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NJ SETS 2016 SEA BASS & FLUKE REGULATIONS

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council has approved the summer flounder and black sea bass regulations for 2016, with a May 21 start to the fluking and May 23 for the biscuits.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  March 3, 2016
NJ SETS 2016 SEA BASS & FLUKE REGULATIONS
Dave Showell of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center pleads his case before the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council on March 3 for an earlier start to the 2016 summer flounder season.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) voted this afternoon in favor of new 2016 regulations for summer flounder and black sea bass, while also supporting the continuance of the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP) beginning on September 1.

The summer flounder (fluke) season in New Jersey marine waters will begin on May 21 and run through September 25, with a five fish bag and 18-inch size limit for most coastal waters.

A new initiative to help provide improved fishing opportunities for New Jersey anglers fishing on Delaware Bay was also approved, which allows a 17-inch minimum size and four fish bag limit west of the COLREGS line in the Delaware Bay.

Through the efforts of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), its Bureau of Marine Fisheries and the enforcement personnel, anglers will also be allowed to transport 17-inch summer flounder through Cape May Canal and up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) as far north as the Route 47 (George Redding) Bridge, so long as all fishing gear is stowed and anglers don’t stop to fish on the way back to port.

“A lot of people have worked very hard on this,” said Capt. Mike Rothman of the Bonanza II out of Fortescue. “For us to be closer to the Delaware limit (four fish at 16 inches) is very important.”

“This will be beneficial on a conservation level and an economic level,” Rothman said at the Galloway Township meeting, explaining that many sub 18-inch fish previously thrown back as too short often resulted in higher mortality rates, while excluding opportunities for many Delaware Bayshore anglers.

In addition to the Delaware Bay options, the two fish at 16-inch measure at Island Beach State Park in Ocean County will also be in place again for the 2016 fluke season.

On the black sea bass front, not much could be done by Council members or state officials to lessen the impact of restrictions mandated by NOAA Fisheries through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). As part of the Northern Region which includes states from Massachusetts to New Jersey, ASMFC called for a 23.2% reduction in 2016 over 2015 regulations, forcing anglers this season to take a rather drastic hit beginning in May.

The black sea bass season in New Jersey in 2016 will be from May 23 to June 19 with a 12-1/2-inch size and 10 fish limit, reopening from July 1 through August 31 with a 12-1/2-inch size and two fish limit, followed by a final third open period from October 22 to December 31 with a 13-inch size and 15 fish bag limit.

“This is the poison pill we have to swallow again this year,” said Capt. Eddie Yates of the Hunter out of Barnegat Light and a representative of the United Boatmen of New Jersey. “I’m not sure how much longer we can stay in business like this,” Capt. Yates said of the ever-diminishing black sea bass seasons.

Many charter and party boat captains in attendance expressed dissatisfaction with the handling of black sea bass by NOAA Fisheries and the impact on the recreational fishing industry. “The system for managing recreational fishing and counting the fish is broken,” said Capt. Adam Nowalsky of the Karen Ann II out of Atlantic City. “At this point I just look at these measures and I look at it as an extension to find a way out (of the industry),” Capt. Nowalsky said

Most of those attending the meeting at the Galloway Township library who spoke publicly were members of the recreational fishing industry, including several South Jersey business folks who were hoping to see an earlier start to the summer flounder fishery. Some, like Dave Showell of the tackle shop Absecon Bay Sportsman Center, had reviewed his past sales records to make a point before the Council.

“The first week of flounder fishing in May was worth four times as much as any in September,” Showell said in support of an earlier start to the season. “An extra week of flounder season at the beginning makes a big difference,” he added.

“We catch our biggest fish before the season even begins,” added Mike Clark of the Strathmere Fishing Club. “And then we’re crying and throwing those fish back in the water.”

Regrettably, because of fatal flaws in the recreational data collection and a predominance of harvested fish tabulated in the government data in their Wave 3 data compiled in May and June, NOAA Fisheries has implemented restrictions on when states in the New Jersey, New York and Connecticut region are allowed to begin fluke fishing.

“I’d like to see it open on May 1, but we’re only allowed 45 days in Wave 3,” said Capt. Yates. Based on that government restriction, the earliest New Jersey could’ve opted to open was May 17; that's the Tuesday just four days prior to the start approved by Council.

Many of the North Jersey for-hire boats and tackle shops prefer to open a little later every spring in order to extend the season later into the fall when big fluke are sometimes more prevalent in coastal waters there, as well as for surfcasters who sometimes target big fluke in the wash during the coastal run of peanut bunker and mullet. “Our group supported a later season into October, but this is a good compromise,” said Paul Haertel of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association.

The Council vote will still need to be finalized by the NJDEP, but you can effectively begin setting your charter trips and circling your upcoming sick days now.

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