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State weighs early re-opening of black sea bass fishery

State fisheries regulators on Wednesday said they were “committed” to an early reopening of the recently closed black sea bass fishery as a U.S. senator joined local fishing interests in demanding emergency access to the fishery.

The commercial fishery closed for a month starting June 1, amid a chorus of criticism from fishermen and women who noted the state quota for sea bass had been underfished through May 31. With lobsters stocks depleted and other fish stocks restricted, they said, plentiful black sea bass were among the most viable remaining fisheries.

“It’s June,” the biggest month for black sea bass, noted Northport mayor and commercial fisherman George Doll, at a gathering of fishing interests Wednesday in his village attended by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It’s common sense and it’s the right thing to do” to reopen it now, Doll said.

In a statement Wednesday, the DEC said it was “working with commercial fishermen” to reopen the fishery sometime before July 1 as they haven’t exceeded harvesting quotas through May 31 and there is excess quota to be harvested. The agency, which manages the New York fishery with an allotment decreed by federal regulators, called on fishermen and fish dealers to submit paperwork of their May fishing activity to expedite a possible reopening.

In addition, the DEC said it would begin an “emergency rule-making” process that would for the first time allow two black-sea-bass permit holders to combine their daily 50-pound quotas onto a single boat. Current rules limit one permit per boat of 50 pounds each. Consolidation would allow two fishermen to harvest a combined 100 pounds daily per boat, resulting in a more economical harvest.

Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton attorney who last week wrote a letter to state officials and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo requesting the emergency opening on behalf of North Fork fishermen, said the DEC shouldn’t wait to reopen the fishery.

“Open it immediately,” he demanded of state regulators, saying they could close the fishery at a later date in the unlikely circumstance that overfishing has occurred. Fishermen have said May was a poor month for fishing, because waters remained relatively cold and fish had only begun their seasonal migration through New York waters.

Schumer charged that “bureaucracy was standing in the way” of fishing interests getting back to work and urged the state to open the fishery quickly. “There are tons of black sea bass in the water,” he said. “They see them, but they can’t catch them.”

“We all don’t fish for just one thing,” said Northport fisherman Pete Ringen. If regulators don’t reopen the fishery soon, he said, “They’re going to take away from us a little bit of what helps us make a living.”

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