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While most Mid-Atlantic anglers are just happy knowing black sea bass will reopen again for 71 straight days starting October 22, fisheries managers may have better news this week in the form of a partial winter fishery in 2018.

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  October 16, 2017
John Depersenaire with the Recreational Fishing Alliance shows off a keeper-size black sea bass that he released while fishing near A.C. Reef in October of 2016 with Capt. Adam Nowalsky before the start of the season.

Federal waters beyond 3 miles will reopen for black sea bass fishing on Sunday, October 22, offering Northeast and Mid-Atlantic anglers another shot at the humpbacks through to the end of 2017.

For most states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region that have been closed to recreational black sea bass harvest within 3 miles since September, this Sunday’s kickoff to 71 straight days of bottomfishing is welcome news for anglers.

In what may be a more welcoming development for coastal fishermen, a vote by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) last week could pave the way for another month-long shot at black sea bass again as of February 1. At their regularly scheduled meeting in Riverhead, NY last week, MAFMC voted 12 to 6 in favor of reopening part of the Wave 1 sea bass fishery in February of 2018 with the federal regulations set at 15 fish at 12-1/2 inches.

If approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) this week in Virginia, states would get the option of opening the February season to allow federally permitted vessels in the charter and for-hire sector to sail for black sea bass.

The ASFMC’s 76th annual meeting will take place Monday through Thursday, October 16-19 at the Waterside Marriott Hotel at 235 East Main Street in Norfolk, VA with consideration of the partial Wave 1 opening of the recreational black sea bass fishery happening at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

In a write-up at Fishing United regarding the October 10 hearing in favor of the February opening, Steve Cannizzo (aka, EC Newell Man) gave credit specifically to a handful of MAFMC representatives and members of the public who worked on pushing the measure.

“Thanks to two main people from the New Jersey and New York area, Adam N. (Nowalsky) from New Jersey who proposed this agenda item (and) thanks to Tony D. (DiLernia) from New York who has been working on Wave 1 and will continue to do so for 2019.” Cannizzo went on to give credit to Garden State Seafood Association (GSSA) Executive Director Greg DiDomenico, as well as party and charter boat operators who fought to support the measure including captains Paul Forsberg, Sr. and Carl Jr. from the Viking Fleet in Montauk, NY, Joe Tangel of King Cod charters in Center Moriches NY, Kenny Higgins of the Captree Pride and Captree Princess and Michael Ardolino of the Brooklyn VI.

“This now has to go to the ASMFC next week for final approval by the commission in order for the states to participate,” Capt. Tangel noted in a social media blast after the meeting. “In order to gain those 28 days in February, we will have to give up two or three days in June.”

“I'm pretty sure no one is going to suffer from not being allowed to fish for sea bass on June 29th and 30th,” Tangel added, saying “with good weather, many can benefit from an extra month of fishing. Not just the owners, operators, and crews, of vessels that participate, but also the fishing public, who have every right to the resource as you and I.”

While there had been some discussion earlier in the year about reopening a limited winter black sea bass fishery exclusively for the party and charter boat industry, the MAFMC vote and follow-up discussion by ASMFC this week would allow access for the entire recreational fishing sector, both private anglers and for-hire.

"I am glad to see the Mid-Atlantic Council, with support from GARFO (Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office), taking a step to provide access to one of the healthiest stocks under their management,” Capt. Nowalsky said following the meeting. A recreational fishing member of the MAFMC and legislative proxy to the ASFMC for New Jersey, Nowalsky added “I look forward to the ASMFC taking complementary action in Norfolk."

Black sea bass is a healthy, non-overfished fishery that is currently at 230% of its targeted threshold; that’s to say that when the fishery was going through the rebuilding process on its way to the actual target, anglers had much more liberal seasons and better access to the fishery. The fact that recreational fishing seasons often become stricter as a fishery gets healthier has helped promote more of the national debate by recreational fishing organizations for reforming the federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

In a September 12 hearing on Capitol Hill, Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) said fisheries like red snapper in the Southeast currently on a rebuilding program exemplifies one problem with fisheries management, but he stressed that fully rebuilt fisheries like black sea bass and summer flounder that have gone through the rigid rebuild process exemplify another major problem that MSA has in balancing resource conservation and economic considerations.

"Quite simply, while the system under the current provisions in the MSA has been successful in rebuilding some key fish stocks it has been a dismal failure at translating that success into socioeconomic benefits to fishermen and the recreational fishing industry. It is unnecessarily costing the nation thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost economic opportunity," Donofrio told members of Congress.

RFA and other organizations including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, The Billfish Foundation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the national Coastal Conservation Association are pushing hard to pass Modern Fish Act bills in the U.S. House and Senate.

Until Congress takes up legislative efforts to reform the federal fisheries law, it will be up to fishermen and appointees to the MAFMC and ASMFC to take action on a potential Wave 1 opening of the black sea bass fishery, even just on a one-month basis.

But regardless of what happens after December 31, 2017, the best news of all for coastal anglers in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland especially is that the black sea bass reopens this Sunday, October 22 for another 71 straight days with a 12-1/2-inch size limit and 15 fish bag.

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