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Is Cape Cod Dying?
by Frank Daignault
People are walking away from Cape Cod
and if something isn't done, it will just keep happening.

nyone who has watched Cape Cod and its surfcasting for the last few years knows that changes there are on the verge of ruining the Outer Cape as a viable surfcasting location. The reasons for this are many, and we'll talk about them, as I have before. I can say it that way because what is wrong with fishing there today was wrong 30 years ago. Only now intensification of the problems and bad official management has exacerbated the situation enough to permanently kill things. One reason for this is that people can take only so much before they either revolt or walk away. And they are walking away.

Poor Striper Fishing
Fishing on the outer beaches Nauset Beach and Provincetown has always been quite variable. I know that this area's storied reputation has made it a dreamland for surfmen. In a way, I suppose, I'm partially responsible for that having written a book specifically about the Cape and having mentioned it in five others here and there. But what I have never forgotten is that Cape fishing is not always dreamy, just like every other striper hot spot. Many seasons the stripers bypass these areas entirely. I remember many years when a band of regulars could go weeks without a decent bass. Writers just don't address those things, but they still happen. And of course the memorable seasons when dozens of us beached a fifty were understandably what got the ink. I have seen it all. Recent years, largely since the moratorium, striper fishing has been poor when the rest of the striper coast had it good. This point has to be made because good fishing, had there been enough of it, could have gone a long way toward preventing what has inexorably spun out of control the Cape's decline from what was once the go-to destination of surfmen.


Compromise and Closures

Nearly 40 years ago, when the National Park Service was moving into position to take over the Provincelands and the rest of the lower Cape, traditional users expressed concern over losing beach access for fishing. The park service's position was to promise that they had no interest in disturbing the cultural character of traditional use; that they sought to retain the local color. When the NPS came in, here is how they preserved the culture and character of traditional use: They first changed the names of our seasonal homes to "Self-Contained Areas" which detracted in part from the aesthetics of the beach by packing everybody in to multiple rows. Then, after imposing fees for the use of these areas, they started closing them down and herding families camping on the beach to fish to more overcrowded and confined situations. A child could see that they sought to make life there less attractive, probably the only thing in over 40 years that they ever did right because it has definitely become less attractive. Double lines of beach buggies where only the front row saw the surf, day counting, permits, speed limits, permit checks, picky rangers complaining about lawn chairs all intended to ratchet up the level of discomfort,

Spoon-fed in small doses, the Cape fishermen watched more of their freedoms deprived from them without a modicum of objection. Had the imposition of such impossible regulation been brought to bear at one time there would have been riotous resistance. However, the government men are too smart for that. They knew and you can't help but wonder if they learned it from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to first close down Wood End and Long Point; then close the Back Beach, one loss at a time -- so much for maintaining the local culture when management's agenda was to make it less attractive all along. Remember that this was 40 years ago.

Save the Birds
Little has changed in the passage of a generation. People still camp on Route 6, days and nights, every April to get their seasonal permits. Only now they close off the entire beach after they get your beach fee because they are committed to management of the birds the same way they were back when they first arrived. Only now they have more experience in knowing what they can get away with. Last season a friend of mine paid over a thousand dollars for a cottage so that he would have a base of operations for his surfcasting. The cottage was there but the beach was closed. The Park Service closed it because they wanted to protect some shore birds. The bird keeps changing from tern to plover and there is even implied nobility in wildlife protection but you have to ask yourself if reasons are not in fact a red herring when foxes and coyotes roam the beaches nightly dining on shorebird eggs. I suppose it could be suggested that these predators could be shot, but when that was suggested in 1975 the chief Ranger said that an environmental impact statement was needed. It just gets worse.

Police State Tactics
These are small towns with woefully under trained police officials. I recall being stopped one night for going ten over and had five cruisers from Truro and P-town surrounding us in a roadside rest. Guns drawn, stay in the car, don't move. Two schoolteachers going home from fishing with a thousand dollars in tackle on the buggy roof should have said something of their intent.

On Nauset beach there used to be a beach patrol that stopped only the buggies from out-of-state to admonish them about speeding on the beach. The official loved to hassle those orange New York plates while the Massachusetts guys could do no wrong. Why do I make this point? That same officer is now a high-ranking senior management police officer in one of the same towns. What equal protection do you think you might enjoy from the Alabama School of Law Enforcement? The closure of Nauset Inlet to non-residents enforced through use of the notorious R-sticker for residents both defines local sentiment while emphasizing police non-commitment to equal protection.

How about getting towed? Why do you think the rangers patrol the parking lots of the beaches where buggies no longer have access with such vitality? No one is going to prove that towing is done with such verve because of fee splitting. I had a police officer once tell me that fee splitting was a noble custom because it got the job done. All of these elements reduce the quality of life for people who want to go fishing from the beach.

Gulls and Seals
Sea gulls will eat anything that is not large enough to eat them. Thousands of them leave the dumps and parking lots each day to rook along the beaches. Does anyone think they don't eat shore bird eggs? Gulls are so out of balance with the environment that it is no small wonder so many lesser-sized shore birds are endangered or threatened. Are we supposed to be surprised by this?

Thousands of seals in summer, a season when normally they would all have migrated north, popping their big black heads up out of the surf while you retrieve your Rebel should keep you on your toes. Wait until one weighing several hundred pounds comes up in front of you on one of the beaches in the deep night. I have no clue how much the seals figure in on the loss of stripers, but all agree that it does not do the fishing any good, even if it is a natural occurrence. [Editor's Note: As of 2011 estimates the grey seal population on Cape Cod is at 300,000]

As with any situation, the effect of negative experiences is cumulative. Closed beaches, fees, rules, check on/check off, straight people given crooked treatment, combine with all the other things the Cape is powerless to do anything about as with the resource shortages, limited lodging, even a rainy day packing the roads. It is enough to make you miss Montauk.

Solutions?
NPS's commitment to the protection of shore birds needs to get on track with meaningful solutions. Rangers should seek resolutions to shorebird predation that address the true influences upon nesting assuming of course that they are sincere in their efforts and not satisfying their buddies from the wine and cheese parties who have opposed oversand vehicles from the get-go. Excessive closures that lack any justification as with Wood End/Long Point and variable closures south of Highland Light lack sense in the deep night when the serious surf fishing is going on. Bad police work would be easy to handle from the command level.

I walked away a long time ago and have found more comfort, privacy, and good fishing that are free from police fear fishing out of a two-wheel drive in the easy places. Still, in the interim, direct result of something that could be done about, an entire sport fishing industry is on the ropes. That is not the Cape Cod that I once knew, nor one that anyone wants.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved

Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf. Autographed books can be purchased directly from Frank; Order Form »

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