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Apr 11, 2019 2:37 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Status Quo Is Not Good Enough

Apr 15, 2019 10:50 AM

Bass regulations will be status-quo this year, and that is a bad thing—for both kinds of “bass.”First of all, it means that nothing is changing with striped bass regulations, even though we all know that big changes are needed and are coming, probably next year.

But with the other bass: black sea bass (which are actually grouper, not bass, of course) sticking with the status quo in New York might be even worse, not as much for the fish as for the sake of those who take people fishing for a living.

New York simply must find a way to increase its per-person limits back to the 10 fish it had been for several years, in the months of November and December. I don’t know if this can be achieved by slightly smaller limits in summer, or in early fall, or if it means we need to flirt with “non-compliance” to the federal quotas assigned to our state by an appalling unfair quota allocation system.

If you read this column regularly, the following paragraphs might sound a bit like a broken record, but it is a problem that does not seem to be going away for New Yorkers and we need our elected officials to put more pressure on.

The issue is that last year the quota allocations to our state led to a bag limit of three fish per person in June, July and August (which is more or less what it has been in previous years) and a seven fish per person limit from September 1 to December 31. The year prior, the limit had jumped to eight per-person for September and October and then 10 per person in November and December.

The 2017 limits were sensible, even though a lot of fishermen are still angry about the early season limits on a fish that is so plentiful they can be a pest when targeting other species. But upping the limit a little in the early fall, and then pushing it up to 10 fish per person was very logical, because it gave the owners of party charter boats a more enticing target as other popular table fare species like fluke, porgies, triggerfish and striped bass gradually migrated out of the picture. In November and December, when boats are required to travel farther, and the weather windows are shorter, the enticement of a 10-fish bag of sea bass fillets to go with some blackfish or cod and ling is a key ingredient to the success of the South Fork’s party boat and charter boat fleet.

To make matters worse, the federal quota allocation from last year and, apparently, this year, somehow still allows New Jersey boats to keep 10 black sea bass per man for most of the season—which also starts a full month earlier than New York’s—and then gets a bump up to 15 fish per man in the fall. The fact that New Jersey’s minimum-size limit is a full 2-inches smaller than New York’s is of little consequence, because finding a limit of 15-inch sea bass is rarely difficult.

The result of this bag-limit inequity is that the party boats and charter boats sailing from Long Island ports, and especially from the easternmost docks like Shinnecock, Montauk and Orient, are at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to luring anglers from places like Nassau County, the Five Boroughs, Westchester, Connecticut and even northern Jersey. Those anglers, when weighing what they can expect to bring home for their frying pans and freezers if they dedicate a couple hundred bucks of hard earned money to a day of fishing, might be more inclined to head for the docks in Jersey rather than out on Long Island.

Some charter captains have told me that their bookings were off by 30 to 40 percent in those late fall months last year, mostly from losing customers traveling from points around New York City and suburbs to the north and west.

It is sort of stomach churning to look at the chart of the BSB limits for different states, when you think of it from purely a fairness standpoint. I know life isn’t fair, but we are talking about major economic drivers here—literally millions of dollars in fares that are being sloshed about based on the fool’s gold information that is used to set these quotas.

I’m not sure how New York’s lawmakers can stand by and let this happen. Yes, they have sued, but it takes years to shake out. There needs to be more drastic action taken this year, before the seasons open and people start booking their charters for the fall. Please tell them you think so!

Back to the other bass—the real bass. There are very few around. The East Hampton guys had a little shot of them last week on the sand beaches shortly after Georgica Pond was let, but the almost complete absence of any other signs of migratory fish at places west has me thinking these were fish that had found their way into the pond last fall and wintered over in there and settled into the first structure they came to when they escaped.

Either way, there should be some fish showing up this week. Water temperatures are still in the upper 40s though, so don’t expect a sudden onslaught.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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