Striped Bass Limits Cut To One Fish

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UPDATE: 1-FISH STRIPED BASS LIMIT ADOPTED BY NEW YORK STATE

In a fairly stunning move, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced on Wednesday that it has adopted a one-fish limit for striped bass in 2015, with a minimum size of 28 inches, for all recreational fishing modes.

The move is being celebrated by many casual recreational fishermen, but is likely to draw loud boos from the charter and party boat industry, especially in light of the fact that New Jersey plans to keep a two-fish limit.

As a reminder, the state’s limit for the last dozen years or so has effectively been two fish, one of at least 28 inches and one of at least 40 inches. Charter and party boat fishermen, however, were allowed to keep two fish of at least 28 inches. The MRAC, last fall, had recommended that the state take up a split slot limit, with one fish being between 28 and 34 inches and second fish over 36 inches and that the rules apply to all fishermen.

In the long debate about how striper limts should be tweaked to meet the 25-percent reduction in mortality mandated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, charter captains had said that if New York took on a one-fish limit and other states stuck with two fish, their businsesses would suffer crippling, possibly fatal, loss of customers. Now, I guess, they’re going to find out just how alluring fishing in Montauk actually is.

Softening the blow somewhat is the decision, apparently coordinated with New York, by Connecticut (and Masschusetts, New Hampshire and Maine) to also take on a one-fish limit. But Rhode Island has not announced its limits yet and New Jersey is set on a two-fish limit.

The DEC has noted that New Jersey does not have a commercial fishery for striped bass, like New York does. The commercial quota in NY is being cut by 25-percent for 2015.

More about this next week….

The only good thing I can say about a winter like this is that my friends in North Dakota don’t get to say, “You don’t even know what cold is,” whenever I bitch about the cold. Even they were impressed, in that Midwestern way, when I sent a picture of icicles hanging from the tire of my truck a couple weeks ago.

It’s our second hard winter in a row and the second year in a row that single-digit temps and heavy snow have followed us well into March. Last year, when I stepped off the plane from warmer climes on March 15, it was 18 degrees. Thankfully that does not appear to be likely this year, though with the depth of the snow and the thickness of the ice, unless the mercury really shoots up next week the detritus of our discontent might linger a bit longer.

If nature works in predictable cycles we might have to expect another cold one next year. Recall the winter of 2001-02, when temperatures rarely got below 35 degrees and we caught striped bass at Shagwong well into January. The following three winters were cold and snowy to the point of being maddening. Well, 2012-13 was frost free. Two down, one to go. (Yes, I’m aware of the inconsistency in my predictions, since back in December I forecast this winter to be a warm one.)

What will the cold mean for the coming fishing season? There is the age-old proverb that hard winters are good for baitfish and other small marine creatures that overwinter in the mud of our estuaries, I guess because they kill off some predators and keep others at bay a little later into the spring. But when the cold lingers well into the early spring, like last year, low water temperatures can retard the bursting forth of spring fishing. In some years the trap fishermen have had their nets hanging already by the second week of March, to catch the early-arriving bunker. This year, they could drive their trucks to the spots from whence their nets will someday dangle.

But a quick warm-up can still mean a good start for recreational anglers like us. The hard, snowy winter of 2002-03 broke quickly into a St. Paddy’s day high temperature of 91 degrees. There were keeper stripers flopping on the beach before the start of the season that year. Such extreme swings aside, all we really need are a couple of weeks of daytime highs in the 50s and lows in the 40s and water temperatures will skyrocket upward.

Looking ahead to the coming fishing season, federal managers have released the options they’re considering for the black sea bass season. The options, for the most part, are pretty good, especially considering that there must be a 33-percent reduction in the harvest coastwide this year.

First of all, by simply raising the minimum size of a “keeper” sea bass from 13 to 14 inches, managers predict that they’ll be able to achieve the necessary reductions while largely maintaining the length of the season, and possibly even extending it.

The most encouraging part of the nine options being considered (they’ll vote this week on a final plan) is that there has actually been some consideration of a bifurcated season, with lower bag limits early in the season, so that fluke fishermen can keep some incidentally caught black sea bass, that would then climb back to 10 fish per man later in the year when fishing becomes an offshore game. There is even an option (my preference, by far) that would have the season open on June 6, five weeks earlier than last year, with a two-fish bag limit until August 31, then a four-fish bag limit for September and October and a 10-fish bag limit for November and December.

I know that for fishermen from the East End of Long Island, it would be a merry gift indeed to be able to keep a couple of the big knuckleheaded sea bass that move into our bays to spawn in June. Last year I must have thrown back 20 sea bass over 4 pounds prior to the July 15 opener that would have been welcome additions to the frying pan.

Unfortunately, it seems the preferred option for New York fisheries advisers is one that would maintain the July 15 opener, with an eight-fish bag limit running through the summer and then a bump up to 10 fish for the fall and early winter. The backup would be a straight eight-fish bag limit running from July 15 to December 31. None of these is the painful pill we’d been expecting to have to take so I can’t complain much.

I would like to ask for prayers from those of you so inclined for the first friend I ever made in the Hamptons. Kyle Owen is battling the most evil of evils Mother Nature throws at us and any nudges that spirituality might offer in his favor are much appreciated, so that he might see the break at Flying Point again.

Four weeks until striped bass season opens. Hold your breath. See you out there.

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