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Expect a standing room only crowd on Thursday, September 7 at 4 p.m. at the Stafford Township Municipal Building as frustrated New Jersey anglers deal with the closure of both fluke and black sea bass this week.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  September 4, 2017
A capacity crowd spilled out the door of the Galloway Township Library in January during a New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council meeting on fluke, a scene which may well play out again this Thursday in Manahawkin, NJ now that both fluke and sea bass are inaccessible to New Jersey anglers.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council will meet this Thursday, September 7 at 4 p.m. at the Stafford Township Municipal Building at 260 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin.

With New Jersey’s fluke season closing at the end of the day on September 5 and black sea bass having closed as of September 1, it’s expected that the meeting room could be filled to capacity with frustrated fishermen.

In a press release sent out before the Labor Day weekend, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) called the period between the September 6 and October 21 a regulatory "dead zone," while encouraging anglers to attend the Marine Fisheries Council meeting on Thursday to show support for the Council in taking action to open a limited fall fishery for black sea bass in state waters effective immediately.

“RFA is encouraging all recreational anglers, charter and party boat operators and owners, tackle shop owners and any one whose business is threatened by bad fisheries policy to attend this meeting and ask council members to introduce and pass a motion to open black sea bass in New Jersey state waters from September 6 through October 21 with a 12-1/2-inch minimum size limit and a 15 bag limit,” the release stated, adding “The condition of the black sea bass stock, the minimal amount of poundage expected to be harvested under this six-week opening, and the lack of options available to recreational anglers certainly justify this action.”

One of several councils and committees involved in managing New Jersey’s fish and wildlife resources, the Marine Fisheries Council advises the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) on various issues and management programs related to marine fishery resources. The Council has 11 volunteer members representing recreational and commercial fishermen, fish processors, the general public and the Atlantic Coast and Delaware Bay sections of the Shellfisheries Council.

Bimonthly meetings are typically held in Galloway Township not far from the Bureau of Marine Fisheries facility at Nacote Creek in Port Republic, with at least one of those six annual meetings held in Stafford Township (with the May 17, 2017 meeting held in Cape May County.)

The Marine Fisheries Council is unique in state government in that it can veto marine fishery regulations proposed by the NJDEP Commissioner; the council also contributes to the preparation and revision of fishery management plans, holds public hearings on marine fishery issues, convenes species-related citizen panels as appropriate, and advises the commissioner on departmental policies and planning related to marine resources.

Based on data from the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, RFA’s bulletin noted that recreational harvest limits for black sea bass in 2015 and 2016 could’ve increased two-fold based on stock assessment data compiled last year. As such, the organization is arguing that a “3.43 million-pound unused surplus” presently exists which could be used to open New Jersey state waters to a black sea fishery as of September 6.

“If passed by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council and adopted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the opening would be inconsistent with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) measures and therefore, the ASMFC would likely take action to find New Jersey out of compliance similar to the action taken by the interstate regulatory body with regards to summer flounder,” RFA said in its release, adding “However, New Jersey anglers and the businesses supported by them will be deprived of nearly seven weeks of some of the best fishing during the fall season if the current measures stand.”

While various fishing organizations like the RFA continue to work within the often stifling confines of a bureaucratic system, many anglers have seemingly had their fill of the slow-moving political process and have taken to social media. In one new Facebook group created last week, NJFFFR New Jersey Fishermen Fight For Fishermen's Rights, over 5,000 members were added overnight, though many of them unknowingly.

Strangely, while much of the viral anger and vitriol has been directed at advocates who’ve spent years fighting to fix the broken system (with some of those individuals actually being banished from the group page) NJFFFR also boasts as members some of the very same people actively working with non-government organizations like the Marine Fish Conservation Network to keep the restrictive fishing measures in place.

Regardless of association or personal level of involvement in fisheries issues, anglers and business owners arriving for the Thursday meeting in Manahawkin who wish to speak should look for a sign-in sheet near the door along with the meeting agenda. For additional information, call 609-292-7794.