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At their November 2 meeting the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted to wait until after the December joint meeting of the ASMFC/MAFMC to decide upon whether or not to open the sea bass fishery in February.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  November 6, 2017
New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council Members (from left to right) Sergio Radossi and Chairman Dick Herb, alongside Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Larry Herrighty, listen to public comment on black sea bass at their November 2 meeting in Galloway, NJ.

With the status of 2018 recreational harvest reductions still unclear, it appears New Jersey anglers will have to wait until sometime early in the New Year to find out about the possibility of a February black sea bass fishery.

On November 2, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) voted to wait until after the joint meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) in December before taking a position on the possible opening of the black sea bass fishery in February.

ASMFC and MAFMC recently voted to allow states the opportunity to provide a limited recreational fishery during the 28 days of February, but only if the states were willing to give up a few days of the season later in the spring. While getting 28 days in exchange for three or four may sound like a good deal, given that it’s trading away warmer months when fishing is traditionally active for the cold of winter presently closed to fishing has caused some debate.

About two dozen anglers and business owners turned out for last week’s Council meeting in Galloway, NJ, with most members of the public speaking out in opposition to any plan to take away spring fishing for a February fishery.

“I have no problem with it as long as no one is penalized,” said Capt. Chris Hueth of the party boat Big Mohawk out of Belmar. Hueth’s comments were echoed by the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA) and several other coastal for-hire captains who don’t sail for black sea bass in February and would prefer not to give up valuable customer days in spring.

“We had a 24-days season this spring,” added Capt. Eddie Yates of the charter boat Hunter out of Barnegat Light, who said he feared losing even more days in the future. “When are we going to get some of these fish back,” Yates said, explaining how NOAA Fisheries needs to allow more recreational harvest considering the healthy state of the fishery.

Yates went on to say he too was opposed to a February opening if it had anything to do with giving fish back in the spring.

“My constituents,” said Joe Zagorski on behalf of the Facebook group members at New Jersey Fishermen Fight for Fishermen's Rights (NJFFFR), “we would support a February opening so long as it didn’t affect us later in the season.”

On the other hand, Capt. Tony Bogan of the Brielle based fleet which includes the 125-foot party boat Jamaica reminded Council members that the winter fishery from November through April used to be something pretty unique on its own just a few short years ago.

“The winter fishery was pretty much a 171-day fishery,” Bogan said, explaining how NOAA Fisheries took away the January and February fishery several years ago without adding anything additional later in the season. “What we gave up, do the math, from 171 days to something like 51,” Bogan said, adding “when you have nothing, you get nothing back.”

While NOAA Fisheries has done a good job in managing to create a divisiveness within the recreational fishing community, what they’ve not done is devise a more fair and sensible method to managing a fishery now 200% over the original biomass target set as a rebuilding target.

“Management is the broken process here,” said Capt. Adam Nowalsky, a key representative for New Jersey at both the ASMFC and MAFMC who added “Let’s work together and realize the management process is the enemy here.”

The original motions made at ASMFC/MAFMC to provide a limited sea bass fishery through exempted fishing permits would’ve effectively awarded personalized harvest limits during the winter fishery; Nowalsky helped bring the discussion around to the public option that allows all states to decide and all anglers to participate in the fishery, what he described as “opening up new opportunities denied the public for at least 5 years.”

In fisheries discussions, a calendar year is broken out into six waves of two months apiece, with Wave One made up of January and February. However, while corresponding recreational harvest surveys, also referred to as MRIP (Marine Recreational Information Program), are undertaken during waves 2-6, NOAA Fisheries does not conduct MRIP surveys during the Wave One black sea bass fishery in January and February.

So while NOAA Fisheries sees a Wave One winter as relatively insignificant for coordinating data collection in the recreational sector, during the Obama administration the agency decided the winter fishery was significant enough to shut down without giving anything in return to the recreational sector in terms of more days in later waves.

Today, the only recreational data associated with this winter fishery comes from the federally permitted for-hire vessels that sail during that time of year through their Vessel Trip Reports (VTR). Due in party to the problems with data collection, no concrete value has been given in terms of the actual number of days a 28-day February fishery would cost later in the year. Members of the Council are hoping those answers may come in Annapolis, MD from December 11-14 when the ASMFC and MAFMC will meet jointly again to discuss 2018 harvest limits.

Capt. Nowalsky said there will be a lot more information coming out of the joint meeting including a black sea bass addendum which very well could cut significantly into the current recreational harvest limits on black sea bass. “We don’t know yet how black sea bass management will be set for 2018,” he said at the November 2 meeting of Council.

After the ASMFC/MAFMC join session, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council will convene a special meeting of its sea bass advisory committee during the week of December 18. Council chairman, Capt. Dick Herb, said delaying the decision until later will allow more information to be provided hopefully from the management bodies before the council meets again in Galloway on January 4, 2018.

“Hopefully we’ll know a lot more, we certainly can’t know any less,” Herb said.

Interested in becoming an advisor to the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council? Download an application form here!

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