DMF approves new commercial striped bass regulations

A change in the state's commercial regulations means that local striped bass, displayed in The Net Result case last summer, will be available for purchase in June. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Following a series of public hearings, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) announced new regulations governing the state’s commercial striped bass fishery on March 10. The changes are designed to reduce short-term market gluts and lengthen the season.

In past years, the commercial season opened in July and closed in early August once the state’s quota had been reached, usually in early August. In 2012 and 2013, the season closed after only 16 days, in part due to a large congregation of fish off Chatham, DMF officials said.

DMF announced that the 2014 season will open on June 23 and remain open until the 2014 quota, approximately 1.15 million pounds, is reached.

The change is expected to meet market demand for bass over the July Fourth holiday and give Island fishermen an opportunity to capitalize on local fish.

DMF also reduced the number of days fishermen may commercially fish for bass. Previously, fishermen were allowed to take 5 fish on Sunday and 30 fish on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The new regulations restrict commercial activity to Mondays and Thursdays and reduce the daily limit to 15 fish, at 34 inches in length. Commercial shore fishermen can take two fish over 34 inches on Mondays and Thursdays.

The new regulations also enforce the 15 fish limit, regardless of how many trips a commercial fisherman makes in a day or the number of permits he or she holds. In addition, authorized buyers are prohibited from purchasing more than one daily limit from a commercial fisherman, regardless of how many striped bass endorsements the fisherman holds.

The most significant regulation puts Massachusetts in step with states along the East Coast that now require all fish brought to market to be tagged. Only authorized dealers, primary buyers, will be allowed to purchase striped bass. The primary buyer in a commercial transaction “by sale, barter or exchange” is required to affix a DMF tag to the fish, and the tag must follow the fish even once filleted.

In the case of restaurateurs, it will now be illegal to purchase a fish without a tag. “The tags must remain affixed to whole striped bass until the fish are processed into fillets, thereafter the tags must accompany the fillets while in possession for resale. Tags are to remain on the premises of retail seafood dealers or food establishments until all portions are sold; thereafter the tags must be cut into two pieces and discarded,” according to DMF.

“Primary buyers will be subject to tag accountability measures following the close of the commercial striped bass season,” DMF said.

In a possible sign of future limits on commercial striped bass fishermen, DMF set a control date of September 8, 2013 for fishermen, meaning that fishermen who were not fishing prior to that date may be restricted from participating in the fishery in the future.

DMF assistant director Dan McKiernan said the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission, when it met this month, took no action on a proposal to prohibit charter fishermen from engaging in commercial fishing with clients on board. The commission is expected to take up the issue in April.

Recreational changes

On the recreational front, DMF doubled the black sea bass bag limit from 4 to 8 fish at 14 inches in length, but shortened the season by 52 days. In 2014, the season will begin on May 17 and end September 15.

DMF made no changes to the seasons, bag limits, and minimum size for fluke and scup. For fluke, the season will run from May 22 to September 30, with a 5-fish limit and a minimum size of 16 inches. For scup, the season for private recreational anglers will run from May 1 to December 31, with a 30-fish limit (150 fish vessel maximum). All scup must be at least 10 inches.

Separate regulations apply to for hire vessels taking out recreational anglers.