Recreational Black Sea Bass Fact Sheet: Management Challenges for an Abundant Stock

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The black sea bass stock from Maine through Cape Hatteras, North Carolina is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Abundance has increased and is currently very high, particularly off southern New England. As a result, recreational catches have been relatively high, even under restrictive regulations.

Fishery managers are required to set catch and landings limits to prevent overfishing. Current stock assessment information and catch estimates indicate that catch can’t increase beyond recent levels without an increased risk of overfishing. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) are working to improve black sea bass management.

Stock Status

The most recent stock status information comes from the 2016 stock assessment. Spawning stock biomass (i.e. the abundance of mature females and males) was estimated to be 48.9 million pounds in 2015, which is 2.3 times the target spawning stock biomass level. A recent increase in spawning stock biomass was driven by the 2011 “year class” (i.e. the fish spawned in 2011), which was nearly three times the 1989-2015 average.

Recreational Management 

Figure 1. Recreational black sea bass harvest and recreational harvest limits, 2008 to 2018 (click image to expand)

The Council and the Commission cooperatively develop fishery regulations for black sea bass. Annual recreational harvest limits (RHLs) are set based on projections of abundance in future years and are intended to prevent overfishing. Recreational bag limits, fishing seasons, and minimum fish sizes are used to help ensure that recreational harvest does not exceed the RHL each year. Despite best efforts to set appropriate management measures, recreational harvest exceeded the RHL for much of the last decade (Figure 1).

The 2016 stock assessment allowed for a substantial increase in the 2017 and 2018 RHLs, compared to 2016, and brought the RHLs more in line with recent harvest levels (Figure 1). However, the 2018 RHL (3.66 million pounds) is about 15% lower than the 2017 RHL. Biomass projections based on the best available science indicated that spawning stock biomass would decline from 2017 to 2018 due to the declining influence of the large 2011 year class - over time many of those fish died of natural causes (e.g. predation) or were harvested by fishermen. Given this projected decline in abundance, catch and harvest limits must also decrease to prevent overfishing.

Managers use the prior year’s harvest to determine whether regulations should be changed. Recreational fishermen harvested 4.16 million pounds of black sea bass in 2017 – about 14% above the 2018 RHL of 3.66 million pounds. As a result, any increase in harvest in 2018 compared to 2017 would cause the 2018 RHL to be exceeded and would increase the risk of overfishing. Recreational bag limits, fishing seasons, and minimum fish sizes in state and federal waters were modified to allow coastwide recreational harvest to achieve, but not exceed, the 2018 RHL.

Next Steps

  • The Council and Commission are working on several ways to improve fishing opportunities for recreational fishermen while continuing to ensure that overfishing does not occur.
  • Stock Assessment Update: An update to the stock assessment is planned for early 2019. This new information will be used to set catch and landings limits for 2019-2021.
  • February Fishery: The Council and Commission provided states the opportunity to open their recreational black sea bass fisheries in February 2018 and will consider doing so for 2019.
  • Eliminating the Fall Closure: Starting in 2018, there will be no recreational black sea bass fall closure in federal waters for the first time since 2008.
  • Alternative Management Strategies: The Council and Commission are considering the use of conservation equivalency for black sea bass,2 the potential use of slot limits, and recreational transit provisions in Block Island Sound.
  • New Analysis Approaches: The Council and Commission’s Monitoring and Technical Committees continue to improve the way recreational harvest and fishery performance are analyzed and evaluated when developing management measures.

NOAA Fisheries Approves Monkfish Quota for 2018

May 3, 2018 - The following was released by NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Office:

NOAA Fisheries is implementing monkfish quotas for the 2018 fishing year that we announced on July 12, 2017. There have been no overages in 2017, and there is no new biological information, so we are now finalizing the 2018 quotas that were previously announced.  The quotas are the same relative to 2017. Read more...

Paperwork Reduction Act Request for Comments: Sea turtles in Virginia pound nets data collection

NMFS published a notice in the Federal Register on April 16, 2018 (83 FR 16329) requesting comments on a renewal for collection of information requirements under the Paperwork Reduction Act. This collection of information involves the requirement for Virginia pound net fishermen to report interactions with endangered and threatened sea turtles, found both live and dead, in their pound net operations to NMFS and if necessary, the appropriate rehabilitation and stranding network. The comment period closes June 15, 2018. For additional information please contact Carrie Upite at (978) 282-8475 or email at  

Click here to read the full notice in the federal register.

NOAA Fisheries Seeks Comments on Proposed 2018 Recreational Rules for Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass

NOAA Fisheries seeks comments on proposed recreational fishery management measures for the 2018 summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries. 

NOAA Fisheries Announces the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Acceptable Biological Catch Omnibus Framework Adjustment

April 10, 2018 – The following was released by NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Office:

NOAA Fisheries announces three administrative changes to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s processes in setting catch limits though the Acceptable Biological Catch Omnibus Framework Adjustment:

  1. The Council may now recommend multi-year Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) limits for Mid-Atlantic fisheries, which may bring greater stability and predictability to the fishing industry;
  2. The Atlantic Bluefish, Tilefish, and Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plans will now automatically incorporate the best available scientific information in calculating ABCs (as all other Mid-Atlantic management plans do) rather than requiring a separate management action to adopt them; and
  3. New language clarifies the process for setting ABCs for each of the four types of ABC control rules.

To get all the details on these management changes, read the final rule as filed in the Federal Register today. 


  • Fishing Industry Contact: Erin Wilkinson, Headquarters Office, 301-427-8561
  • Media: Jennifer Goebel, Regional Office, 978-281-9175

National Fish Habitat Partnership Releases "Our Story" Video Reflecting on 10 Years of Habitat Protection

The National Fish Habitat Action Plan was established in 2006 and has supported 679 projects benefiting fish habitat in all 50 states. The partnership leverages federal, state, tribal, and private funding resources to achieve the greatest impact on fish populations meeting the priorities of our 20 regionally-based Fish Habitat Partnerships.

BOEM to Hold Open House During April Council Meeting in Montauk, NY

BOEM’s Office of Renewable Energy Programs will hold an open house on April 10 and 11 during the April Council Meeting in Montauk, NY to gather feedback on recently proposed commercial offshore renewable energy projects and other related topics. 

Scientific and Statistical Committee to Meet March 13-14, 2018

The Council’s SSC will meet March 13-14, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. Topics to be discussed include blueline and golden tilefish specifications, NEFSC clam dredge survey redesign, NEFSC State of the Ecosystem Report, and a discussion paper on coefficients of variation for estimates of the overfishing limit. 

Reminder: Electronic Reporting Requirements for Party/Charter Vessels with Mid-Atlantic Permits

Beginning Monday, March 12, 2018, all charter and party vessel operators holding a federal permit for species managed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will be required to electronically submit Vessel Trip Reports for all trips carrying passengers for hire.