Fifth grader fights for the rights of striped bass at the State House
Posted 12/06/2013 12:00AM
When William Skelly completed his testimony at the State House before the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture recently, the committee chair asked him what his name was and where he lived. “Well,” William patiently replied, “I already told you that at the beginning of my speech.” His response elicited a roar of laughter in the room, a memory that Will delights in recalling.
How did the Fenn fifth grader end up speaking in favor of legislation to conserve striped bass populations? The most obvious answer is his outgoing personality and his natural curiosity and interest in just about everything. He often makes announcements in All School Meeting about the Lego club he oversees during recess with the confidence and aplomb of a much older student.
During a recent interview, Will nudged on and off his sneakers and could barely sit still, so excited was he to talk about his experience. It seems he and his dad, George, who are avid fly fishermen, had met Dean Clark, a co-chair of the group Stripers Forever, at a Concord Road and Gun Club open house event. Stripers Forever advocates for the conservation and responsible stewardship of wild striped bass along the Atlantic coast.
Will, not surprisingly, asked Clark questions, and when the latter asked if Will would like to attend a hearing before the Joint Committee and speak in favor of a bill to protect the fish by making licenses unavailable to people who have less than a certain catch, Will jumped at the opportunity. He wrote a speech and went “dressed in my Trebles attire because, you know, I was going to the State House.”
Years and years of commercial overfishing have resulted in an “explosive decline in striped bass population,” Will explained. “I love to fish…But due to the killing of too many striped bass, the population is in serious trouble. We need to make a plan for the future because my children and grandchildren need to be able to see these awesome creatures.”
Will was equipped with “sixty years of data and graphs” provided him by the conservation group, and among the points he made were that many of the striped bass that are caught by commercial fishermen are 34 inches and longer, and are breeding females, which results in a decrease in the population.
A member of Stripers Forever, Will keeps up with the news that the organization sends by email. He wrote about his State House experience in The Fenn Fraud, his class newsletter, even providing a QR code so that readers could learn more about the organization and about how a bill becomes law.
“My speech was the best of everybody there that day,” Will says so matter-of-factly that his interviewer doesn’t at all doubt it. “And,” he adds, “the other speakers were all, like, in their forties!”