Friday, May 14–Sea Bass Season Extension Relieves Industry

OCEAN
CITY – In a move that should provide relief to Ocean City recreational anglers
and charter boat captains, federal officials announced last week the black sea
bass season for 2010 will be extended by as many as 90 days, re-establishing a
late fall, early winter fishery abruptly closed without warning in 2009.

Black
sea bass, one of the most important recreational fisheries for Ocean City and
the entire east coast, was closed without warning in October when federal
fisheries management officials determined the east coast-wide quota for 2009
had been surpassed. The sudden closure came in the midst of what is typically a
robust fall fishing season in the resort and other communities up and down the
east coast, causing undue hardship for those on the front lines of the industry
and a considerable trickle-down for businesses in the area associated with
fishing.

The
closure implemented for a minimum of six months, taking the start date for the
2010 black sea bass season up to next week, May 22, with an anticipated closure
date again of mid-September. However, the federal Atlantic States Marine
Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted unanimously to allow individual states to
extend the 2010 black sea bass season in state waters by an additional 90 days.

As a
result, the proposed new season for 2010 will run from May 22 through October
11, close for a few weeks, and re-open for a period extending from November 1
to December 31. Maryland fisheries officials will have to sign off on the
proposed changes, but with the quota numbers from 2009 under increased
scrutiny, along with pressure from the recreational and charter sector, it
appears the state will not stand in the way of an extended black sea bass
season this year.

According
to a release issued this week by ASMFC, “the season was further expanded into
November and December to allow for increased access by party/charter boats and
private boat and shore-based anglers that did not have a late fall or early
winter season last year.”

According
to the release, when the original season was developed, the ASMFC board only
had 2009 harvest estimates for January through June of last year. Harvest
estimates for July through December 2009 were projected using previous years’
data to calculate a total harvest estimate for black seas bass in 2009.

However,
when the final 2009 harvest numbers were made available at the end of April,
the came in considerably lower than what was previously projected, allowing for
a longer late fall and early winter season this year. While local anglers and
captains were relieved this week the federal fisheries management agency agreed
to restore the all-important fall and winter season this year, they were still
seething somewhat over the flawed data collection that cost them fall and
winter season last fall.

“This
is good news,” said Captain Monty Hawkins of the “Morning Star” and fishing
rights advocate. “We have fought our way back from a two-month season to maybe
as many as eight.”

Last
week’s season extension by ASMFC comes on the heels of a quota increase for
2010 implemented for black sea bass in February. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Association (NOAA) fisheries service officials announced in
February they had taken emergency action to increase the black sea bass quota
for 2010 by as much as 61 percent after they determined their data collection
system was 2009 was flawed.

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 levels not seen
since 2008.

While
the season has ostensibly been extended and the quota increased, existing
minimum size and bag limits will remain in place when the season reopens next
week. Current regulations set the minimum keeper size at 12.5 inches and the
bag limit at 25 fish per angler.

 

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