Scup & Sea Bass Cuts On Tap Across New England - The Fisherman

Scup & Sea Bass Cuts On Tap Across New England

After a trifecta of public hearings in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, it’s pretty clear that we’re going to be seeing some significant cuts, especially in sea bass. The hard pill to swallow is that both scup and sea bass stocks are burgeoning, with numbers more than double the target level set by ASMFC. So how did we get here?

Fisheries management is an inexact science to say the least. The ASMFC collects the data through surveys conducted at docks all over the East Coast; if you’ve ever had someone carrying a clipboard ask you what you caught when returning to the dock, then you’ve participated in an ASMFC survey. They also collect data through catch reports from commercial fishermen and for-hire vessels. They extrapolate these data out across the entire coverage area to estimate the coastwide catch for the species in question and then match that up against their stock assessments to gauge angler impact on the fishery.

Once they have crunched their numbers they set a catch quota and size and creel limits that are mathematically designed, using metrics that guestimate angler effort, to get close to that quota. When these regulations miss their mark, ASMFC has set rules for themselves that dictate that they have to take corrective action. This translates to stricter limits in an effort to curb or correct the overage. In 2022, in spite of blossoming populations, all three southern New England states blew past the stop sign for both species and corrective action has to be taken.

For scup the sting is fairly minimal: in 2022 we had a minimum size of 10 inches and a 30-fish bag limit (for hire vessels saw bumps up to 50 fish bags at various times during the season). In 2023 it appears that we’ll see an increase in the size limit for boat anglers to 10.5 inches, but shore anglers will see a decrease to 9.5 inches. The bag limits will remain the same with for-hire vessels seeing a bump to 40 fish at certain times during the season.

The proposed sea bass regulations are far more complicated with so many nuances between states that it would be hard to detail everything here and have it make sense. There are options for going up from 16 inches to 16.5 inches and 16 inches is already a pretty big sea bass! There are options for periodic closures of the fishery, there are bag limits that range from two to five fish per angler, shortened seasons and split seasons. The bottom line is that we are going to lose ground somehow, somewhere.

None of these regulations has been voted into law yet, that should all sift itself out this month and we’ll hope to have definitive word on all that for you in the May issue. For now, let’s all pray that ASMFC had fresh batteries in their calculators before proposing these regs because if we step over the line again this year, it’s hard to imagine what the regs might look like next year!