Plans weighed to bolster striped bass population

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Fewer striped bass would be fished from local waters as soon as next year under a series of options being considered by federal fisheries regulators that seek to sustain a vital coastal species that has seen a 20 percent harvest decline since 2008.

Regulators in coming weeks will seek public comment on a long list of proposals to bolster the striped bass population, including reducing the commercial fishing harvest by up to 25 percent annually. Sport fishers could see a change in the size and number of fish taken, most likely to one striper a day, from a current two.

Several options propose allowing anglers to keep two fish, but of larger size, with higher limits phased in over time.

"We're trying to strike a balance," said Jim Gilmore, marine resources bureau chief of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which will conduct forums and enforce any new rules. "We don't want to put people out of business. It's a viable fishery."

The long list of options is proposed in a draft plan released Thursday by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages striped bass and other coastal fish.

"Even though the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring, the spawning stock biomass [the critical striped bass breeders] is approaching its overfished threshold" the report says. "In addition, a similar downtrend has been observed in total harvest with approximately a 19 percent decrease since 2008."

For Long Island's passionate community of surf-casters and partyboat anglers, the proposals include a reduction in the daily catch from a current two fish (including a so-called trophy fish of more than 41 inches for individual anglers) to one.

Regulators are also proposing a range of new size limits, including raising the current minimum of 28 inches to 30 inches or 32 inches. One proposal suggests instituting a "slot" size allowance of 28 to 34 inches. Another proposes eliminating taking the trophy fish altogether.

Many recreational anglers, Gilmore noted, already limit themselves to only one fish, and even self-impose higher-than required size limits.

All the proposals remain just that. Regulators are expected to complete the rules early next year. The striped bass season in New York of April 15 through Dec. 15 would remain the same.

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"There are a lot of options, which could be a problem," Gilmore said.

Public hearings are being held up and down the coast over the next month to determine which options are most acceptable. The New York meeting is to be held Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at Stony Brook University's Wang Center, room 201. "We're expecting a pretty good turnout," Gilmore said.

Jim Hutchinson, president of the New York Sport Fishing Federation, a recreational fishing group, met recently and agreed to support reducing the number of stripers that can be taken to one, while holding the current minimum of 28 inches, he said.

The federation supports the new limits beginning at the start of 2015. Some proposals call for a phase-in of the new rules over three years.

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