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NY RECREATIONAL COMMUNITY DIVIDED ON SEA BASS

Not everyone is satisfied with the new management plan for black sea bass handed down by ASMFC.

By Fred Golofaro  |  May 14, 2018
NY RECREATIONAL COMMUNITY DIVIDED ON SEA BASS
Revised sea bass regulations for New York anglers provide a slight easing of bag limits, but they are not sitting well with everyone in the recreational community.

At a meeting back on May 3rd, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board revised the Northern Region (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York) Recreational Management Measures for black sea bass. Upon the direction of the Commission’s Interstate Fisheries Management Program (ISFMP) Policy Board, the Board approved revised 2018 recreational measures for the Northern Region states, including New York. The Board also initiated new management action for the 2019 black sea bass recreational fishery and tasked the Plan Development Team to develop a white paper to consider the impacts of changes in black sea bass abundance and distribution based on the management of commercial and recreational fisheries.

The action was taken in response to an appeal of the approved 2018 recreational measures under Addendum XXX by the Northern Region states. The appeal argued the Board’s action under Addendum XXX incorrectly applied technical data and was inconsistent with the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan. After reviewing the appeal, Commission leadership agreed there was adequate justification to bring portions of the appeal forward to the ISFMP Policy Board. During the ISFMP Policy Board’s deliberations regarding consideration of the appeal, a potential management program for the 2018 black sea bass recreational fishery was presented to replace the allocations specified in Addendum XXX. The revised management program was developed to meet the needs of the Northern Region without impacting the remaining states, while still constraining harvest to the 2018 recreational harvest limit of 3.66 million pounds.

The revised management program would result in a 15-inch size limit with a three fish bag limit from June 23 to August 31, and seven fish from September 1 through December 31. Under the previous management plan, Option 5, which was closest to the revised option, would have provided a season of June 22 to August 31 at two fish, and six fish from September 1 to December 31. This and other options were based on a 12-percent quota reduction which is what fueled the appeal by the Northern Region states. The new plan provides a slight easing of the regulations, but the recreational community in New York is divided over whether the change is enough. While no one can quite comprehend why access to the fishery is so restricted given their obvious abundance, there is fear that the alternative of going out of compliance could have significant implications on regulations going forward.

The discontent with the regulations stems from a sea bass fishery that has exceeded its rebuilding target by almost 2-1/2 times, and the plan also provides neighboring New Jersey with far more favorable regulations that for-hire captains claim give Jersey captains an unfair advantage. Under the new plan, New Jersey regulations would be 10 fish at 12.5 inches from May 15 to June 22; two fish at 12.5 inches from July 1 to August 31; ten fish at 12.5 inches from October 8 to October 31; and 15 fish at 13 inches from November 1 to December 31. New Jersey is considered a region within itself. A recent letter to NYDEC Director of Marine Resources Jim Gilmore from the Captree Boatman’s Association expressed the for-hire industry’s frustration with black sea bass management.

Dear Mr. Gilmore,

The Captree Boatman’s association is extremely disappointed with the newly imposed sea bass regulations. All are in agreement that the sea bass stocks are as healthy as they ever have been. Year after year for the past decade we have heard that our regulations will get better yet, they have only gotten stricter and stricter. It seems that the management agencies have created a “Sea Bass crisis” when no such crisis exists.

A June 23rd opening is not a necessary imposition due to the healthy sea bass stocks and only serves as a detriment to the livelihoods of the many small businesses affected by the later opening. In the past, our ability to target sea bass in early June, a traditionally very slow time of the year for our small businesses, allowed boats in our fleet to see a much-needed stimulus. Instead of the entire fleet targeting only one species (fluke), operators were given the opportunity to broaden the options for anglers to sea bass or fluke - encouraging more customers to put their hard-earned money back into our local Long Island economy instead of in New Jersey. From now, until the end of the school year, all boat owners will be fighting for an even smaller pool of customers while many instead choose to drive to New Jersey to fish for sea bass.

In addition to the detrimental late spring opening, 15 inches is an impractical size restriction. Traditionally the only time there were any number of 15 inch plus sea bass was from late May through June. After that, most of the largest sea bass have moved north and east effectively shutting us out of this fishery as a whole.

In July and August 95% of the sea bass that our fleet catches are under the 15 inch size limit. This causes us to throw back thousands of fish just to try to put a few in the buckets. On top of this, many regular customers have voiced their displeasure with only being able to keep three sea bass per man. As you know sea bass are bottom fish that people like to eat, not gamefish like bluefish or striped bass.

In the fall, when many boats travel 30 to 60 miles offshore to catch sea bass and the fares are $90-$150 per trip, seven fish per man will do nothing but destroy our small businesses and send anglers and tourists alike to spend their money in other states where regulations are not so needlessly strict.

In summary, between losing our once productive spring season, the impracticality of the 15 inch size limit, and the three fish per man limit in the summer, our fall fishery now also severely suffers. We have seen a shift in sea bass with the robust fishery available in late May and all of June and it makes no sense to the ecosystem to have Captree’s large fleet targeting strictly fluke.

We would appreciate that these impractical regulations be reconsidered for seasonality given the current state of the fishery.

Sincerely,

Captree Boatman’s Association

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