The immediate and long-term future of black sea bass regulations for recreational anglers in the South Atlantic region began to take shape last week after a meeting conducted by a committee of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
The council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee reviewed a new stock assessment for black sea bass that was completed in March, with the assessment showing that the black sea bass stock has been rebuilt and overfishing ended in 2011.
The committee made a recommendation to the SAFMC of the acceptable biological catch (ABC) for black sea bass, which is the basis upon which the council will set a new Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for the species during a specially scheduled SAFMC webinar meeting on May 13th.
That meeting is designed to get the new ACL in place near the beginning of the upcoming 2013-14 fishing season which begins on June 1.
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The committee recommended an ABC of 2.133 million pounds for the season, which is considerably higher than the current ABC of 847,000. The current allocation of the ABC for black sea bass is 57 percent to the recreational fishing sector and 43 percent to commercial fishermen in the South Atlantic.
Based on those numbers, SAFMC member Tom Swatzel of Murrells Inlet says the current recreational ACL of 847,000 pounds could double for the 2013-14 season and projects the recreational fishing season for black sea bass could last up to six months. The 2012-13 recreational fishing season for black sea was the shortest ever in the South Atlantic, lasting only 96 days.
“The new ACL will likely be in place after June 1, but before the current ACL is likely to be met,” said Swatzel. “Based on the fishing effort last year, the 2013-2014 (recreational season for black sea bass) could last up to six months.”
Having the black sea bass fishing season doubled to six months would certainly be good news for South Atlantic recreational anglers, including party boat operators who depend heavily on being able to harvest the species.
But, Swatzel warned that since the black sea bass stock is considered to be completely rebuilt, future increases in the ACL, and thus a longer season, are unlikely.
Before the species was listed as overfished and undergoing overfishing in 2010 by the National Marine Fisheries Service, recreational anglers in the South Atlantic were able to harvest black sea bass year-round.
A six-month season would close the fishery in November, meaning black sea bass could not be harvested during the winter and early spring months they are one of very few species available to be caught off the South Carolina coast.
Depending on what officially develops at the May 13 SAFMC webinar, a six-month season could be the final long-term answer for black sea bass in the South Atlantic, which would be a tough blow for charter and party boat operators.
“Because the black sea bass stock is completely rebuilt, fishermen are likely looking at a peak ACL with no foreseeable future increases, especially if fishing effort remains at current levels or goes even higher,” said Swatzel. “Stock assessments for black sea bass will still occur to monitor the stock status and I guess it’s always possible a future assessment may justify catch increases, but (that is) not likely.
“From a biological standpoint, the rebuilding of black sea bass will be viewed as a success. But I don’t think most fishermen will see it that way, especially those that make a living in the fishery.”
*Crazy Sister Offshore Challenge: With a cold front moving through the area this weekend, the Crazy Sister Offshore Challenge, originally set for Saturday out of Crazy Sister Marina in Murrells Inlet, has been postponed.
The event has been rescheduled for next weekend, with boats able to fish one of two days, Captains Choice, April 27 or 28.
The tournament features a total purse of $15,000 based on a minimum of 30 boats entered plus a tournament-within-a-tournament level is offered.
Targeted species include wahoo, dolphin and tuna. The largest combined weight of up to three fish of each species will determine the winners in the regular tournament.
Entry fee is $500. Captains Meeting is set for April 26, at the marina and Wicked Tuna Grill on the south end of the Marshwalk. For more information, 843-995-7446.
*GSSWAA Flounder Tournament: The 12th annual Spring Flounder Tournament, staged by the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Association, will be held April 27 in Murrells Inlet.
The tournament features a $1,500 first-place prize for the largest single flounder weighed in, with the top seven fish receiving prizes. The heaviest three-flounder aggregate earns $500.
The Captain’s Meeting is set for April 26, 6 p.m., at The Beaver Bar, located at the county line, on U.S. Hwy. 17 Business. Fishing begins at 6 a.m. with weigh-in set for 3 to 5 p.m. in the parking lot adjacent to the public boat ramp in the inlet. Entry fee is $45 for adults and $20 for youth anglers age 14 and under.
For information, call Bill Cash (843-237-9987) or Chick McDaniels (843-651-2076).
*Waccamaw River Sweep: A spring cleaning of the Waccamaw River will happen Saturday at Old Reaves Ferry Landing just outside Conway. The landing is off Old Reaves Ferry Road, which is accessible via Hwy. 90 and Hwy. 905.
The event, staged by the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, begins at 9 a.m. Those interested in helping keep the Waccamaw clean, call 843-349-4007 for more information.
*Fly fishing Seminar: Orvis Myrtle beach is offering free fly fishing classes on Saturdays and Sundays April 20-June 9.
Space is limited and classes are free. Call 843-839-6900 for reservations.