The recreational possession limit for black sea bass drops from 15 fish per day to five June 22 as part of the National Marine Fisheries Service's efforts to prevent progressive shortening of fishing seasons for the black sea bass, gag grouper and vermilion snapper, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced today (June 15).

The minimum size for black sea bass remains unchanged at 12 inches tail length, and the annual quota of 409,000 pounds remains in effect.

Harvest restrictions and shortened seasons implemented through recent amendments to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region have resulted in some reduced quotas and effort shifts, causing derby-fisheries for black sea bass and vermilion snapper to develop.

There are also concerns that the potential also exists for a derby commercial fishery to develop for gag grouper. The positive note in this fishery is the quota for greater amberjack has never been met under the current trip limit of 1,000 pounds gutted weight (GW).

To address these issues, Regulatory Amendment 9 to the Snapper-Grouper FMP was developed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and will be phased in beginning with the reduction in recreational black sea bass limits on June 22.

In addition to reducing the black sea bass limit, the rule will:
• establish a commercial trip limit of 1,000 pounds gross weight for gag grouper;
• establish a commercial trip limit of 1,500 pounds gross weight for vermilion snapper and;
• increase the commercial trip limit for greater amberjack from 1,000 pounds to 1,200 pounds gross weight.

The changes in the commercial regulations for gag grouper, vermilion snapper and greater amberjack become effective July 15.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council had anticipated the amendment taking effect on June 1, when the recreational season for black sea bass opened. However, the amendment required approval by the secretary of Commerce, and there were issues with other parts of the proposed rule.

The proposal contained an action to split the commercial quota for black sea bass into two six-month seasons (June through November and December though May) in order to extend fishing opportunities during the fishing year. However, there were unforeseen complications with possible issues involving right whales.

During the comment period on the proposed rule, NOAA Fisheries Service received new information from the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team indicating that having a commercial black sea bass season from December through May would result in the presence of numerous vertical black sea bass pot buoy lines along the northern right whale migration route during the time of year when the endangered whales are transiting off the Southeast coast.

Although no marine mammal interactions with black sea bass pot gear have been documented, allowing an increased risk of right whale entanglement is inconsistent with the goals of the ALWTRT, and recent scientific information suggests they are more vulnerable to entanglement in Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic fisheries than previously thought.

With this information, the National Marine Fisheries Service did not approve the split commercial season.

Be sure to check out the updated regulations for grouper complex.

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