Catch limit increased

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 01:59 PM.

Fishermen angling for black sea bass may have more time on the water this season, following a massive increase in the amount of fish that can be caught without endangering the overall population of the species.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council last month more than doubled the annual catch limit for the commercial and recreational black sea bass fisheries, increasing the total allowable weight to 1.8 million pounds, up from 847,000. That decision followed a review of scientific data showing that population numbers had increased while overfishing plummeted, resulting in a healthy stock.

The increase should ensure a full-length fishing season, putting an end to the early closures that have plagued fishermen for years. Those seasons, truncated after previous catch limits were exceeded, were cautionary measures meant to prevent overfishing of fledging sea bass populations. Throughout that process, fishermen reported seeing large numbers of black sea bass in waters off the coast, observations confirmed by the most recent data update.

“There are bigger fish and more fish,” said Kim Iverson, a spokeswoman for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. “The fishermen have paid the price by having shortened seasons and restrictions, and now the stock is recovering and those fishermen will also reap that reward.”

Black sea bass typically reside in hard-bottom areas, including submerged shipwrecks or reefs. They range in size from 7 to 20 inches; larger bass are black, but the smaller fish are a dusky brown color. Along the East Coast, populations of black sea bass are broken into two separate fisheries, one stretching from Cape Hatteras north (the Mid-Atlantic) and the other from Cape Hatteras south (the South Atlantic).

The two are managed separately, but population levels in each region were cause for concern in recent years. Those numbers are determined via a benchmark stock assessment, where fishery biologists collect enough data to establish a baseline population to use for comparison in future updates, said Scott Baker, a fisheries specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant.

“When time and resources allow, they do an update, using the models and adding new data,” he said. “The last benchmark assessment was in 2011 and showed that the stock was doing better but wasn’t quite there. They continued with management measures, including short seasons, and this latest stock assessment basically showed that the stock is healthy.”



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