On Tuesday evening, the New York State DEC held a meeting to discuss regulatory options for the 2018 black sea bass season that must conform to federal guidelines.
All of the proposals called for a 12 percent reduction in harvest from last year. The reduction comes despite the sea bass population standing an astonishing 240 percent above the federal target biomass for the species. The percentage comes from a cooperative effort between the states and federal authorities.
The DEC’s Division of Marine Resources director, Jim Gilmore, started the meeting by saying he has heard the outrage of anglers, for-hire captains and industry stakeholders, and agrees something must be done.
He announced that New York has joined the other states in the black sea bass northern regulatory zone — Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts — in appealing a decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) that allowed the five states in the southern sector, plus New Jersey, to liberalize their sea bass regulations while the northern states must reduce. New Jersey is a stand-alone region in terms of sea bass management.
If the appeal is successful, New York should get 6 percent added to its harvest allocation — but that would still be a 6 percent reduction from 2017. As sea bass stocks have swelled, New York has taken a catch reduction in six of the past seven years.
The response from the standing room only crowd of more than 200 was swift and overwhelming.
“No reduction is acceptable!” said Capt. Joe Tangle, skipper of the Center Moriches charter vessel King Cod. “In my entire lifetime sea bass have never been this numerous but we keep getting cuts. It’s ridiculous.”
Capt. Jamie Quaresimo, who along with Tangle suggested New York go out of compliance (ignore federally mandated regulations, which could result in closure of both the recreational and commercial sea bass seasons,) said after the meeting that sea bass are so thick at Montauk he has to find areas to avoid catching them while fluke fishing.
“We don’t want to kill every fish in the sea,” said Quaresimo, “we just want enough of this healthy stock for our customers to bring home a couple bags of fillets. If neighboring New Jersey has more liberal regulations, Long Islanders will simply cross the Verrazano Bridge to fill their coolers. We need to go out of compliance to force change. Let the cards fall where they may.”
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, federal quotas are set that states must work within to develop their regulations. Anglers and fishery managers say more flexibility and better data are needed to realistically address changes in stock density for specific species
In a telephone interview Wednesday, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who did not attend the meeting but received a briefing from Gilmore, said he wanted anglers to know the DEC is making every effort to effect change.
“Governor Cuomo is disturbed by this, I’m disturbed by this, and our fisheries managers are disturbed by this. The sea bass population is in good shape and regulations should reflect that. We are intent to reverse this course,” he said. “The appeal is the first step. Litigation is another possibility. Every option is on the table.”
When asked, Seggos said the options include going out of compliance. “It’s a worst case scenario,” he stated, “but the Governor has made very clear that all options are to be considered.”
“Politicians, scientists, anglers, everybody agrees this is wrong,” said Quaresimo.