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After a short fall seasonal closure, black sea bass season is once again open in Rhode Island and Federal waters.
By Toby Lapinski  |  October 23, 2017
Right out the gate the sea bass bite was on fire in Rhode Island with limits coming "with ease" for many.

As many New England area Fisherman readers are well aware, black sea bass season was closed in both Federal and Rhode Island waters back on September 22. This came about in State waters to mimic the closure in Federal waters to simplify local enforcement and reduce angler confusion. As much of the sea bass fishing off the Rhode Island coast in the fall takes place outside State waters, and then in order to return to port even if the fish are landed inside 3 miles off Block Island, one must pass through Federal waters and therefore sea bass possession would technically be illegal. On paper this kind of makes sense, but to close down the fishery right in the middle of some excellent fall fishing left many scratching their heads.

Fortunately this is all behind us now because the season reopened on October 22 with a 15-inch minimum length, 7-fish limit in Rhode Island waters, and a 12.5-inch minimum length, 15 fish bag limit in Federal waters. (It is worth reminding readers that despite the Federal limit being more relaxed, anglers must abide by the most restrictive limits of which they will pass through meaning if State regulations allow for a smaller bag and longer minimum length then this must be adhered to in order to remain within compliance.) The season remains open throughout the fall in both Connecticut and New York waters (it has been closed in Massachusetts since the end of August) as there is nowhere in which a boat must pass through Federal waters to fish additional State waters in NY or CT like there is in RI.

Looking forward, there was some interesting news that came out of last week’s Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) 76th Annual Meeting in Virginia which addressed 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. As proposed and initially approved, 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 for part of February. This still requires several steps before any sort of implementation including final signoff in December and State review, but it is a step in the right direction to open these fish up which are quite often caught as bycatch by boats sailing for winter cod off Block Island.

As always, we at The Fisherman will keep you updated on how this plays out in the coming months.

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