Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council Revises 2013 Black Sea Bass Catch Limits

Last week the Council approved an acceptable biological catch (ABC) limit of 5.5 million pounds for black sea bass for both 2013 and 2014. If approved by NMFS, the ABC would result in a recreational harvest limit of 2.26 million pounds and a commercial quota of 2.17 million pounds. Black sea bass have been managed with a 4.5 million pound constant catch level since 2010. The Council’s decision to increase the ABC was based on recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC).  

The recreational black sea bass fishery closed two months early last year after preliminary catch estimates indicated that the 1.32 million pound recreational harvest limit had been exceeded. This closure and the possibility of future quota reductions sparked frustration among members in the recreational fishing community, many of whom felt that the overage was caused by an underestimation of the black sea bass stock size. The Council discussed this issue at the December 2012 meeting and requested that the SSC reconsider the 2013 ABC and develop a recommendation for 2014 in light of recent stock and landings information.   

We are trying to be as responsive as possible to the concerns of the recreational community,” said Council Chairman Rick Robins. “In this case, input from recreational fishermen has really highlighted the need for us to go back and take a closer look at the data.”

The SSC met in January and initially concluded that the additional information relative to fishery performance, stock size, and recruitment were insufficient to justify an ABC adjustment for black sea bass. However, after evaluating the constant catch level that has been in place for three years, the SSC concluded that the 4.5 million pound ABC is “extremely conservative” and recommended an increase to 5.5 million pounds for the next two years.

“The SSC’s reconsideration of the ABC and the Council’s modification of the quota represent important steps towards resolving this issue,” said Council Chairman Rick Robins. “The Council will continue to work with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center to ensure that we have adequate and current science to support the management of this important resource.”