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New rules to shorten black sea bass season to 2 months

New state fishing rules for black sea bass will shorten the recreational season from 12 months to two - a move Long Island party and charter boat captains said would likely drive some of them out of business.

Black sea bass frequent Long Island coastal waters from May through November. But anglers can only catch them in June and September, under 2010 rules announced Thursday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The cuts, which follow a similar federal closure, come because Atlantic coast anglers are thought to have caught more than twice their allotted quota of black sea bass last year, based on preliminary estimates from a 2009 federal fishing survey. As a result, states from Massachusetts to North Carolina must impose the shortened season even though black sea bass are no longer considered overfished.

The rules, however, could loosen up if regional fisheries managers increase the 2010 coastwide catch limit from 2.3 million pounds to 3.7 million pounds. The National Marine Fisheries Service would have to approve the change, which is being sought based on reconsidered population data about black sea bass.

New York shut down the season now "because we have to," said DEC Marine Resources Director Jim Gilmore. But he said the season could be extended in light of the new figures.

The sea bass rules are the latest to buffet the region's recreational fishing industry. Captains and bait and tackle shops have chafed under a new state saltwater license requirement and stricter limits on summer flounder, the party boat staple also known as fluke.

"You can't fluke because the limits are too high, so they've taken to sea bass. Now if they close that down they're really cornering us," said Mike Barnett, who runs a charter boat out of Freeport.

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