Tom Schlichter writes the Outdoors column for Newsday.
On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced an emergency closure of the black sea bass season in federal waters (three miles or more offshore). As of Nov. 1, the taking of these popular and tasty treats will be prohibited for the rest of the year.
The season for sea bass began on June 15 and was scheduled to continue through Dec 31. The reason for the closure is that recreational anglers have already far outpaced their allotted take for the year, possibly by more than 90 percent.
"This is very frustrating," said Captain Steve Kearney of the Point Lookout open boat Super Hawk, "because it pin-points what is wrong with the regulations as they currently stand. They are so rigid they can't even take successful restoration of stocks into account. The system doesn't work."
Regulation of sea bass has allowed this species to rebound fully in recent years and they are no longer listed as overfished by NOAA. Because there are more fish in the population, angler catch rates have improved to the point they are easily topping the allotment with seemingly no stress to the fishery. The quota needs to be adjusted.
It's the same argument many have made about fluke and porgy regulations. These species have both had significant rebounds, but as anglers catch more and bigger fish because they are so readily available, predetermined recreational catch quotas are easily surpassed. It's a Catch-22 ruling that actually punishes recreational anglers in the future for having played by the rules today because overages must be deducted from the following year's quota.
"NOAA had no choice but to shut down the recreational fishery for black sea bass," said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a communications officer with NOAA. "The annual catch limit has been surpassed. True, sea bass stocks have been fully rebuilt and anglers are doing well, but we still have to stay within the established quota because the goal is to prevent the stock from being overfished. The Magnusson-Stevens Act requires us to have maximum limits on certain species, and to curtail targeting specific stocks once their limit is reached."
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials met Thursday with the Atlantic States Fisheries Management Commission (ASFMC) to determine the fate of the black sea bass season in state waters (inside of three miles). The most likely scenario is that these also will be closed for sea bass to prevent additional landings and, thus, greater overage penalties down the line.Sandy could help fishing
If you are wondering about how the potential weather bomb presented by Hurricane Sandy combining with low pressure from the Midwest might affect the fishing during the next week, Captain James Schneider of the Huntington open boat James Joseph II offered some encouraging thoughts.
"Fishing is good currently for striped bass, blues and blackfish, but it might end up even better following this storm because our waters are still relatively warm and the season is far from over. From purely a fishing standpoint, big storms sometimes refresh the fishing scene. After 'The Perfect Storm' back in 1991, we experienced the best blackfishing ever on our boat. Once the winds turned around and the seas settled down, we had several consecutive days of unbelievable action with really big fish."