Blackfish changes hit recreational anglers

East Setauket, N.Y. — Changes to the state’s tautog (blackfish) regulations shorten the recreational fishing season and also boost the minimum size limit by two inches.

While the possession limit remains unchanged at four per day, some anglers feel recreational anglers are bearing the brunt of the regulations changes designed to restore the tautog fishery.

Coastal Conservation Association-New York, in a prepared statement, welcomed the move in general, but said the changes hit recreational anglers much harder than the commercial fishery.

“CCA New York is pleased that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has finally taken the advice of its scientists and reduced blackfish harvests to sustainable levels,” the group’s statement said. “However, we are disappointed that New York state has elected to place a disproportionate share of the conservation burden on the backs of recreational anglers, reducing the commercial harvest by just 13 percent and requiring anglers to account for the rest of the mandated reductions.”

The new regulations, designed to reduce the blackfish haul by 40 percent, have been in place since May as emergency rules but were formally adopted last month. These changes were made to comply with interstate management measures to assist in rebuilding blackfish populations.

For recreational anglers, the season has been shortened to an Oct. 5-Dec. 14 offering. Previously it had run from Oct. 1-Dec. 20 and Jan. 17-April 30.

Boosting the minimum size from 14 to 16 inches will mean anglers will have a tougher time finding “keeper” fish.

Commercial anglers, meanwhile, will see their minimum blackfish size increased only to 15 inches, with season and trip limits unchanged.

“DEC worked with recreational and commercial fishing representatives to establish seasons and catch limits that allow as many fishing opportunities as possible while still providing the protections needed to restore local blackfish populations,” the department said in a news release announcing the changes.

Many saltwater anglers, however, point to the illegal blackfish market in the New York City area as the real problem. DEC’s enforcement efforts regularly result in citations issued for illegally taking blackfish.

Live blackfish are often sold to ethnic markets in New York City for about $10 a pound. That figure is about five times more than a dead blackfish will bring.

James Gilmore, director of DEC’s division of marine resources, said last year that the impact of the illegal live blackfish market is “detrimental and large” and said “it’s time to rein in the bad actors,” and indicated that controlling the live tautog fishery is the only way that can be done.

“Clearly, the blackfish problem isn’t exclusively the fault of sportfishermen as the staff at ASMFC continues to claim,” Jim Hutchinson Jr., managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said last year as the regulations were being developed.

CCA NY officials have called on DEC “to take meaningful action to curtail the unreported and illegal commercial blackfish landings that are endemic to our waters, which probably dwarf the combined recreational and reported commercial harvest.”

The New York Marine Resources Advisory Council has established a subcommittee to address the illegal blackfish trade.

As a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, New York is required to develop recreational and commercial fishing limits that prevent New York state anglers from harvesting more blackfish than the population can sustain. The Commission mandated that most of its member states, including New York, significantly reduce their harvest of blackfish because the population was at a low level.

DEC held a public meeting and also worked with its Marine Resources Advisory Council, made up of representatives from many aspects of the fishing community, to develop options that fulfilled its obligations to the ASMFC and distributed the burden of the harvest reduction as fairly as possible.

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