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Fishing advisory council recommends new size ranges for striped bass

Surfcasters fish for striped bass under the Montauk

Surfcasters fish for striped bass under the Montauk Lighthouse in Montauk, Oct. 9, 2014. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A New York fishing advisory council is recommending complex new size ranges for striped bass in an attempt to reduce the 2015 harvest and help preserve vital breeding fish.

The proposal, approved Tuesday, limits keeper striped bass to two fish: one at between 28 and 34 inches, and a second "trophy" fish of 36, 38 or 40 inches, depending on which hits the target of cutting this year's harvest by 28 percent.

The recommendation needs state and federal approval.

Current rules let for-hire fishing recreational boats keep two fish more than 28 inches. Private anglers can keep one longer than 28 inches and a separate trophy fish more than 40 inches.

Commercial fishing boats face a 25 percent reduction in their striped bass catch.

Discussion of the new plan Tuesday at the state Department of Environmental Conservation's East Setauket office was heated at times, with some saying the rules would do little to help a breeding class of stripers that has seen sharp declines in recent years.

"I don't understand how this is a reduction," Willie Young, president of the New York Coalition for Recreational Fishing, said at the packed meeting. "This is more fish than we're getting now."

But a large and vocal contingent of party- and charter-boat interests pushed to keep the two-fish-per-angler bag limit, saying loss of the provision would lead customers to travel to less restrictive states to fish.

"We've been losing to neighboring states for years," said council member Tom Jordan.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, at a meeting last year, approved a measure to limit the coastwide striped bass harvest this year with a one-fish-at- 28-inches limit.

But the commission also approved a loophole to let individual states find "equivalent" measures to reach desired harvest reductions. That carve-out allowed for the range of slot sizes and trophy options that many other states are considering, leaving New York few options but to follow suit.

Jim Gilmore, head of the DEC's marine bureau, said the small difference between the two sets of size limits will make policing the fishery more difficult. It won't be easy for anglers either.

"The more complicated you make all these rules, the more difficult you make it for the average fisher," he said.

The new rules, if approved, would apply during a fishing season that starts April 15 and continues to Dec. 15.

New York Marine Resources Advisory Council members Charles Witek and Bob Danielson pushed hard for a one-fish-at-28-inches rule, arguing that Long Island anglers overwhelmingly support it and that anything less would not help grow the population.

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