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New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife hosts two of three meetings regarding striped bass management measures for 2020 in Roselle Park and Ocean City, with the final hearing set for Sept. 12 in Manahawkin.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  September 6, 2019
After a pretty poor showing in Roselle Park on Sept. 3, approximately 50 members of the public showed up to discuss striped bass management measures at the Ocean City Public Library on Sept. 4.The third and final New Jersey hearing will be held on Sept. 12 in Manahawkin, NJ.

The first two out of three public hearings on striped bass are officially in the books in New Jersey, with one more to go on Thursday, September 12 at 6 p.m. at the Bay Avenue Community Center at 775 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin, NJ.

On September 3, seven members of the public were reportedly in attendance for the Roselle Park meeting in the northern region of New Jersey, with another 50 public attendees the following night at the southern region meeting at Ocean City Public Library.

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) presented handouts at each meeting with a three-option decision tree for commercial and recreational management options, a second document that described the various sub-options for recreational management measures, and a third with various circle hook provisions, all proposed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for public comment.

At the Ocean City meeting on September 4, after a series of questions were first posed by attendees towards Division staffers for greater clarification of ASMFC options, audience members were then invited to the microphone to present official positions related to the ASMFC documents for the official public record. Eight Ocean City attendees spoke to the potential regulations presented for 2020, with a fairly even split between a one fish bag and 35-inch minimum size limit option, and a one fish bag and 28- to 35-inch slot option. Speakers seemed unanimous in their support of an option which would require use of circle hooks when fishing with bait.

Other thoughts and opinions expressed by attendees - which were not necessarily part of the list of ASMFC options, but recorded by Division staff - related to the current use of a unused commercial quota for the Striped Bass Bonus Program, the conservation equivalency approach used for state-by-state management of striped bass, enhanced state enforcement of fisheries regulations, ecosystem protection, potential restrictions on charter captains being able to have their bag limit utilized by customers, and increased spawning area protection for striped bass in the Hudson/Raritan complex. One light tackle guide even suggested that fish-handling courses should be offered for fishermen who wish to target striped bass.

While that level of detail may not be what ASMFC is interested in, it’s exactly the kind of information that the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife would like to hear from striped bass fishermen.

ASMFC is specifically looking at getting public input for the various options contained within Draft Addendum VI, which was initiated in response to the 2018 Benchmark Stock Assessment showing the striped bass resource to be overfished and experiencing overfishing. The Draft Addendum explores a range of management alternatives designed to end overfishing and reduce fishing mortality to curtail the downward trend in female spawning stock biomass (SSB) which are the mature females in the stock that are able to spawn. The Draft Addendum proposes management options for both commercial and recreational sectors in the ocean and Chesapeake Bay aimed at reducing total fishery removals by 18% relative to 2017 levels.

The proposed measures include reduced quotas for commercial fisheries, and changes in bag limits, minimum sizes, and slot size limits for the recreational sector which includes both private anglers and for-hire. According to the ASMFC technical data, striped bass mortality from catch and release fishing accounted for 48% of the overall 2017 recreational harvest, with the actual taking of fish for home-consumption accounting for the other 42% of landings. Given that "catch and release" represents a significant portion of overall fishing mortality in the striped bass fishery, the Draft Addendum also explores the mandatory use of circle hooks when fishing with bait to reduce release mortality in the recreational striped bass fishery.

And yet while ASMFC is ultimately looking at options contained in the handouts from the approved Draft Addendum, the Division is looking seriously for public input. In a conversation following the Ocean City hearing, Division staff expressed hope that more members of the public would be in attendance for the September 12 meeting in Manahawkin to ascertain if there other possible concepts that New Jersey could implement to provide ample protection of SSB, better reduction in release mortality and overall enhancement of the angler experience.

While a lot of thoughts, opinions and general criticisms have been flying across social media outlets, with two of three meetings down there have only been 60 members of the angling public in attendance for these critically important striped bass hearings (there were 164,332 saltwater anglers registered to fish New Jersey marine waters in 2017, with 817 for-hire registrations). Yes, ASMFC is looking for feedback on the proposed options by October 7, but the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is also looking for direct feedback from anglers who fish for striped bass in Garden State waters, and they need that by September 12.

If you have an opinion you want to share with the state, September 12 provides the opportunity to do so. Don’t think your opinion matters? If the Division doesn’t get a chance to hear it first-hand on Thursday night in Manahawkin, then you’re probably right.

Public comment on Draft Addendum VI will be accepted until 5 PM (EST) on October 7, 2019 and should be sent to Max Appelman, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St, Suite A-N, Arlington, VA 22201; 703.842.0741 (FAX) or at comments@asmfc.org. (Subject line: Striped Bass Draft Addendum VI). The Board will meet at the Commission’s Annual Meeting in October to review public comment and consider final approval of the Addendum.