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Pending final approval by the ASFMC, New Jersey’s summer flounder season would kick off on May 25 with three fish at 18 inches, with a 16-inch IBSP limit and a special 17-inch limit along the Delaware Bayshore.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  May 11, 2017
Hours after NJDEP Commission Bob Martin makes a pitch for a three-fish at 18-inch size limit in New Jersey, the Interstate Fisheries Management Program (ISFMP) Policy Board recommends that NOAA Fisheries and the Commerce Department find New Jersey out of Compliance as of May 21.

It’s been said that a good compromise is one from which all parties leave equally dissatisfied.

While New Jersey fluke anglers had hoped to keep the five fish at 18-inch size limit and 128-day season for another summer, a final deal proposed this week in Alexandria, VA may allow New Jersey anglers to fish that same 18-inch size limit, while giving up two fish in the bag and losing about three weeks at the tail end of the season.

While painful to lose available fishing days, most should agree it’s still better overall than the three fish at 19-inch limit that had been on the table for the past few months.

Pending approval by the Atlantic states Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Technical Committee and Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Management Board, starting on May 25, New Jersey’s coastal anglers would be allowed three fluke at 18 inches. As part of the proposed deal at the ASMFC hearings in Virginia this week, the season would be cut back to 104 days with an end date of September 5.

While not all anglers fishing the Garden State will be thrilled to learn the fluke season could be truncated to a Memorial Day to Labor Day stretch, this new deal will also allow New Jersey to manage a three fish at 17-inch size limit west of the COLREGS line in the Delaware Bay, with a special two fish at 16-inch limit for surfcasters at Island Beach State Park.

Comparatively speaking, when ASMFC originally presented a set of four options for public input, the only other equation that would’ve provided an 18-inch size limit for New Jersey would’ve allowed just 59 days of fishing and a two fish bag limit. The final proposal approved by ASMFC in February and the so called “Option Five” selection would put New Jersey in a collective region with Connecticut and New York adhering to a three fish at 19-inch size limit and 128 days of allowable fishing to start sometime after the second week in May.

Because the plan will also allow South Jersey anglers 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 gear is stowed and fishing activity is done for the day, it allows those fishing on either side of the Delaware/New Jersey line to fish on the same, 17-inch size limit which should come as welcome news from Salem to Cape May.

As the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) had argued in their appeal of the original ASMFC vote in February, larger size limits like the 19 inches proposed in February not only impact angler opportunities this season but it would also harm the long-term health of the summer flounder stocks. “If we go forward with these regulations mortality rates of the fish returned to the water will be higher than those that are harvested,” NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin said earlier this year, explaining that it would be “the first time in the state’s history that this will happen.”

Martin, who testified before the ASMFC on May 11, said New Jersey's plan allows anglers a better opportunity to catch a keeper fish this season while also keeping overall mortality rates down.

A unanimous 17-0 vote by ASMFC officially postponed New Jersey’s official appeal until the next meeting of the Interstate Fisheries Management Program (ISFMP) Policy Board; this allows New Jersey time to get the required approval of the three at 18-inch option at the ASMFC while keeping the potential of an appeal alive should any problems arise. NJDEP however expected the new proposal to go through the process without any problems, and they expect to have the new regulations implemented during the week of May 15.

However, before breaking for lunch on the morning of May 11, the ISFMP initially voted New Jersey out of compliance giving them until May 21 to adopt the original options. The Technical Committee would still need to come up with a finding as well.

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