Black sea bass may be off the menu

Black sea bass may be off the menu


Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

In January the last few years, with the shallow-water grouper and vermilion snapper fisheries shut down, recreational anglers have had the old standby - black sea bass - to turn to in the Atlantic Ocean when most other species were off-limits or gone for the winter.

This winter and spring, even black sea bass may not be available to recreational fishermen along the Carolina coast, leaving anglers very little reason to go bottom fishing in the upcoming months.

Murrells Inlet’s Tom Swatzel, a member of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, said earlier this week he expects the recreational black sea bass fishery along the South Atlantic coast to be shut down soon because of the recreational annual catch limit (ACL) for the species being reached.

“It will probably be within the next month, sometime in February,” Swatzel said.

A quota of 409,000 pounds was set in accordance to Amendment 17B of the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan, which was approved by the SAFMC in December 2009 (8-5 vote) but wasn’t put into law until a month ago in December 2010 by the Secretary of Commerce. That quota will soon be met and once the fishery is closed the earliest it would be able to reopen would be June 1.

There is a stipulation in the amendment that compounds the issue. If it is determined the quota (ACL) was exceeded when the fishery is closed there is what Swatzel called a ‘payback’ provision, meaning the number of pounds caught over the quota - dubbed an overage - would be subtracted from the quota for the following year. In the scenario of an overage, the reopening of the fishery could be delayed past the June 1 start of the fishing season during the height of the summer tourist season. Fishing seasons operate on a calendar year of June 1 to May 31.

As it stands, overages in the recreational black sea bass fishery “could cause some extremely short recreational black sea bass fishing years,”