Fishermen fighting back against black sea bass regulations


Black sea bass fishing in New York was suspended for a month beginning June 1, prompting a backlash from fishermen who say the regulations are unnecessary right now and are only hurting the fishing industry. 

Daniel Rodgers, a Southampton attorney, sent a letter to state officials May 27 “on behalf of all fishermen and -women” requesting “an emergency reopening” of black sea bass fishing this month. The one-month shutdown stems from regulations set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Together, they establish annual fishing allocations for each state along the East Coast.

To prevent any state from reaching its quota too early in the season, they break the allocations into segments, allowing only a certain number of fish to be harvested in a given month, Mr. Rodgers said. The regulations also include a set 30-day period during which fishing is prohibited.

While the quota plan is meant to conserve the low black sea bass populations, the estimated number of fish is at its highest since 2009, according to a letter sent by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to the committees that determine the quotas.

New York’s 2016 black sea bass fishing season is divided into four periods: Jan. 3 to May 9, May 10 to May 31, July 1 to July 21 and Sept. 1 to Oct. 18, according to the DEC. The season quota for New York is 189,201 pounds; the combined quota for the first two periods is 90,816 pounds, or 48 percent of the total.

However, due to low temperatures early in the year, the catch to date has only reached only 26,288 pounds, or 16 percent of the yearly quota.

“The DEC can issue an emergency closing when they know too many fish are being caught, so why can’t they do the opposite?” Mr. Rodgers said in an interview last week.

Mr. Rodgers said the DEC said it would make more sense to close the season in the fall, once the quota is reached, rather than now.

Norman Stiansen of Hampton Bays fishes in Mattituck and in Shinnecock and said the closure was “not fair.”

“The quota wasn’t even halfway reached,” he said.

Many fishermen are licensed only for black sea bass fishing so they are unable to make a profit from other kinds of fish, Mr. Stiansen said.

Sen. Charles Schumer wrote last week to the chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Richard Robbins, urging a change in the regulations. Mr. Schumer wrote that limits “would undeniably harm not just those who fish for black sea bass, both recreationally and commercially, but also the myriad of shore side businesses that depend on black sea bass.”

Mr. Rodgers requested that the daily catch limit of 50 pounds per day for fishermen be changed to 350 pounds per week to save on fuel, labor and overall impact on the environment. A fisherman can catch 50 pounds of fish within 10 minutes of being on a boat, he said.

“A weekly catch rate makes economical and environmental sense,” he said.

The senator said a weekly catch rate would allow fishermen to better prepare while still ensuring that fish levels are properly maintained.

“After a slow start to the black sea bass season, mostly due to weather, our Long Island commercial fishers are ready to bounce back and access the plentiful supply of sea bass, but instead they might fall flat if the feds don’t throw them a line and let them do what they do best — fish,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Rodgers said management of fishing quotas tends to be ineffective. He is hopeful the DEC will help implement some changes.

“We’ve had a long and tortured fight for years with the DEC,” he said.

Photo Credit: NOAA