B.A.S.S. and other angling groups are united in their opposition to a proposal in New York to allow sale of black bass in restaurants and at fish markets.
Primarily they are concerned that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation includes no requirement that fish raised commercially be tagged or otherwise marked to ensure that sellers and buyers are not dealing in illegally caught wild bass.
“This concern is not unfounded given that the commercial growers in New York contend that if black bass are raised as a food fish for distribution to New York City fish markets, they likely could not keep up with the demand,” said Noreen Clough, National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S.
“It is well known that unscrupulous fish vendors across the country purchase illegal fish from poachers, and this would be especially lucrative given that black bass are expected to bring between $12 and $14 a pound in the New York market.”
Speaking on behalf of the New York B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, State Conservation Director Barb Elliott added, “The New York DEC has already documented the illegal poaching for potential live sale of black bass.
“We feel the legitimizing of the black bass in public markets will create additional impacts on wild black bass populations and we are extremely concerned about the lack of enforceable safeguards . . . Without DNA testing, definitive identification cannot possibly be made between wild caught and farm-raised fish.”
Under current regulations, only licensed hatchery operators can sell black bass within the state. But under the proposal supported by the New York Farm Bureau and the aquaculture industry, anyone who purchases the fish from a licensed hatchery can resell them.
“Opening up the New York state market for New York fish growers is an important step in helping these businesses grow and support new farm jobs,” said Dean Norton, Farm Bureau president. “This is also a win for consumers because it allows our fish farmers to meet a strong and growing demand for black bass in New York, and not be forced to export their products to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, simply to stay in business.”
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens added, “The proposed regulations will make it easier for aquaculturists and fish markets within and outside of New York state to sell hatchery-reared bass for food, while continuing to protect wild bass populations that are the foundation of our popular and economically important bass fisheries.”
“New York provides excellent fishing opportunities for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, and DEC has included measures in this proposal to safeguard the state’s black bass sport fishery.”
But angling advocates insist those safeguards are inadequate because they establish only container labeling and record-keeping requirements.
“The proposal makes no attempt to require individual tagging of farm-raised bass, making it impossible for anyone to visually distinguish a farm-raised black bass from a wild-caught black bass,” said Mike Cusano, chairman of the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.
“While tagging fish individually will not stop poaching, it should be considered as the absolute minimum requirement in the DEC’s proposed regulation.”
In a letter asking DEC to reconsider the proposal, Clough said, “Your leadership is critical for ensuring that the popular sport of bass fishing and your well managed bass fishery are not only protected in your state, but set an example nationwide regarding the prevention of commercial exploitation of sport fish.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)