Black sea bass population sees improvement

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lumina News file photo

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries has updated the status of black sea bass, shown here at the University of North Carolina’s aquaculture facility, from depleted to recovering in its 2012 stock assessment.

It’s a good year for black sea bass across the Atlantic Seaboard, as the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries’ 2012 Stock Assessment upgraded the status of the fish both above and below Cape Hatteras to recovering.

Recovering stock shows a marked and consistent improvement in its age distribution and number of spawning-age females, but has not yet met its target population.

Black sea bass south of Cape Hatteras have been under federal regulation since 2006, and this years’ stock assessment bumps them up from depleted.

"This is pretty significant," said Chip Collier, southern district manager of the DMF. "And it reflects what fishermen have been seeing in their catches. They’ve been seeing lots of them, bigger and in more areas."

Current commercial regulations on black sea bass allow for the collection of 35 sea bass pots per day, and 1,000 pounds per trip on commercial fishing vessels, with an 11-inch size limit on the fish.

For recreational fishermen, that size is bumped up to 13 inches, and they are allowed to take up to five fish bags.

Collier attributed the improvement in the stock to stricter regulations on fishermen. Size limits protected smaller black sea bass from being harvested in shallow water and gave them a chance to grow, while strict quotas made for extremely restricted fishing seasons. Black sea bass season can run from June through October, but it is called off as soon as the season’s quota has been met. The 2011 black sea bass season found its quota met in only six weeks.

"Although this is not good for fishermen," Collier explained, "and has placed extra burdens on them, the quotas have allowed for rapid expansion of the black sea bass stock in just a few years."

The change in status could likely result in more relaxed regulations on the harvesting of black sea bass.

Improvements in data collection techniques, such as expanded age structure sampling, observer coverage, reports on discard and discard mortality rates, an improved recreational fishery survey, electronic reporting by commercial fish dealers and an improved fishery independent survey have also helped researchers gain a more accurate assessment of the stock.

Another species that has benefitted from the improved data collection is the American eel. This species, now listed as depleted, was previously listed as unknown.

"Why it’s depleted is not well known," Collier said. "We believe the species spawns out at sea before moving back into rivers and streams, and are increasingly facing problems with dams and pollution."

While the population of the American eel was reported at all-time lows, it’s still considered a good thing any time a species can be moved out of the unknown listing, because it provides a base from which to begin formulating a plan for recovery.

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