topics often dominate the headlines and political debates during the election cycle. Regardless of your political affiliation, religion, or scientific knowledge, if you fish it’s hard not to notice a shift in the dynamics and biology of the fishing seasons. Active anglers notice seasons starting later and ending later, water temperatures rising, and the number of ‘exotic’ species increasing from year-to-year. These fish are exotic only in terms of never being the normal species for New England, but if this trend continues, they may very well be a normal catch of the day.

Catch 'em up!