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Fluke Fishing out of season is OK - for a price

It's hard to believe, but Saturday starts the last weekend of spring blackfish season. Fishing for the tough-lipped bottom dwellers - yet another fish species with a split season in New York State marine waters - started in mid-January, but with the strong early season codfish run and a wet and windy spring, the tautog didn't get much play.

The weather should be ideal if you want to get in a last crack at these tasty battlers. The daily limit is four fish, with a 14-inch minimum. The season runs through Thursday and reopens Oct. 1.

Although the spring blackfish season may seem too short, the upcoming split season for summer flounder is even more maddening. There is, however, a chance you'll be able to do some fluking before the official season opener and after the finale date. That's because a number of pay-to-play boats at Captree and Montauk have taken advantage of a federal program that sets aside three percent of the total coast-wide allotment of commercial and recreational fluke catches for research purposes.

Called Research Set Asides, or RSAs for short, these allotments allow boats to fish for selected species out of season. To buy in, captains must first join the National Fisheries Institute, a national trade association representing commercial fishermen and the seafood industry, with exclusive rights to RSA distributions. Skippers then bid at auction on surplus research poundage. The allotments purchased, at about $3 a pound last year, are used to fish outside the established season dates. The fluke caught are not actually part of any scientific data gathering. Rather, the money raised through the purchase of RSAs is supposed to fund future research.

The process is involved but boats that purchase RSAs can use them to extend the season. At present, the RSAs for fluke cannot be used during the midseason closure from June 16 to July 2. The DEC is considering lowering the size limit and increasing the bag limit for RSA fluke trips. That combination would be a huge draw for recreational anglers.

Some skippers argue that the RSA format gives an unfair advantage to boats that can afford to buy into the program. That may be true, but it is legal and seems to make good business sense in ports where regulations have taken a big bite out of prime time for fluke and scup.

Of course, enforcement is always a problem because there simply aren't enough fishery agents to monitor each boat and its catch.

Striped bass seminar. Anglers can learn more about striped bass fishing by attending the free "Sportfishing On Long Island'' seminar at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, 7:30 p.m., Monday. The program, sponsored by Suffolk County Department of Parks, and hosted by Capt. Jerry McGrath, features IGFA 50-lb. class striper world record holder Capt. Bob Rocchetta. He'll offer tips on how to catch the fish of a lifetime. Call 631-854-4947 for information.

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