New federal rules handed down Thursday will allow recreational fishermen to reel in black sea bass until the end of this year.
The season will now stay open through December, with a three-week closure from Oct. 11 to Nov. 1 to limit overfishing. That's a larger window than what federal officials first proposed, a change applauded by local fishermen and boat captains who said a restricted season could put them out of business.
"By closing everything down, there'd be nothing to fish for," said Dennis Kanyuk, a Point Lookout party boat captain and president of the industry group United Boatmen of New York. "It's a significant benefit to recreational fishermen."
In deciding when to open and close bass fishing season, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration look at how much sea bass was caught the year before.
By the end of last August, tallies of the total haul of sea bass put recreational fishermen on pace to almost triple the year's limit, according to an April proposal in the Federal Register.
To prevent overfishing, federal officials closed black sea bass fishing for the year in October. In January, state officials limited the 2010 season to just two months.
Federal agencies eventually relaxed those restrictions after new estimates showed last year's haul was not as large as originally thought, an agency spokeswoman said. Fishermen have called the tallies, which include dockside surveys and questionnaires sent to fishermen, inefficient and outdated.
In February, local fishermen joined anglers from across the East and Gulf coasts for a march in Washington to protest fishery management policies.
Local politicians have also weighed in, calling for less restrictive limits on fishermen. "The bottom line is that we need better science and more precise data to guide the decisions that govern when our fishing community can fish," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Schumer has introduced legislation that would allow economic hardship to be included in a list of conditions considered when determining fishing limits. Kanyuk said reliance on the tallies ends up hurting fishermen, many of them "mom-and-pop" operations. "It's just a bad thing," Kanyuk said. "It's just a terrible management of fishing resources, and it affects people's lives."