If you thought the weather was salty the past few days, you should have heard some of the back channel chatter among Long Island’s party- and charter-boat captains. The topic was the latest proposed regulations for black sea bass and how, to put it nicely, the South Shore and West End got the short end of the gaff.
With New York’s striper stipulations settled last year to general approval, and current fluke rules deemed tolerable by local anglers, sea bass regulations are the latest storm brewing on the fisheries management front.
In a 6-2 vote last week, New York’s Marine Resources Advisory Council (MRAC) decided to recommend a split sea bass season that would fall within federal mandatory stock rebuilding guidelines.
The proposal, which ultimately must be approved by NYS DEC commissioner Basil Seggos, would allow recreational anglers to keep five sea bass apiece starting July 8, eight sea bass starting Sept, 1, and 10 sea bass per person from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. Last year’s season opened July 15.
Many South Shore and West End skippers believe the proposed season remains too short given our waters seem, anecdotally at least, to be teeming with small “sea biscuits.” Some find even more irksome the blanket 15-inch minimum size proposal, a one-inch increase from last year’s 14-inch restriction.
“These regs may work on the East End, where bigger sea bass are available throughout the summer,” said Capt. Ken Higgins of the Captree open boat, Captree Pride, “but it kills us on the South Shore. Most of our big sea bass pass through in May and June. By July, anglers are working hard to catch honest keepers.”
Both regulators and skippers agree the new proposals are based on flawed data that does not accurately reflect an apparent massive explosion in the mid-Atlantic sea bass population. Once mostly caught from Rhode Island south, substantial schools have expanded all the way into southern Maine. New survey data, which the DEC expects to be more accurate, will be available later this year. That, says Jim Gilmore, chief of the Marine Resources Division for DEC, should allow restrictions to be gradually relaxed starting in 2017, assuming positive results from the 2016 population analysis. Until then, regulators are sure to manage the stock conservatively.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Gilmore in a telephone interview Thursday morning. “In the latest public input meeting last week, we expected support for a smaller size limit of 14 or 14.5 inches with a somewhat shorter season. Instead, we heard requests for a longer season, thus the increase in minimum size. It’s important to note, however, that the MRAC recommendation is advisory in nature. Ultimately, the DEC commissioner implements new regulations.”
Gilmore added that there is another option with a 15-inch minimum size that would allow for an earlier opening date. “Nothing is set in stone at this point,” he said. “We will continue to reach out to stakeholders while these recommendations are being considered.”
“All I know is the regulations get tighter every year,” said Capt. Anthony Gillespie, of Freeport’s Capt. Lou Fleet. “I’ve never seen as many sea bass as we have now. This is absolutely insane; and who’s to say the next wave of data will be any less flawed than the last one. I have no faith in this system.”