The stock status and 2013 quota for black sea bass, a species often targeted by local anglers, is in question.
The quota may be reduced by as much as 39 to 46 percent. It’s likely that regulations for both commercial and recreational fishing will change, imposing new and more severe catch restrictions for 2013. The restrictions may include limiting the number of fish that can be taken, the length of the fishing season and/or the minimum length of fish allowed to be taken.
In 2012 the Rhode Island recreational black sea bass season ran from June 15 to Dec. 31, with a minimum size of 13 inches and a catch limit of 15 fish.
Anglers say we have plenty of black sea bass. In fact, more and larger black sea bass have been caught in the past couple of years. And, some science seems to support this. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) sets coast-wide quotas for the species. The ASMFC stock peer review set the rebuilding goal at 27.6 million pounds of spawning stock biomass and the current spawning stock size is at or above the biomass goal.
However, limited information on black sea bass was integrated into a mathematical model called a statistical catch at length model (SCALE). Despite the applied modeling approach, black sea bass is still considered a “data-poor” stock, according to Jamie McNamee, marine biologist in Marine Fisheries for the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) Fish & Wildlife Division.
“There are still gaps in critical life history information for black sea bass and the current sampling gear may not be optimal to assess the population,” said Mr. McNamee at last week’s advisory panel meeting for the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council (RIMFC). “The crux of the problem is and remained an exceptionally small quota for what appears to be a healthy stock, which was in place in 2012.”
Recreational black sea bass landings and targets were analyzed on a coast-wide basis until 2011. Landings were in check until 2009, when the harvest target was exceeded by 104 percent. In 2010 we experienced a 70 percent overage, which led to the ASMFC allowing states to manage targets and landings.
In 2012 harvest targets are projected to be exceeded by well over 100 percent (the data’s still being analyzed). So, this year the ASMFC is working on Addendum XXIII, which will come forward to establish harvest targets for 2013 which are expected to translate into more restrictive recreational (and commercial) fishing regulations.
The good news is that the ASMFC realizes that the health of the stock and target catch limits are not in sync. At a special Science and Statistical Committee meeting on Jan. 23, the constant catch reference period was raised, increasing harvest targets for both commercial and recreational fisheries and likely avoiding a complete fishery shutdown for 2014.
Some other good news is that black sea bass is about to have an ASMFC “operational assessment” to enhance analysis, which is expected to put harvest targets more in line with the health of the fishery that everyone seems to be experiencing. But for 2013, more rigid regulations are coming.
Black sea bass is a delicate, sweet-tasting saltwater fish. The firm, white flesh of this species is a favorite of many.
These fish have the ability to adjust their color — ranging from gray, brown and black to a deep indigo hue — to blend in with the ocean floor. They spend most of their time around the bottom and can be found near rocky areas, jetties, rips and, like a lot of bottom fish, they like structure. Black sea bass are hermaphroditic fish; they begin life as female, then turn male.
They put up a good feisty fight but don’t grow to be huge fish in the Northeast; the largest black sea bass caught was 9 pounds, 8 ounces and about 19.7 inches long. The ideal water temperature for this fish is 59 to 64 degrees.
Other RIMFC news
RIMFC’s scup advisory panel met last week. The stock is considered rebuilt and not considered overfished.
The panel recommended a reduced minimum size from 10.5 to 10 inches and a possession limit of 25 (from 20) with a season from May 1 to Dec. 31. For party and charter boats the panel recommended a minimum size of 11 inches, a limit of 20 fish with a special 45-fish season running Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.
Summer flounder (fluke) is not overfished and the stock is considered rebuilt as well. Current recruitment is slightly below average (and has been in each subsequent stock assessment update). Target recreational landings for Rhode Island in 2012 were 157,855 fish; projected landings are 103,669 fish — an underage of approximately 36.6 percent. The panel recommended a minimum size of 18 inches (rather than the current 18.5 inches), a catch limit of eight fish and a season from May 1 to Dec. 31.
The regional stock assessment indicated that overfishing of tautog is not occurring. A benchmark assessment is scheduled for 2013. DEM proposed no changes for commercial and recreational tautog for 2013.
The advisory panel proposal to start the season March 1, with the minimum size still 16 inches and a catch limit of three fish from April 15 to May 31 and Aug. 1 to Oct. 19 (season closed during spawning from June 1 to July 31). The panel recommended the catch limit be increased to six from Oct. 20 to Dec. 31, with a vessel limit of 10 fish in all open periods (does not apply to party and charter boats).
The next RIMFC meeting to discuss scup advisory panel and public hearing recommendations is scheduled for March 4. In the meantime, there’s an Atlantic Menhaden Advisory Panel meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11, and a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19, to consider management plan recommendations on striped bass, spiny dogfish, sharks and lobster management plans.
The hearings will take place at 6 p.m. in the URI Bay Campus Corless Auditorium, South Ferry Road, Narragansett. Visit www.dem.ri.gov for more.
The Salt Water Sportsman National Seminar Series held Saturday was a huge success, with approximately 700 people in attendance.
George Poveromo, host of “George Poveromo’s World of Saltwater Fishing” on the NBC Sports Network, and editor-at-large for Salt Water Sportsman, ran an informative and entertaining seminar. He was assisted by Tom Richardson, noted New England angler and a prominent fishing writer and editor.
Eleven captains and fishing experts were on and off the stage addressing how to catch species such as striped bass, fluke, tuna, black sea bass, tautog and more. I had the honor of being on stage with the pros as a local captain and couldn’t have been happier talking about fishing with anglers.
Where’s the bite?
Ice fishing — Tom Mooney of Johnston said he was taking advantage of the good ice fishing weather last week. He landed some nice perch and pickerel in the 3- to 4-pound range fishing at Indian Lake in South County.
Bill Gill, on the RISAA blog this week, reported that two ice fishing tournaments have been rescheduled for Feb. 9. They are the Between the Cracks Tournament at Crystal Lake/Sucker Pond in Mapleville, RI (401/651/5680) and the Valley Angler Jig and Pig tournament at Candlewood Lake in New Fairfield, Conn. (303/792-8324).
Cod fishing — Andy Dangelo has been captaining the Seven B’s party boat this winter. “The cod bite has been excellent, but with high winds and seas we haven’t been able to get out much,” he said. Visit www.sevenbs.com or call 401/789-9250 to check sailing schedules. Visit www.francesfleet.com for the sailing schedule of Frances Fleet boats.
Capt. Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing on Narragansett Bay for more than 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. Your fishing photos in jpeg form, stories, comments and questions are welcome. Visit Capt. Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com or e-mail him at [email protected]