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Fisheries managers meet in Baltimore, MD on December 14, 2016 to make their soon to be infamous D-Day decision on the 2017 Atlantic Coast fluke season.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

Depending on where you do most of your bucktailing, you’ll either be seeing worse fluke restrictions in 2017, or perhaps the very worst ever!

On Wednesday, December 14, 2016, members of the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) voted to move a new summer flounder plan through for 2017 which includes options to curtail recreational fluke harvest in the upcoming season.

The suite of options to be made official and public in the coming weeks will address the requirement by NOAA Fisheries that the 2017 fluke harvest in both the commercial and recreational sector be cut by 30% in response to recent assessments showing the stock biomass to be in decline.

Due to overharvest by anglers in 2016 along the coast - according to NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) - additional restrictions will be placed on the recreational sector to attain what equates to about 41% reduction in harvest for 2017 over the 2016 season.

For states at either end of the range - Massachusetts and North Carolina - the cutbacks in season and bag limit or increase in size may barely be noticeable; but the closer to the heart of the fishery you get, the more devastating the reductions become. Based on the Adaptive Regional Management approach which put Connecticut, New York and New Jersey into a unique management region for the past several seasons with a uniform five fish bag limit and 18-inch size restriction in 2016 and a 128-day season, the same regionalized approach for 2017 would result in a two fish at 19-inch size limit and an open season as high as 107 days and as short as just 88 days.

Under state-specific management options, Connecticut anglers would be forced to cut their allowable harvest by 81% for a two fish at 21-inch size limit and 53 days, New York would have to cut back by 73% with a two fish at 21-inch size limit and 66-day season, while New Jersey could go to three at 18 inches with just 81 days of allowable fishing. That same state-specific conservation equivalency approach would result in a four fish at 18-inch size limit with a 105-day season in Rhode Island, and four fish at 19 inches in Delaware with a year-round fishery. Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina on the other hand would not have to restrict limits based on the MRIP data.

Other options contained within the draft document falling under the Alternative Management Approach model include a fish sharing option to essentially distribute unfished quota from unaffected states to those requiring the biggest cuts, a 1-inch size increase across the board with subsequent bag and season reductions, a 30% across the board cut with 2016 overage penalties for individual states, and a 1-inch size increase coupled with a 30% across the board cut.

Review each of these four alternate management options by clicking in the corresponding photo in the gallery in the upper right hand side of the page.

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