Black Sea Bass ABC Increased

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board approved Addendum XXIII to the Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The Addendum allows for the use of regional measures to manage the 2013 black sea bass recreational fishery.

The FMP, adopted in the 1996, only allowed for the use of coastwide measures. According to ASMFC, the Addendum seeks to address this issue by providing the states with the necessary management flexibility to implement regional measures for the 2013 fishery.

The states of Delaware to North Carolina (North of Hatteras), which predominantly fish in federal waters, have indicated their intention to adopt the identical measures proposed for federal waters (12.5” minimum size limit and a season of May 19 – October 14 and November 1 – December 31) which remain unchanged from 2012 with the exception of a bag limit reduction from 25 to 20 fish.

The northern states (Massachusetts to New Jersey) will be developing regional regulations to achieve a 32% reduction in harvest, with the intention of implementing consistent regulations throughout the region.

The Board also increased the 2013 black sea bass acceptable biological catch (ABC) from 4.5 million pounds to 5.5 million pounds, with a recreational harvest limit (RHL) of 2.26 million pounds and a commercial quota of 2.17 million pounds.

This action was based in part on recent past fishery performance and a favorable stock response in terms of maintaining or increasing abundance. Based on the 2012 stock assessment update, black sea bass is rebuilt and is not subject to overfishing; spawning stock is currently at 102% of the management program’s target.

The ABC increase is consistent with recent motions by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC).

In February, MAFMC approved an acceptable biological catch (ABC) limit of 5.5 million pounds for black sea bass for both 2013 and 2014.

According to the Council, the decision to increase the ABC was based on recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC).

If approved by NMFS, the ABC would result in a recreational harvest limit of 2.26 million pounds and a commercial quota of 2.17 million pounds. Black sea bass have been managed with a 4.5 million pound constant catch level since 2010.

The recreational black sea bass fishery closed two months early last year after preliminary catch estimates indicated that the 1.32 million pound recreational harvest limit had been exceeded.

The closure and the possibility of future quota reductions sparked frustration among members in the recreational fishing community, many of whom felt that the overage was caused by an underestimation of the black sea bass stock size.

MAFMC discussed the issue at the December 2012 meeting and requested that the SSC reconsider the 2013 ABC and develop a recommendation for 2014 in light of recent stock and landings information.

After evaluating the constant catch level that has been in place for three years, the SSC concluded that the 4.5 million pound ABC is “extremely conservative” and recommended an increase to 5.5 million pounds for the next two years.

sources: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council