Feds Adjust Sea Bass Quotas, Not Season’s Length

OCEAN CITY – Federal fisheries officials this week announced an increase in the black sea bass quota throughout the mid-Atlantic including Ocean City for 2010, but the emergency action did not make any adjustments to the length of the season, which could be limited from May to September.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Fisheries Service officials on Tuesday announced it had taken emergency action to increase the black sea bass quota for 2010 by as much as 61 percent. As a result, the commercial quota for black sea bass for 2010 will increase from 1.09 million pounds to 1.76 million pounds, while the recreational harvest limit will increase from 1.14 million pounds to 1.83 million pounds, restoring quota levels for a main staple in the resort area’s fishery to around 2008 levels.

The emergency action to reset quotas for 2010 comes on the heels of an abrupt closure during the height of the black sea bass season last fall in Ocean City and all over the mid-Atlantic. The sudden closure came in the midst of what should have been a robust fall black sea bass season in the resort and other fishing communities up and down the coast, causing undue hardship for those on the front lines of the industry and a considerable trickle-down impact for businesses associated with fishing.

As a result, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), a national advocate for the industry, joined by 11 other plaintiffs including a handful of ocean City charter boat captains, filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking an immediate injunction against the federal agency to reverse the seemingly arbitrary decision to close the important fishery. While that case plods its way through the judicial system, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which collects and interprets catch reports, went back and reviewed its data and essentially found its catch estimates for black sea bass in 2009 were flawed and urged NOAA to reconsider the 2010 commercial and recreational quotas.

According to a release from NOAA this week, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s decision to recommend an adjustment to the 2010 catch limit “was based on new findings that higher catch levels could be adopted, which would significantly reduce the economic impact on the fishing industry but still maintain the health of the black sea bass resource.”

However, the emergency action does not include any similar adjustments to the black sea bass season in places like Ocean City and other fishing ports up and down the east coast, which could see their seasons limited from May to September.

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