How I Sea: Johnny Mifsud

Source: The TerraMar Project - April 11, 2017 in TMP

How I Sea: Johnny Mifsud
Photo: Ellmax

Johnny is a 20 year old recreational fisher from Long Island, NY. He spends his spare time fishing from shore as a surf-caster, and is currently a college student in the area. Johnny has spent his whole life surrounded by the culture of surf-cast fishing passed down generation to generation in his family, and enjoys nothing more than finding peace in the outdoors.

How long have you been fishing on Long Island for? And what kind of fishing do you mostly do?

I’ve been fishing on Long Island since I was born. I mostly surf-cast and majority of the time I’m fishing for striped bass or bluefish. I’ve fished from boats but surfcasting is what I live for. I mostly use plugs (a type of fishing lure) now although I’ve had a lot of success using bait. It’s definitely more of an accomplishment for me now to get a nice catch on a lure.

What made you want to start fishing? And do you still have the same motivations for fishing today as when you started?

My father, uncles, and cousins all were big time fishermen. So I was raised from the start to be out on the water. I’ve just always had a passion for it because my dad would bring me along with him when I was young. My family may have introduced me to the sport, but as I grew older I learned to appreciate fishing for my own reasons. I’m sure I would have found my way to the sea even if my family didn’t spark my interest so early. For some people, the ocean has a call that you just have to answer.

Young Johnny with a Striped Bass. Photo: Ellmax

How have you seen the fishing on Long Island change (if at all) year to year? Is there more of certain species and less of others, or has it been consistent? Are fish getting smaller or larger?

Overall, the amount of fish seems to be on a decline, especially the striped bass population. I remember going when I was 6 years old, 7 years old, 8 years old and there would be an abundance of ‘cow’- sized striped bass. Now these are a rarity.

The weakfish population is terrible now too. There used to be so many of them them swimming around. I used to get a bite after just a few minutes of leaving my line in the water but now I am lucky if i get a bite after an hour. From what I understand, populations do cycle and maybe we are just at a low point in the cycle. But i am concerned that there are other factors at play that are serious and are the harbinger of even worse news about fish populations and the ocean in general to come.

The last good season I had was in 2013. The fall run of striped bass in Montauk that year was phenomenal.

Montauk, NY. Photo: Ellmax

What do you think is the biggest threat to Long Island’s waters? And why?

The biggest threat to Long Island’s oceans are people who don’t seem to respect nature, or have a good understanding of the ocean and its rhythms. Fishing isn’t about killing the fish. It’s about the whole experience of being outdoors and  being at one with nature, I support catch and release not catch and kill.

Another threat is pollution. I can’t name one beach I’ve been to where I haven’t found mountains of garbage and plastic.

And then there’s over-fishing. In my opinion, the commercial industry is over-fishing the striped bass and other important local species which prevents their populations from recovering. When people catch a ‘cow’ sized fish, they’ll keep them. The Cow sized fish are the females which should be left in the wild to breed. Any fish over 23 pounds is usually a female. The big ones don’t even taste that good compared to the smaller fish. Perhaps if more people understood this, then they would care more about releasing fish than keeping every single one they catch. Private charters and commercial boats really are the ones hurting the population.

I feel what needs to be done is there needs to be a slot limit size on the fish. So say you can only keep a fish between 28 inches and 36 inches. This would allow the ‘cow’-sized fish to reproduce as many times as possible and contribute to a growing population. There should also be more boats patrolling the waters enforcing the few rules that do exist and stop people from over-fishing and taking more catch that they are allowed.

Are fishing regulations enforced on Long Island in your opinion? And if not how regularly do you think people catch fish over their limits?

No. They definitely aren’t enforced that much and I’ve never ran into a DEC officer or fish and wildlife officer while out on the beach. I’ve seen people keep small fish all the time and it upsets me because these are the guys who shouldn’t be allowed to fish since they have zero respect for the rules (if they even know there are rules on fish catches and sizes). 

What do you think could be done (if anything) to better manage recreational fishing on Long Island?

I think that there should definitely be more enforcement officers out on the beaches and on the water. I would really like to see those guys put some pressure on disrespectful fishermen to show them that nobody is above the law.

And as I said earlier, I really think that enforcing a slot-limit on striped bass would help the population in so many ways. But a limit like this won’t make a difference if it can’t be enforced.

What’s one everyday thing that you think recreational fishers could do better to conserve the marine environment?

Spread their knowledge to one another and younger generations of good fishing practices. I’m a true advocate of CPR (catch, picture, release). People need to conserve our resources and have compassion towards nature, and I really don’t think that’s a tough thing to do.

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