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Tighter tilefish regulations take effect in Mid-Atlantic

Courtesy: Delaware Surf Fishing
A Delaware fisherman poses with a record-setting blueline tilefish caught off Lewes last summer. His record was broken just a month later.

DNREC is taking new steps to prevent overfishing of a popular species that lives in deep Mid-Atlantic waters.

Golden and blueline tilefish are a prize for recreational anglers, but only goldens had been closely regulated in the Delaware region until recently -- and with no regulations in place, bluelines were being landed in high numbers.

Now, Mid-Atlantic states are putting new limits in place on both species.

As of this week, recreational anglers are limited to seven golden and blueline tilefish combined at one time, with a 300-pound limit for commercial vessels. And DNREC fisheries manager Stew Michels says the two kinds of tilefish tend to occupy the same waters.

"If you're out fishing for golden tilefish, you may very well encounter some blueline tilefish and vice versa," he says. "Their distributions overlap, but there is some separation according to depth."

And Michels notes tilefish are not a catch and release fishery:

"The unfortunate thing with tilefish is they occupy such extreme depths that once you pull that fish up from the bottom, they go through some barotrauma and typically it ends up in a dead fish," he says. "So once it hits the surface, folks should retain those fish."

Barotrauma happens when a deepwater fish is pulled up quickly to the surface and can't swim back down. Michels says it means fishermen should also be cautious how many tilefish they try to catch.

DNREC plans to conduct formal stock assessments for blueline tilefish this year to add them to the long-term tilefish management plan.

But with cold weather finally setting in, Michels says there isn't much tilefish effort right now. Delaware's main winter fishery is striped bass.

Michels expects there was some extra fishing effort in December, thanks to the record warmth. DNREC will have more data on that in the coming months.

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