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On April 5, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted to open the black sea bass season on May 15, with fluke set to reopen for 2018 on May 25.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  April 6, 2018
Dave Showell from Absecon Bay Sportsman Center speaks up for the "Mosquito fleet" at the April 5 meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council where 2018 summer flounder and sea bass regulations were set. Photo by John DeBona.

On April 5, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) approved the 2018 summer flounder and black sea bass regulations; the vote will still require final approval by both state and federal officials.

New Jersey’s fluke season will open May 25 and will run through September 22 with a three fish bag and 18-inch size limit.

As with in 2017, anglers fishing on the Delaware Bayshore and transiting from ports below the George Redding Bridge in Wildwood (so long as all gear is stowed and fishing activity is done for the day) will have three fish at 17 inches, while surfcasters at Island Beach State Park will once again get two keepers at 16 inches this season.

An overflowing crowd filled the tiny meeting room at the Bay Avenue Community Center for Thursday’s hearing, and while the Council chairman Dick Herb at one point remarked that he was surprised at the turnout just to talk fluke, about two dozen attendees filed one-by-one to the front of the room to give individual opinions as to which of the three presented options they preferred.

The Council’s advisors had met earlier in the week and pared down a set of about eight different management options for the 2018 season to just three; while Chairman Herb had asked that the advisors keep those options under wraps, the options were ultimately leaked to the public by way of social media in advance of the meeting which helped prompt public debate:

Option 1 – May 25 to September 22 (121 days)
Option 2 – May 22 to September 20 (122 days)
Option 3 – May 15 to September 16 (125 days)

Back bay anglers in South Jersey and local business owners who cater to those customers fishing as far north as Little Bay and Absecon Bay all the way down to Grassy Sound and Jarvis Sound in Cape May County encouraged the Council to vote for Option 3 to allow for an earlier start to the season to accommodate back bay anglers who ultimately quit fluke fishing by late July or August when many of those fish head towards deeper ocean waters. Dave Showell who caters to a lot of 16-foot aluminum skiffs out of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center spoke up for he referred to as the “Mosquito fleet,” or smaller, trailer-boaters who “might not have all their money in the game, but they do have their heart in the game.”

By a 2 to 1 majority, the advisors' preferred option (Option 1) carried much of the support among the attendees; it also garnered much of the backing of the for-hire fleet as a whole with Capt. Eddie Yates of the Barnegat Light based Hunter and spokesman for the United Boatmen of New Jersey speaking in support of the later season offered in Option 1 to provide more opportunity for New Jersey anglers to bottom fish late into late September. “We’re not going to have anything to fish for in September,” Yates said of the other options, explaining that “colder than normal” water temps which he said are “about 8 degrees below normal” may actually delay the arrival of summer flounder into New Jersey’s back bays anyway.

Speaking on behalf of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), Paul Haertel said closing the gap between the end of the fluke season in September and the reopening of black sea bass in early October was “A top priority for JCAA” and the major reason for supporting the May 25 to September 22 season. Haertel’s position was that anglers throughout the state had other options to target during May including striped bass and big bluefish.

Following a unanimous 8-0 vote in support of the May 25 opening of fluke, the Council then reviewed three separate options for black sea bass management in the state of New Jersey for 2018, one starting on May 15, one on May 23 and a final option that would delay the start until June 9 but would allow for a 12-1/2-inch size limit on black sea bass throughout the year. JCAA’s Haertel started the public comment off by saying he supported the option for an earlier sea bass opening because it provided anglers with something to fish for in May. After polling the 75 or so attendees in the tiny, crowded room, Council moved to adopt the following sea bass regulations for 2018:

May 15 to June 22: 10 fish (12-1/2 inches)
July 1 to August 31: 2 fish (12-1/2 inches)
Oct. 8 to Oct. 31: 10 fish (12-1/2 inches)
Nov. 1 to Dec. 31: 15 fish (13 inches)

While New Jersey’s new regulations for fluke and sea bass, as well as porgy and blackfish are essentially set for 2018 pending final regulatory and legal sign-off, there is a new hitch. An official appeal by the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York over disparity in black sea bass regulations between the northern states and those from New Jersey south along the Mid-Atlantic coast has been validated by a panel convened by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) this week.

Though the Council opted to move forward with the present slate of sea bass options for 2018, that appeal effort now moving along to the ASFMC policy board for review on May 6 could ultimately impact the overall black sea bass measures approved on April 5.

As of this week, there’s also no official word as to official changes to Delaware’s recreational regulations for summer flounder and black sea bass. The summer flounder season in Delaware is officially open 365 days a year with a 17-inch size limit and four fish bag, though the size is expected to decrease for 2018 by a half inch. As of April 1, the state of Maryland had already lowered their size limit on summer flounder to just 16-1/2 inches, with John H. Clark, Fisheries Section Administrator for Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife saying he expects to do the same.

Delaware’s next Advisory Council meeting on Tidal Finfish will be on April 18 at 6 p.m.

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