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Marine council recommends limits on fishing for black sea bass

A local marine advisory council has recommended new restrictions on recreational fishing for black sea bass, an abundant species that many have turned to as limits for fluke and striped bass also have been tightened.

In a 6-2 vote this week, with two abstentions, the Marine Resources Advisory Council voted to implement a new split season for black sea bass, and, notably, to increase the minimum fish size to 15 inches from a former 14 inches. A final decision on whether to adopt the council’s recommendation, which is expected, could take several weeks.

The new rules recommended by the council, made up of local commercial and recreational anglers, boat captains and gear retailers, would open the black sea bass season on July 8 with anglers allowed to keep five fish. On Sept. 1, the limit would increase to eight fish. On Nov. 1, it would increase to 10 fish. The minimum size limit is 15 inches through the year.

Jim Gilmore, chief of the marine resources division of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the new rules come despite wide anecdotal evidence that the black sea bass are plentiful in local waters, and are even being seen expanding as far away as New Hampshire.

“There are pretty large numbers of them,” he said.

However, official stock assessments of black sea bass are largely viewed as inaccurate, and so regulators have had to turn to the most conservative measures to make certain the fish are not overfished. “It’s a pretty bad situation,” Gilmore said, though he said he expects a new assessment later this year could lead to more liberalized quotas next year.

The new recreational limits don’t affect the commercial fishery for black sea bass, which opened Jan 3. The current commercial daily limit is 50 pounds with an 11-inch minimum fish size.

At a sometimes heated meeting last week, a roomful of party and charter boat captains questioned the need for such strict new limits at a time when black sea bass appear by most anecdotal accounts to be among the region’s most plentiful fish.

Anglers also took issue with claims from the DEC that New York had a more than 30 percent noncompliance rate with black sea bass fishing rules, based on stops by enforcement officers at dockside. Many noted that the move to increase the size of keeper fish, even by an inch, would ultimately result in greater damage to smaller fish that have to be thrown back.

Black sea bass caught in the deepest local waters have an air bladder that inflates as they are brought to the surface. If the fish aren’t “vented” with a special tool, they float and die.

“You’ve burdened us with more rules,” said James Schneider, captain of the James Joseph party boat in Huntington. “Why is it your goal to crush New York state” fishing interest?

Gilmore countered that the DEC is charged with implementing quotas from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federal body that sets them, with a little leeway given to the states on how to divvy up the quotas. “The plan is bestowed upon us, and we fight to get a better deal for New York,” he said. “There’s no goal here to do economic hardship.”

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