The long awaited black sea bass season opens Sunday. From June 23 through Aug. 31, New York anglers can keep three “sea biscuits” per day. From Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, a daily limit of seven per angler applies. Both sessions maintain a 15-inch minimum size limit.
Simply being allowed to put a few sea bass on ice should improve the short term outlook for local anglers. Fluke fishing has gotten off to a slow start this year, especially on Long Island’s South Shore. At the same time sea bass, with a stock biomass more than 200 per cent above the minimum threshold that marks overfishing for the species under current regulations, have been exceptionally plentiful with many caught and released by those targeting fluke, scup and ling.
“It’s just crazy,” says Capt. Ken Higgins of the open boat Captree Pride. “I know we’ll clean up on sea bass the second we drop our lines on Sunday. That it took this long to get started — and that we can only keep three per angler though the summer months — is absurd. Fluke are biting better now, but we really could have used those fish in late May and early June.
“We are starving for these fish on the South Shore in late spring,” Higgins continues. “From Jones Inlet to Moriches, sea bass are plentiful in late May and early June. They could help hold anglers over until the fluke bite grows more established. We deserve more access to that resource. New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts all opened their seasons before us and with more liberal bag limits. New York anglers were driving to other states where they could creel their fish.”
Tony DiLernia, one of New York's representatives to the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council (MAFC), which manages fisheries in federal waters from 3 miles to 200 miles offshore for the states of New York through North Carolina, said he is also “frustrated with current regulations” and is striving to affect change. At a recent council meeting in Manhattan, he requested staff begin to immediately analyze sea bass options that would keep all the states open under a single set of regulations in November and December.
“With 95 percent or more of the fishery occurring in federal waters during the fall and winter, we should all be fishing under the same rules,” he said.
DiLernia tried to push a similar measure with the council last fall but fishery managers weren’t sure how the changes might affect overall sea bass stocks and they turned it down. “This year,” he said, “we’ll have that information ready for review.”
DiLernia also asked for additional sea bass management options to be explored. In response, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets fishing regulations in state waters up to three miles offshore, and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council, are forming a joint committee to which DiLernia has already been appointed.
“At the very least,” he concluded, “I’d like to see one set of sea bass regulations covering ocean fishing for New York and New Jersey, and a separate set covering all of Long Island Sound. Ultimately, a uniform set of sea bass regulations for all of the Mid-Atlantic States would be a good idea, but that will be tricky given the current regulatory process.”
For Higgins, and a host of other New York captains and recreational anglers, either scenario can’t come soon enough.