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The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council will meet on March 3 at the Galloway Township Public Library to take up action on the 2016 summer flounder and black sea bass options.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  February 10, 2016
With the anticipated 1-inch decrease in size limit for Delaware Bay summer flounder along the New Jersey side of the bay, boats like Fortescue's Bonanza II hope to see happier customers in 2016, with more bent rods and better keeper rates.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board once again has approved regional management measures for the 2016 summer flounder and black sea bass recreational fisheries.

But the February vote to lump New Jersey, New York and Connecticut together under a universal set of fluke limits also includes a subtle yet significant summer flounder modification which should provide better fishing opportunities for New Jersey anglers fishing this summer on the Delaware Bay.

The newly approved ‘New Jersey Delaware Bay’ region allows the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to adopt a 17-inch minimum size, four fish bag and 128-day fishing season west of the COLREGS line in the Delaware Bay. In recent years, party and charter boats on the Jersey side of Delaware Bay have lost many of their longtime Pennsylvania and Wilmington area customers to Delaware’s less restrictive 16-inch size limits.

Some captains have even found the 2-inch disparity has also drawn some South Jersey customers across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, with anglers preferring to pay gas and tolls on a longer road trip rather than be restricted to the 18-inch size limit on the Jersey side of the bay.

“It sure is great news that we have made some progress with the regulations in the Delaware Bay,” said Capt. Mike Rothman who operates the Bonanaza II out of Fortescue. “As a captain and business owner who makes his living upon the waters of the Delaware Bay I am looking at this with open eyes and an open mind toward a new season.”

“We all knew what was going on within the bay and how it was working against anyone who fishes in that area, it did not matter if it is a small recreational boat with a family of four, or a head boat with a party of 20, something needed to be done for our future of summer flounder fishing,” Rothman said.

“United Boatmen, Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) and the Fortescue Captains Association met with Senator Van Drew last spring to discuss possible options for the Delaware Bay for-hire fleet in regards to fluke,” said Capt. Bob Rush of the United Boatmen. “Senator Van Drew along with Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak contacted New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife along with the Delaware fish and game folks to try and work out this issue.”

“With the help of all three organizations we were able to get a smaller fluke for the New Jersey fishermen in the Delaware Bay,” Rush added.

Capt. Rothman said efforts to secure this new Delaware Bay option took a lot of grassroots support between the various organizations working together with Division of Fish and Wildlife staff and key Cape May County legislators. “When Bob Rush and Ed Yates, along with RFA’s Jim Donofrio and I first went to Senator Jeff Van Drew’s office last year with the idea that something needed to get done with the different set of regulations within the Delaware Bay, we all knew that it was going to be an uphill battle,” Rothman said.

Sen. Van Drew said his office maintained consistent dialog with the Christie Administration and NJDEP to help actively hammer out a plan that ASMFC members would support. "I want to thank the RFA for bringing this issue to our attention on behalf of our Fortescue and Delaware Bay fishermen and their businesses,” Sen. Van Drew said. “Our office immediately contacted the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife to work out solutions for this inequity and I am pleased that the ASMFC and the Division are working on a compromise plan."

“Immediately after meeting with Sen. Van Drew, we contacted Brandon Muffley at the Division of Fish and Wildlife who was empathetic to the community’s needs,” Donofrio said. “Brandon said he and the staff would prioritize a remedy, which they did, and we thank him for that.”

Before NJDEP and its Division of Fish and Wildlife Final can take action, an official vote of approval is needed by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) at their March 3 meeting which starts at 4 p.m. at the Galloway Township Public Library at 306 East Jimmie Leeds Road in Galloway Township.

Capt. Rothman sees the proposal as good for both the fishermen and the fish on Delaware Bay. “It will not only help those who fish this area keep a fish, but it will also help with creating a more reasonable and responsible mortality rate among the stock of summer flounder,” the Bonanza II skipper noted.

The Council will also take public input on setting of the fluke season east of the COLREGS line and north along the New Jersey coast, as the state seeks to maintain last year’s management measures for 2016, specifically an 18-inch minimum size, five fish bag and 128-day season. Last year following public input and an informal vote of the attending public, the Council opted for a May 22 start and September 26 end date for the fluke season. On March 3, Council could potentially start and end the season one week earlier; those interested in seeing a change in start and end of the 2016 summer flounder season are encouraged to attend.

The ASMFC vote to approve the ‘New Jersey Delaware Bay’ region for fluke management also allows NJDEP to allow a special shore fishing regulation (two fish at 16 inches) at Island Beach State Park. That too would be finalized after the March 3 meeting.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council will also consider new options for black sea bass following the ASMFC vote to approve the continuation of regional management measures for the northern (Massachusetts to New Jersey) and southern regions (Delaware to North Carolina). According to ASMFC, states in the northern region are responsible for approximately 97% of the total recreational harvest and will have to reduce harvest by 23% in 2016.

In state-by-state comparison of the 2015 black sea bass regulations, Massachusetts had an eight-fish bag, 14-inch size limit and May 23 to August 27 season. In Rhode Island it was a July 2 to August 31 season with 14-inch size and one fish bag, followed by a September through December season with 14-inch size and seven fish bag.

New Yorkers fished under a 14-inch size limit with an eight fish bag from July 15 through October in 2015, and a 10-fish bag through December 31. In Connecticut it was a 14-inch size limit from June 1 to August 31 with a three fish bag, reopening from September 1 through December 31 with a five fish bag.

In New Jersey the 2015 size limit was 12-1/2 inches and open from May 27 to June 30 with 15 fish bag, July 1 through July 31 with a two fish bag, and from October 22 through December 31 with a 15 fish bag.

All of these northern region regulations will certainly be modified for the 2016 season through a combination of decreased bag limits and fewer allowable days to fish.