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New Jersey moves forward with a May 25 to September 5 fluke season with three fish at 18 inches along much of the coast, two at 16 inches for IBSP and a special 17-inch size limit on the Delaware Bay.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  May 18, 2017
The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council approved the May 25 to September 5 fluke season with three fish at 18 inches at an emergency meeting in Avalon, NJ on May 17.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) unanimously voted to approve a three fluke and 18-inch size limit for the 2017 season which would run from May 25 through September 5.

It’s the first time since 2010 that New Jersey has had to truncate the summer flounder season to a Memorial Day to Labor Day stretch in order to keep the size limit at 18 inches; however, the vote also keeps the state from doing something it’s never done, and that’s adopting a size limit greater than 18 inches in minimum length for recreational fishermen.

There were nearly 100 members of the public in attendance at the Avalon Community Hall for the Council’s vote on May 17, with most of the South Jersey representatives clearly in favor of the shorter size limit. One by one, anglers and business owners based from Southern Ocean County to the Delaware Bayshore spoke in favor of the plan which would help break New Jersey free from being included in the tri-state region with New York and Connecticut that was implemented by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) in 2014.

For most South Jersey anglers in attendance, the smaller fish available in local bays for the beginning of the summer and the annual loss of fish and customers after Labor Day made this plan more palatable. In particular, members of the Fortescue fleet were supportive of the plan since it also allows for a three fish at 17-inch size limit west of the COLREGS on Delaware Bay so that bayshore communities can share the same size limit with anglers from the state of Delaware.

While the Council vote also allows for a two fish at 16-inch size limit for shore-based anglers at Island Beach State Park, some surfcasters and northern coast anglers especially felt the loss of a September fishery would hurt surfcasters late in the season. “We think both options are unacceptable, we’d rather continue to fight,” said Paul Haertel in representing the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association (NJBBA) and Berkley Striper Club “We would support the longer season even if it meant the 19-inch size limit,” he added.

Speaking as president of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), John Toth said his board met on May 11 and voted to support the state going out of compliance with ASMFC, while listing the support of eight of nine member groups including Newark Bait and Fly Club, Manasquan Fishing Club, Manasquan River Marlin and Tuna Club, Berkley Striper Club, Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, Shore Surf Clubs, Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County and Village Harbor Fishing Club. A ninth organization, Jersey Coast Shark Anglers, did not have time to poll its own members before this week’s Council meeting.

As for going out of compliance with the ASFMC and NOAA Fisheries, that already seems to be a foregone conclusion.

The ASFMC Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board will meet via conference call on Monday, May 22 at 12:30 p.m. to review the Technical Committee’s report on New Jersey’s 2017 fluke proposal and consider any final action. Because New Jersey is essentially going against the ASFMC vote to be constrained by the same size and season as New York and Connecticut, even if the Technical Committee finds New Jersey’s plan to be “conservationally equivalent” in terms of the required reduction in harvest, the state will probably still be found non-compliant by the ASFMC’s standards.

“Some of the vibes we’re getting from the Technical Committee are not good,” said Council chairman Capt. Dick Herb, who also added “(but) the National Marine Fisheries Service should back us up.” Chairman Herb noted how the Christie administration and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) through commissioner Bob Martin in particular did extensive work in getting the Commerce Department and NOAA Fisheries to support New Jersey’s somewhat revolutionary effort on behalf of the fluke fishery as a whole. “We’re basing much of our argument on reducing the amount of bycatch mortality,” Herb noted.

“The DEP has gone to bat like we’ve never seen before,” added council member and Sea Isle party boat captain Bob Rush, while reminding Avalon attendees of the prior Council meeting in January when nearly 150 fishermen turned out in opposition to the ASMFC’s original suite of options. “There wasn’t one person in that room at the Council meeting in January that wanted a 19-inch fish.”

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