WESTBOROUGH — The newly recast state Marine Fisheries Commission convened its first business meeting Tuesday since Gov. Charlie Baker backed up the moving truck in late May and jettisoned seven members whose terms had expired.
The seven new members, along with holdovers Bill Adler and Ray Kane, met in a hushed conference room at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's spiffy zero-net-energy field headquarters — think green as green can be — here in central Massachusetts, about 45 miles from the closest wave coming off the Atlantic Ocean.
Following opening comments by state Fish & Game Commissioner George Peterson and state Division of Marine Fisheries Director David Pierce, the new commissioners waded into a number of issues, including an escalating focus on the state of the black sea bass population and the possibility of changing the joint federal/interstate manner in which the stock is managed.
The commissioners unanimously voted to approve DMF's recommended emergency regulations for the recreational black sea bass fishery for the 2016 season that began May 21, including a reduction in the available harvest for the second consecutive year.
The final regulations reflect the mandated 23 percent reduction in harvest coastwide from Massachusetts through New Jersey. The rules call for the open season to run from May 21 until Aug. 31 and a smaller daily bag limit of five fish per angler, all of which must be 15 inches or longer.
In 2015, recreational anglers were allowed to keep eight fish of a smaller size (14-inch minimum).
"The recreational fishermen in Massachusetts suffered a cut in 2015 and in 2016," Pierce said. "We just can't have any more with the huge amounts of black sea bass in our waters."
Pierce said federal data, as well as anecdotal and state data culled from surveys of recreational fishermen, show an abundance of black sea bass in Massachusetts waters, likely grown for a variety of reasons that include conservation methods and warming waters that keep pushing the species further and further north.
The current regional management system — which includes NOAA Fisheries, regional fishery management councils and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission partnering with the individual states — means states that hit their annual harvest target still can be penalized the following year if other states over-harvest, as New York did massively in 2015.
"It's a penalty that's collective across all the states," Pierce said. "It's worked well for us in the past because there have been some years we've been way over."
Now, Pierce and others are ready to explore whether Massachusetts would be best served by exiting the joint federal/interstate management system and managing the stock in Bay State waters on its own.
"Now, as we move forward, is it time for us to to start talking about divorcing ourselves from that regional approach, especially since what just happened in New York," Pierce said.
To take such a revolutionary step would require protracted discussions with the other management partners and ultimately permission from NOAA Fisheries to change the current structure.
With that in mind, Pierce was asked if this is a serious attempt to sever Massachusetts from the current system.
"Lets say it's an attempt to examine it, to see the pros and cons to see if indeed we will get the benefit we think we'll get," he said.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.