Anglers who target several popular species of bottomfish will see a few changes that become effective on Dec. 8 after a federal fisheries management board changed when the annual season begins and several other harvest details. The changes were published in the Federal Register on Nov. 7. 

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted to change dates of fishing seasons for greater amberjack, moving it from a May 1 opening to a March 1 opening. It will allow commercial fishermen access to greater amberjack during Lent, when there is an increase in demand and should enhance the economic yield from greater amberjack. It also changes the fishing season for black sea bass from the current June 1-May 31 season. For recreational fishermen, it will be April 1-March 31 and for commercial fishermen January 1-Dec. 31.

The season change for black sea bass has several positive factors.  On the commercial side, the new dates will allow commercial hook-and-line fishing for black sea bass while the season for trapping is closed, when the catch per unit effort is higher, the fish are closer to shore and the fish are bringing a higher price per pound.

The date change also aligns the beginning of the commercial harvest season for black sea bass with the commercial season for vermilion snapper, which are commonly caught together with hook-and-line gear. At a time of year when grouper and other seasons are closed, it will allow commercial fishermen to continue fishing. Another bonus of the change is that it is expected to decrease the amount of regulatory discards in the commercial snapper-grouper fishery.

Opening the recreational season on April 1 will also more closely align the season with the vermilion snapper season and allow recreational fishermen to keep black sea bass and vermilion snapper when fishing during the spring. This will greatly reduce regulatory discards of black sea bass during April and May. It will also guarantee black sea bass season will be open when charters begin to pick up as the weather warms in the spring. 

The trip-limit changes will all be on the commercial side and include reducing the trip limit for black sea bass to 300 pounds from 1,000 pounds (gutted weight) from Jan. 1-April 30 and reducing the trip limit for gag grouper from 1,000 pounds to 500 pounds (gutted weight) when 75 percent of the ACL has been caught. 

An additional provision removed language from that required all other shallow water grouper seasons to be closed when the commercial ACL for gag grouper is met and gag season is closed.  Commercial gag season closed on Nov. 21 and will reopen on May 1, 2015.

Capt. Butch Foster of Yeah Right Charters in Southport is happy with the changes.

“I like this. Moving up the opening dates for black sea bass season means they will be available for the spring charters, and that is a big plus. I also like setting the closing date for the season too,” he said. “With a known date, I can tell fishermen if the season will be open or closed when they call to book a trip. I wish this could be done for beeliners too.”