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Dozens and dozens of concerned anglers stood outside of the packed meeting room at the Stafford Township Municipal Building in hopes of getting their voices heard on striped bass and bluefish by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council on February 13.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  February 14, 2020
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection assistant commissioner Ray Bukowski addresses a packed hall in Manahawkin on Thursday night, telling the crowd assembled inside (and outside) of the meeting room that all members of the public wishing to be heard would be.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted on Thursday night in favor of new recreational striped bass regulations for 2020 that would allow anglers to keep one striped bass per day between 28 and less than 38 inches in length.

Because the one at 28 to <38 slot is slightly different from what was approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for a coastwide standard of one striper at 28 to <35, this option would need to get ASMFC’s official stamp of approval which should come in a matter of days. If for whatever reason ASFMC and its technical committee were to turn down New Jersey conservation equivalency, New Jersey would by default go to the approved coastal standard.

The council’s unanimous vote on February 13 would allow New Jersey to join other coastal states like Rhode Island and Virginia in implementing slightly different ocean options based on conservation equivalency allowances designed to meet an 18% coastwide reduction.

For ocean waters in New York, the approved option for striped bass was one striper from 28 to less than 35, though anglers on the Hudson River in New York will fish on a one fish from 18 to less than 28 inches from April 1 through November 30. Delaware anglers are also looking at a one at 28 to less than 38-inch option (in addition to the 28 to 35 option), as well as one striped bass from 20 to less than 25 inches on the Delaware Bay, River and tributaries between July 1 and August 31.

For Pennsylvania striped bass anglers on the Delaware River estuary, it’s one striper at 28 to less than 35 inches from January 1 to March 31 and from June 1 to December 31, and two fish from 21 to less than 24 inches from April 1 through May 31. In the non-tidal Delaware River, Pennsylvania anglers will fish on the one at 28 to less than 35 restriction.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council also voted to continue the striped bass bonus program (SBBP) in the state which utilizes a portion of the unused commercial striped bass quota in New Jersey to allow saltwater anglers to apply for a limited number of bonus tags. Based on the council’s vote, New Jersey is expected to offer tag holders the opportunity to harvest one fish from 24 to less than 28 inches starting May 15 and running through the end of the year. The SBBP in 2019 accounted for less than 15% of the overall allotted commercial quota of 215,912 pounds, by way of just 5,382 tagged 24- to under 28-inch striped bass for a total of 31,239 pounds.

On the bluefish front, New Jersey will adopt a three fish bag limit for private anglers this season, with a five bluefish bag limit for those fishing on charter and party boats.

New Jersey’s summer flounder season is expected to open on May 22 with an 18-inch minimum size, three fish per angler (17-inch minimum size, three per angler west of COLREGS on Delaware Bay, and 16-inch minimum size, two per angler at Island Beach State Park.) Black sea bass, porgy, and tautog limits will all remain the same in New Jersey.

By 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, February 13, the full 118-person occupancy limit of the meeting room at Stafford Township Municipal Building was reached, keeping 40 or more members of the public packed in the hallway and outside the building doors, while forcing many to turn around and drive home after arriving at the Manahawkin complex. Staff with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife modified the night’s agenda to put striped bass and bluefish towards the top of the talking points, while allowing standing room only anglers outside to come in one at a time to present their thoughts and opinions.

The next scheduled meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council is on Thursday, March 5 at 5 p.m. That meeting will also be held at the Stafford Township at 260 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin, NJ.