The marine division of the New York Department of Conservation and the Marine Resources Advisory Council have been discussing and reviewing the possibility of reinstituting a spring blackfish season. Currently, blackfish can only be taken during a fall season that runs from October 5 to December 14. An additional target species in the spring would provide some relief for anglers and for-hire captains (party and charter boats) who have been dealing with limited fishing opportunities during the early part of the season for a long time.
There was a time when the New York/Long Island fishing season officially began on St. Patrick’s Day until a steep decline in winter flounder stocks forced much shorter seasons and strict bag limits. Flounder season now runs from April 1 to May 30 with a two fish bag limit and a 12-inch size limit. The reality is that few anglers even bother to target flounder in most parts of the region because of the bag limit and mostly because the fishing has been so poor. Before there was a season on tog, they were another prime spring target, especially in Long Island Sound and on the East End.
The loss of these traditional spring fisheries has been devastating to tackle shops that relied on spring bait sales to carry them through a large part of the year. Some tackle shops that used to sell 15 or 20 flats of blood worms on a weekend now don’t even bother to carry them. Those who do might stock just one flat, and there is no need to carry crabs with no tog season in place. April for most anglers and the recreational fishing industry has become a nothing month, further reducing the length of the fishing season here in New York. Some saltwater anglers have shifted their sights to trout during March and April, or until the first stripers show in our waters. School size stripers are an option once April kicks in but not everyone is interested in chasing stripers and these small fish are not well suited to charter or party boats.
Even May offers little reprieve with fluke off limits for a big chunk of the month and sea bass out of the picture until late June. The one saving grace for bottom fishermen is the opening of porgy season on May 1. And then there is the always unpredictable weakfish. They might make a showing one spring and then not show up the next two years. Unfortunately, due to all of the above, once striped bass settle into our waters, they become the primary target for many anglers and the for-hire industry who have few options when it comes to target species. Eventually, all the additional effort it is bound to take a toll on the striped bass fishery.
So, given all of the above, a spring blackfish season would seem to be a welcome addition in our region. To institute it would require taking a day or days from the fall season which is not as bad as one might think. Consider that a rough estimation by DEC concluded that one day from the October season is worth 20 days in April. Seems like a no-brainer. There are those, especially from the East End, who would like to see the season extend into May. One of the concerns for May is that it is prime spawning time for tautog. If any part of May is a consideration, perhaps a slot limit or upper end size limit to protect the large breeders could be implemented. Back when spring fishing was permitted, it was common practice by many North Shore anglers to release the big females.
If you would like to express your views on the creation of a spring blackfish season, direct your comments to: MRAC chairman Michael Frisk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 631-632-8656. You can also contact DEC’s marine resources director Jim Gilmore at email@example.com or 631-444-0430.