Seals put at risk perfect retreat for anglers
One of the problems with writing a column several days in advance is that it can make a fool out of you. Maybe October feels more like October now, but it surely didn’t feel that way last week as yours truly cheered the arrival of cool, dry air, when in actuality it was almost 90 degrees with stifling humidity. What a joke — on me!
On a different matter entirely, I’ve made the observation before that Nantucket Island off the coast of Cape Cod is the perfect retreat for fishermen suffering from AAIS (Acquired Angling Inadequacy Syndrome), the now scientifically defined and eminently recognizable condition characterized by a well-kept boat, the proper equipment, plenty of effort, embellished story-telling — but no fish.
Those “Nantucket Blues” (or bluefish), as T-shirts and bumper stickers proudly advertise, are seasonal inhabitants of waters surrounding the island and, although not promoted as such, offer a remarkable panacea to frustrated anglers who could no more catch a fish than a rainbow. All one needs to reel in a Nantucket bluefish is a line and, well, a tin can, an old shoe, even a dangling big toe. If the fish are schooling and looking for a meal, they’ll take anything. And at the end of the day, anyone can feel like an angling superstar.
The truth is that the bluefish are a fun catch for all. They are fast, strong, feisty, like to jump and, although generally frowned upon in culinary circles, can make a fine meal either smoked or if served fresh.
They are an invaluable experience for those needing the satisfaction of actually landing a fish because they are so easy to catch and Nantucket, being ideally situated for them, has probably become AAIS Rehab Central based on the local success of that one species. And the economy reflects it. Fishing is significant business up there.
But the industry has now come under threat from visitors, some wanted and perhaps some not so wanted, and fishermen in need of the most desperate ego gratification are facing competition and might start looking for therapy elsewhere. Great Point, the remote northernmost tip of the island and site of a fantastic rip ideal for fishing, has become a preferred nesting ground for protected piping plovers and least terns. Both are considered threatened in Massachusetts. The point was essentially closed to overland vehicles (the primary mode of access) this past summer from early June until the end of August, pretty much the gamut of the tourist season.
There are plenty of other places to fish from shore on Nantucket, but Great Point is a favorite for a multitude of reasons, including the adventure of getting out there and the sheer beauty of the place. Yet most people enjoy the birds and don’t really object to the restrictions, and further understand that they were permitted to trudge the mile or so through the sand to get to the point if that’s what they wanted to do.
But even then, the very tip remained closed due to a recent population explosion of gray seals, which have taken over the area. According to federal regulations, no one can get within 150 feet of them lest they be disturbed or somehow negatively impacted. Even though (as recently reported in Nantucket’s Inquirer and Mirror) from the nearby island of Muskeget to Great Point, to all around the Cape and Islands region, there has been a tremendous resurgence of gray seals, which threatens not only surf fishing but charter and private watercraft fishing as well. The wily mammals have grown accustomed to waiting for fish to be hooked and then snatching them away from unsuspecting anglers.
The once-threatened species, under protection of federal regulations since 1972, has been replenished by the thousands. This is a cause for celebration among environmentalists and scientists, but the creatures have gotten so numerous that they are now considered a nuisance by anglers and those who fear economic repercussions within the tourism industry. And BTW, the seals have brought with them their own personal escorts (i.e. predators), great white sharks, that have been spotted and tagged repeatedly off Cape Cod this year and blamed for an attack on a swimmer in Truro.
A group of individuals on Nantucket has formed the Seal Abatement Coalition and hired a lobbyist for the purpose of amending the Marine Mammal Protection Act so that the mammals can at least be dispersed through the use of nonlethal mechanisms.
Nantucket actually faces an environmental conundrum on two fronts: The seals and the much greater problem of managing the island’s deer herd, which serves as a crucial vector for the ticks that transmit Lyme disease and babesiosis, both of which are endemic and problematic. Incredibly, there are those on the island who oppose culling the herd to a healthy number. And there will probably be some who oppose tinkering with the seals in any way.
And meanwhile, Nantucket’s reputation as one of the country’s great healing destinations for anglers is potentially at risk.
Memories of Germany
Here’s an interesting note from Irmgard Titus, who read the column concerning Martha Dodd as described in Erik Larson’s latest book, “In the Garden of Beasts”:
“I have to let you know how much I enjoyed your article. I read the book just recently and it brought back so many memories from my early childhood in Germany.
“I lived with my wonderful family in Fuerth/Nueremberg, Germany. We came to this country in 1939 on the very last ship out of Rotterdam, Holland. We lived in Utrecht, Holland, for six months while waiting for passage with the Holland-America line, the only line available at the time. It was by pure luck and the power of prayer to get on the last ship and sail through the mine fields of the English Channel. ... I am 90 years old and have lived in Mount Pleasant for 45 years.”
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.