Black sea bass, scup, and tautog stock status okay… summer flounder on edge
Last week the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) held a pre-hearing workshop to review the stock status, state of the fishery and proposed recreational and commercial regulations for tautog, as well as commercial regulations for black sea bass, scup and summer flounder (fluke).
Jason McNamee, DEM chief of marine resource management, said, “The purpose of the workshop is to review stock status and fishery plan recommendations and obtain public input before the public hearing. The workshop discussion is not an official public record. Please offer your preferred options and comments for the record during the public hearing.” The public hearing on the issues discussed last week is scheduled for November 19, 6 p.m. at the URI Bay Campus, Corliss Auditorium, Narragansett.
DEM recommended that recreational tautog regulations remain the same as 2018 (often referred to as ‘status quo’) in 2019. That is, a 16” minimum size with a three fish/person/day limit for April 15 to May 31 and August 1 to the third Saturday in October. From the third Saturday in October to December 15 the limit jumps to five fish/person/day. No fishing is allowed June 1 to July 31 during tautog spawning season. A ten fish per boat limit, which does not apply to charter and party boats, applies to all periods.
A pilot commercial tagging program for tautog is being explored for 2019 as a result of Amendment 1 of the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) which provides states with regulations and guidelines for tautog management. The proposal is that all commercially harvested tautog in RI must be tagged at the time of harvest by the harvester. Tags would be issued to RI commercially licensed fishermen with tags good for one year. The pilot would be conducted with select fishermen/vessels in 2019, and then roll out for full implementation in 2020.
Black sea bass is not overfished nor is it experiencing overfishing relative to biological reference points. Jason McNamee said, “The commercial quote is expected to stay the same for 2019, however, a 2019 black sea bass stock assessment is underway.” The hope of all fishermen is that the abundance of BSB in our waters will be acknowledged in the new stock assessment with quota reallocation based on biology and fish in the water in addition to historical catch. Fishermen have long said that warming water (due in part to climate change) has brought an abundance of black sea bass to our area, yet we do not have the quota to catch them.
Scup is not overfished nor is it experiencing overfishing relative to biological reference points. A quota increase is expected for 2019 as this species fishing mortality is below the threshold and the 2016 spawning stock biomass (SSB) is average, estimated at 60 million fish.
Summer flounder (fluke) is not overfished, but overfishing was occurring relative to biological reference points. There is a benchmark stock assessment underway. McNamee said, “Given pervious specification setting, an increase in quota is predicted for 2018, which could be modified pending the results of the stock assessment.”
The four agenda items will now go to public hearing and then to the Rhode Island Marine Fisheries Council for their recommendation. All input on stock status, public comments, RIMFC recommendations and DEM department recommendations will be advanced to Janet Coit, DEM director, for her consideration when making final 2019 regulations.
Wind farm still yielding fish
Last week I fished the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF) on an Anglers for Offshore Wind party boat trip. About forty anglers from CT, MA, NJ and RI were on the trip along with wind farm developers and government officials.
The purpose of the trip was to demonstrate to anglers from other states what a great bite there is at the wind farm as they have utility scale wind farms of multiple turbines planned for their states. Additionally, anglers spent time with Rhode Island fishermen that have actually experienced working with developers to plan and build a wind farm.
Zack Cochran of the National Wildlife Federation (Anglers for Offshore Wind sponsors), said, “We are in favor of the responsible development of offshore wind that has proper research done before, during and after construction to safeguard the fish and habitat.”
Patrick Paquette of Hyannis, MA, a fish advocate and member of Anglers for Offshore Wind said, “The turbine pylons act as an artificial reef creating habitat for sea life and fish. Video footage taken at the base of the Block Island Wind Farm show mussel growth on pylons with scup and black sea bass feeding in the area with larger fish such as bluefish and striped bass circling them looking for a fish dinner. The Block Island Wind Farm is proof that offshore wind and fishing can coexist and thrive together.”
Everyone on board seemed to catch fish, and keeper size fish at that, which kept the mate busy cleaning fish all the way home. The black sea bass and scup bite were good this particular day. However, the BIWF area also yields large summer flounder (fluke), and codfish as well as large keeper scup and black sea bass. For information about Angler’s for Offshore Wind visit www.anglersforoffshorewind.org.
Where’s the bite
Tautog fishing is good, when anglers have been able to get out, with fishing off Newport and Narraganset as well as some good hot spots in the bay. Ken Ferrara of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick said, “Tautog fishing has been good for anglers who have been able to get out. The Codington Cove jetty in Middletown has been yielding some very nice sized keeper tautog.” Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “Biggest fish of the week was ten pounds. Green crabs and blackfish jigs are both working. The action between the keepers has been great with most catching 25 shorts each along with their keepers.” Manny Macedo of Lucky Bait & Tackle said, “Sunday was the only big day for us, sold a lot of crabs to those fishing due to the nice weather plus the Aquidneck Island Striper Team tautog tournament was being held. Heard it was taken with a seven plus pound tautog but have not confirmed it yet.”
Striped bass and bluefish. “Striped bass fishing slowed this week, however, some bluefish are being caught in the bay,” said Ferrara. Macedo said, “The bluefish have thinned out, however, we have a ton of school striped bass in the bay with anglers catching fish just under legal size (28”). White shad baits seem to be working well for anglers.” On the Cape Cod Canal fishing has been ok with anglers catching a lot of school sized bass with keepers mixed in. Ed Doherty, noted canal fishermen and author said, “Wet and windy last week on the Ditch (Cape Cod Canal). Zooke the roofer caught about 40 schoolies with 7 keepers mixed in during a 2 hour window when a few guys scored. You really have to love fishing to be out there on some of these days, but when the conditions start to bother me I remind myself of the long cold winter coming just around the corner!”
Freshwater fishing has been a bit better than saltwater fishing as anglers have been able to fish from shore in relative safety. Macedo said, “A customer caught a four pound largemouth bass at the Kickemuit Reservoir Saturday.”
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.noflukefishing.com.