Tensions flared over one of the Atlantic coast's most prized sport fish last night in East Setauket as Long Island fisherman argued over a proposal to increase commercial fishermen's share of the striped bass harvest.

Around two dozen showed up at a hearing to share their views with representatives from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages coastal fisheries in the region and will decide on the matter in coming months.

Prized by recreational anglers, striped bass also fetches a healthy price for commercial fishermen who catch the big predators in coastal waters off the South Shore and East End. Sport anglers, tackle shop owners and others opposed to the plan showed up for the hearing along with commercial fishermen, who complained their catch limits have not increased even as striped bass stocks have rebounded.

"In the interests of fair management, it's time to increase the commercial quota," said Arnold Leo, fisheries consultant for the town of East Hampton.

Recreational fishermen fear opening up the commercial fishery could jeopardize gains made over the past two decades, as conservation measures brought stripers back from the brink of collapse due to overfishing.

Over the past six years, Atlantic recreational fishermen caught on average more than three times as much striped bass as commercial fishermen, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The agency issued 476 commercial striped bass permits this year.

Those commercial captains face increasingly tough limits on the number of popular eating fish they catch and have been lobbying regulators to increase their striped bass harvest.

Among opponents' concerns: a recent decline in the overall number of fish caught and a disease among striped bass in Chesapeake Bay that anglers fear could lead to future population declines.

"The recreational catch has declined 65 percent between 2009 and 2006," said Charles Witek of the angler group Coastal Conservation Association of New York. "We should not be increasing mortality for any reason."

James Gilmore of DEC's Bureau of Marine Resources says the population is now so abundant that hungry stripers may be contributing to declines in other fish like winter flounder.

After hitting a low of 8.8 million fish in 1982, the Atlantic striped bass population is now estimated at 52.8 million, according to the commission.

Summing up his objections, recreational angler Albert Albano, 33, of Sayville said: "I don't like to see the fishery toyed with in a way that could harm it in the future."

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