NY: Blackfish regs tightened for ’12
Spring season axed entirely
East Setauket, N.Y. – New York's tautog (blackfish) regulations will be dramatically tightened in 2012 by a sharply shortened season and an increased size limit for both recreational and commercial anglers.
The new regulations are being put into effect to remain in compliance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Fishery Management Plan.
They may also be in response to what DEC assistant director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug Stang says is a huge illegal black market for live blackfish in the New York City area.
"A lot of guys are selling black market blackfish," Stang said earlier this month.
Under the emergency regulations proposal, the blackfish season will be shortened from its current Oct. 1-Dec. 20 and Jan. 17-April 30 to a single Oct. 8-Nov. 26 window of opportunity.
The minimum size limit for recreational anglers will go from 14 inches up to 16 inches, while commercial anglers will see their minimum size restriction jump from 14 to 15 inches.
"A 16-inch tautog is a pretty big tautog," Stang said.
The new regulations tighten what many recreational anglers contend were already too restrictive. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is calling for a 53 percent reduction in the coastwide harvest of blackfish, and the elimination of the spring tautog fishing season will be the major factor in accomplishing that.
The fishing community got a glimpse of the proposed regulations changes at a July meeting when DEC conducted a hearing at Stony Brook University. That session pitted the recreational angling community against commercial anglers and also pointed to the widespread poaching of blackfish and the enforcement challenges in dealing with that problem.
"Clearly, the blackfish problem isn't exclusively the fault of sport fishermen as the staff at ASMFC continues to claim," said Jim Hutchinson, Jr., managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance.
ASMFC officials eyed several potential options in tightening the blackfish regulations, and chose the lone option that eliminated the spring fishing season for tautog.
At that July hearing, representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association New York pointed to sharp increases in the commercial 'tog harvest in the 1980s, as well as the illegal market for live blackfish that emerged in the ethnic districts of major cities in the Northeast at the same time.
DEC's director of marine resources, James Gilmore, indicated earlier this year that data shows the legal, live tautog fishery is "insignificant," but the impact of the illegal live blackfish market is "detrimental and large.
"It is time to rein the bad actors in, and closing or strictly controlling the live tautog fishery is the only way that can be done," Gilmore said.
Environmental conservation officers in recent months have made several arrests in connection with the illegal sale of live blackfish in the New York City area.
CCA NY officials contend a handful of commercial anglers "have no respect for the law" and take illegal blackfish to be sold on the black market for more than $10 a pound – about five times more than a dead blackfish will bring.
CCA NY also maintains that many commercial anglers underreport their live blackfish catch.