Long Island sport fishermen turned up in force Tuesday night to cast overwhelming support for temporary measures that would reduce the number of striped bass taken from local waters to protect species breeders, with many anglers saying they feared the effort was too little too late.
Most of the crowd of several hundred applauded speakers at a public hearing by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission who said they supported a one-year change in the rules that would reduce the number of stripers that can be taken in season to one fish a day from a current two.
They also supported increasing the size limit to a 32-inch minimum from a current 28 inches. By session's end, well after 9 p.m., a consensus among anglers was clear: one fish at 32 inches.
"You must finally act," said Ross Squire of the New York Coalition for Recreational Fishing and founder of a group that already pledges to follow the one fish at 32 inches limit. "The question is just how effective your actions will be," he told representatives of the commission. The rules would apply to people fishing from the shore and on charter or party boats.
The proposed reduction comes amid projections from fisheries managers that the essential breeders in the striped-bass population are in decline and in need of protection, amid steady declines in the annual harvest. To prevent further declines, the commission proposed a dizzying set of options to meet the goals in a document called the Draft Addendum to Amendment 6.
Regulators must decide among options that include maintaining the status quo, easing in new rules over three years, or over one year. Any new measures would begin with the 2015 striped-bass season, which lasts from mid-April through December.
"The evidence of population decline is obvious," said Ronald Turbin, vice president of the Coastal Conservation Association New York, who railed against the "legal poaching" of striped bass by haul seiners -- a technique used by commercial fisherman who set long gill nets from the beach that are then hauled ashore by trucks -- on East End beaches.
Not all were in favor of rule changes, and several commercial fishermen said the proposals would disproportionately affect commercial boats, which are currently allowed to take just over 200 fish a year. Fisheries managers want to see that cut by one quarter.
"You'll take 25 percent away from every commercial fisherman and give it to the recreational" fishermen, said John Davi, a commercial fisherman. "We are being discriminated against. You say it's a fair program -- it is not."
Commission member Jim Gilmore, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said a final decision will come by the end of October, when the commission meets to vote on the rules in Mystic, Connecticut.