Fishermen targeting black sea bass may have a much longer season this year as a recent scientific review shows the stock is rebuilt. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council has proposed to more than double the current annual catch limit of 847,000 pounds (whole weight) to 1,814,000 pounds. NOAA Fisheries is reviewing this request and expects to publish a proposed rule for public comment this summer. The black sea bass fishery opens for both commercial and recreational fishermen on June 1, 2013 in federal waters from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina southward along the east coast of Florida.
Earlier this month, the Council met during a special session and approved the increase to the overall annual catch limit. The proposed increase is based on the most recent stock assessment update, completed in early 2013 through the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review program. The updated black sea bass stock assessment confirms what fishermen are seeing on the water. The stock is no longer overfished or undergoing overfishing, and is rebuilt.
The increase in the catch limit is proposed through Regulatory Amendment 19 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan and must be approved by the Secretary of Commerce for implementation later this year. The Council is proposing the increase go into effect as soon as possible in order to extend the 2013 fishing season. The current bag limit is 5 fish per person per day with a 13" total length minimum size limit for the recreational fishery. There are no changes proposed to the size and bag limits.
It seems that black sea bass are swimming nearly everywhere these days in the waters along the South Atlantic coast - along rocky outcrops, reefs and ledges, artificial reefs, rock jetties, and even inshore, where fishermen report they've never seen black sea bass before. From the Carolinas to northeast Florida, fishermen are reporting abundant numbers of black sea bass and larger size fish.