“Locally, it’s our most important bottom fish now, and the only months we’re allowed to take them is when they aren’t there.”

Good one, Rick. The conundrum is about black sea bass, the latest recreational fishery closed by federal forces on the basis, we think, of clearly erroneous data and misguided principles.

The catching riddle comes from Rick Ryals, a staffer of all trades for Florida Sportsman and a half-century veteran of North Florida angling. Rick, like countless others, is seeing more black sea bass than he can shake a rod at.

“The stock is so strong,” he said, “that our grouper fishermen can’t fish a bait big enough to keep them away. It’s common for a three-pound sea bass to eat a good-sized grunt.”

The extra abundance of nice-size black sea bass is easily seen, except, apparently, from the windows of regulators’ offices in Charleston.

I’ll tell you how thick the sea bass are. Son Blair (publisher Blair Wickstrom) caught them one after the other the other night. Now when he can catch them that easily you know they must be shoulder-to-shoulder down there.

(Didn’t really mean to rag on your talents, Blair, but couldn’t resist. And folks know you’re an adept angler.)

Anyway, what a shameful act it is to close down this family-level catching in mid-stream, taking away what for many citizens is a “day saver.” It’s a fish that may lack glamour for many, but it’s also a fish that offers superb fillets and puts a bend in your light rod. Many a trip is made worthwhile thanks to the black sea bass.

This sudden mid-stream closure ignores a well established policy that non-commercial fishing regulations should be written to be in effect over a designated period or indefinitely. The stop-and-start method should only be done, if then, with commercials, whose catch is monitored and counted (notwithstanding problems of its own). On the recreational side, there’s no way to accurately compute the current mid-year take, and then communicate with the many thousands.

Guesstimates of non-commercial catches are notoriously found to be higher than the reality. Also, we fear that new methods of gathering data will once more be distorted badly. In the end, as we’ve advocated before, the best and most practical way to gauge fish abundance is to conduct scientifically done and extensive catch-per-unit-of–effort studies. Mix the CPUE findings with a pinch of common sense and you’ve got it.

The ill-conceived total closure of the recreational black sea bass fishery is hardly the only federal mismanagement we face. Editor Jeff Weakley notes that one federal proposal quietly making the rounds is to drastically curtail recreational shark fishing.

A proposed provision would put a 96-inch minimum on blacktip sharks, which is a species that provides great sport, and superb food on occasion, for inshore anglers. To impose an eight-foot minimum on blacktips seems beyond ludicrous.

Thus, on it goes, due to a federal tilt toward commercial usages, never mind what may be best for the most citizens, the resource and the economy.

Karl Wickstrom

Load Comments ( )

Don’t forget to sign up!

Get the Top Stories from Florida Sportsman Delivered to Your Inbox Every Week