It was a curveball that many did not expect.
Striped bass limits will be changing again this year, as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and its Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board voted last week to approve an emergency measure to lower the upper end of the striped bass slot size to 31 inches. The current slot size regulation in New York allows anglers to retain one bass between 28 and 35 inches.
The vote means that Atlantic coastal states (including New York) will have to enact new recreational striped bass regulations, with a coastwide slot of one fish at 28 to 31 inches in length. The new measure needs to be implemented by July 2.
The reduced slot size was in response to the magnitude of the 2022 recreational harvest, which was nearly double that of 2021, and new projections indicating that the stock has a very low chance of rebuilding if the higher 2022 fishing mortality rate continues. According to the A.S.M.F.C., the 31-inch size restriction is designed to reduce the harvesting of the 2015 year class of bass, the last strong-year class, which was a significant factor in the recreational fishery's increased harvest of the popular fish in 2022.
A.S.M.F.C.'s plan seeks to rebuild the striped bass stock by 2029, and updated projections show that the probability of rebuilding the stock by 2029 dropped from 97.5 percent to 15 percent.
According to the approved motion by the board, the emergency action states that "jurisdictions are required to implement compliant measures as soon as possible and no later than July 2, 2023." The emergency action will be in place for 180 days and may be extended for up to a year at the October meeting of the fisheries commission.
While many are unhappy with the unexpected ruling on the highly prized bass, there are others who applauded the emergency action.
"Recreational anglers are charged by the A.S.M.F.C. with a 9-percent mortality rate on released fish," said Capt. Richard Etzel, president of the Montauk Boatmen and Captain's Association. "Therefore, we will have to catch and release more fish that may also end up dying in order to keep one fish. This is not conservation and does not make sense to any of us."
"It's terrible," lamented Capt. Hugh Chancey of Chancey Charters, out of Montauk. "There are bass everywhere up and down the coast. This is going to put some people out of business."
However, Capt. David Blinken of North Flats Guiding in East Hampton, a light-tackle fishing guide, lauded the motion taken by the commission. "It's great to see this action being taken," he said. "It's a very good start."
Blinken has noticed a very large decrease in multiyear class fish, especially in the estuaries and creeks. "It used to be common for me on any given day to catch and release anywhere from 50 to 60 bass in those areas. Last year, my best day was 15 fish. It's very clear that striped bass needed further protection."
Elsewhere, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation last week finally announced updated fishing regulations for black sea bass and porgies for 2023.
As for sea bass, the recreational season will commence on June 23, and the minimum size limit is 16.5 inches. From June 23 through Aug. 31, recreational anglers may keep three black sea bass per day, and from Sept. 1 until Dec. 31, anglers are allowed six fish per day
Turning to porgies, the recreational season is open now through Dec. 31. The minimum size limit for recreational anglers from shore is 9.5 inches; for vessel-based anglers the minimum size is 10.5 inches. Recreational anglers may possess 30 fish per day and anglers aboard licensed party/charter boats may possess 40 fish from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.
As your faithful fish chronicler knows all too well, long gone are the simple days of dropping a baited hook with nary a concern of any regulation or law enforcement. I'm not sure if Bob Dylan likes to fish, but the lyrics in his iconic song certainly ring true "For the times they are a-changin'."
On the local fishing scene, the action, ironically, has been excellent for striped bass from Montauk all the way westward to Shinnecock. On Sunday morning, even I caught a Peconic trifecta of striped bass, weakfish, and porgies.
"The fishing scene has really come on," said Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam's Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. "The big bluefish have shown up at Gerard Drive and the fishing has been great. Striped bass are in Three Mile Harbor and along the ocean beaches too."