Updated Regulations Further Tighten Noose On Sheepshead’s Fishing Fleet

It was way back in 2009 that Sheepshead Bites and Brooklyn Independent Television (a.k.a. BCAT) teamed up on the video above to tell the story of Sheepshead Bay’s struggling recreational fishing industry. With the help of Brooklyn VI’s Captain Sapanara, we identified some of the key issues facing the fleet, which shrank from dozens to just a handful in the last two decades. The causes included rising gas prices, cultural changes and a slew of overwhelming regulations that are smothering locals’ ability to compete with out-of-state fleets.

New regulations unveiled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently have now dealt another blow, shortening the blackfish season by nearly four months, and upping the minimum size limit of each fish caught.

According to Courier-Life:

The state Department of Environmental Conservation shortened the 2012 Blackfish fishing season — which usually runs from October until April — for recreational casters by 70 days, forcing it to end in January. The agency also increased the minimum size limit of the catch by 2 inches, so that many of the Blackfish that were hooked had to be returned to the sea.
Charter boat captains say blackfish — which are also known as tautog and oyster fish and taste like cod or flounder — are a winter staple for fishermen trolling borough waters. Now that the blackfish season has been cut short in New York, their business has been cut by nearly 60 percent as recreational anglers go to New Jersey, they say.
“In a time of economic hardship why we’d want to send business out of state is beyond me,” said Greg Nardiello, captain of the recreational vessel Ocean Eagle, which used to troll for the ugly, but tasty, water breathers nicknamed “the poor man’s lobster.” “Blackfish is really the big ticket fish in the winter season. Now people are heading to New Jersey for it.”

Much like other regulations that determine the size and number of the catch, the latest rule-tightening is based on the population of the target species. The problem is that the data being used is either wrong or outdated.

Even the Fisheries Commission admitted that their numbers were off base: in a statement released on March 7, the agency admitted that their determination to reduce blackfish fishing by 53 percent was an overestimation and only a 37 percent reduction was necessary — meaning that the blackfish season could have could have extended.

Adding insult to injury, New York opts to follow more restrictive federal guidelines, while neighboring states like New Jersey determine their own rules – even if they’re fishing in the same waters. As many local fishermen point out, that often means a Sheepshead Bay boat might be anchored next to a New Jersey boat and casting into the same spot, but local passengers may only be allowed to bring home two fish, while New Jersey anglers can take home more.

According to Courier-Life, Department of Environmental Conservation officials will meet later this month to discuss the changes.