At the March meeting of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), it was voted to reduce the limit to five black sea bass per person when the season reopens on June 1. However, the wheels of the process have turned a little slower than anticipated, and the limit will not have changed when the season reopen. This was confirmed on May 31 in a Fisheries Bulletin from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In an e-mail, Dr. Brian Cheuvront, a biologist with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) who serves as Vice Chairman of the SAFMC, said the delay was due to some concerns the U.S. Secretary of Commerce's office had with another part of Regulatory Amendment 9 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan for the Southeast Region; Amendment 9 contains the limit reduction for black sea bass. Cheuvront said he did not have a timeline for resolution of the concerns, but he anticipates it will be resolved and the black sea bass limits reduced after a time for notification.
Tom Swatzel, who holds the South Carolina seat on the SAFMC, suggested a similar scenario in an e-mail, but with slightly different causes. Swatzel said he thought the amendment might be approved by June 1, but because of the late date, the SAFMC would not implement it for a week or so to give fishermen some time to come into compliance.
The important thing to understand is that on June 1, when the season reopens south of Cape Hatteras, the individual daily creel limit will be 15 fish, and this will continue for some yet unspecified length of time. North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman will continue to monitor this situation and report when a decision is reached and the reduced limits become effective. Black sea bass must be 12 inches long, total length.
The 2011 recreational annual catch limit (ACL) for black sea bass south of Cape Hatteras is 409,000 pounds gutted weight. The 2011 season runs from June 1, 2011, until May 31, 2012. The 2010 season was closed on February 12, 2011. The commercial ACL for black sea bass is 309,000.
The reduction in the daily creel limit was proposed to prevent closures to the recreational fishery like earlier this year. Fishery managers say reducing the limit from 15 to five will not create the amount of reduction many fishermen believe is indicated. The managers say not every fisherman catches a limit, so the reduction will not be as great as first thought.
If black sea bass are overfished and the ACL is projected to be reached, the recreational fishery will be closed. If the ACL is exceeded, based on a 3-year running average of landings, the recreational ACL will be reduced the next year by the amount of the overage. For 2011, the average landings of 2010 and 2011 are used. For 2012 and beyond, the most recent 3-year running average is used.