The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has approved a regulation that will allow the retail sale of hatchery-raised largemouth bass.
The move had been opposed by sport fishing advocates who argued that the rule change will create a black market that will damage the state’s recreational fisheries. That’s because hatcheries are not required to mark the fish to confirm their origin.
“It’s rather disheartening to see the state’s absolute unwillingness to impose a regulation that would have required individualized tagging (serial numbers),” said Mike Cusano, former president of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation (NYBN) and chairman of the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.
“This regulation is going to impact bass populations across the state as market owners realize that wild-caught black bass are a much cheaper alternative than the hatchery-raised fish,” he continued.
And as more and more anglers realize that they can make $50 or $60 for selling a limit of bass at the back door of a fish market.
“The sad part is that the New York DEC will have no ability to meet these changes in demand, no funding, and no hatchery,” Cusano explained.
Right now, New York’s bass fishery is totally self-sustaining and worth about $250 million annually, he added.
On the positive side, Barb Elliott, NYBN conservation director, did manage a small victory for anglers and protection of a public resource. The original regulation was written to allow sale of “black bass,” which would have included smallmouths. She convinced state officials to change the wording to “largemouth bass.”
“The hatcheries were not interested in growing smallmouths for sale and I wanted as many bass off the table as possible,” she said.
One argument that she used was that if any smallmouth bass showed up in markets then law enforcement would have proof that poaching is occurring.
In announcing the new regulation for largemouth bass only, DEC Commission Joe Martens said, “The regulations will make it easier for aquaculturists and fish markets within and outside the state to sell hatchery-reared largemouth bass for food, while continuing to protect wild bass populations that are the foundation of our popular and economically important bass fisheries.”
But all that’s required is “labeling largemouth bass containers used for transportation, retaining purchase and sales records by distributors, and requiring that largemouth bass being sold live in retail markets must be killed before being transferred to retail customers.”
As Cusano and other critics point out, documentation easily can be manipulated. For example, the owner of a fish market can buy bass from a hatchery, providing him with the necessary paperwork. He can sell those bass, destroy the sales receipts, and buy black-market bass at a cheaper price. He then can allege that he bought those fish from a hatchery, with no way to prove otherwise.
“It’s very disheartening that over 300,000 New York State bass anglers, who spend upwards of $250 to $500 million each year in New York State alone in pursuit of their favorite game fish, could have such little impact on influencing this regulation change,” Cusano said.
Here is an argument against the regulation by the Onondaga County Fisheries Advisory Board.
Here’s is a newspaper article about the change. Be sure to read the comments.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)