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A new regional tautog plan with commercial harvest tags and a potential slot limit for New Jersey will meet public review in Toms River and Lewes, DE on June 26 and 27 respectively.
By Jim Hutchinson  |  June 26, 2017
New Jersey anglers who've long been releasing big old tautog to put the smaller ones in the box should take time to attend the ASFMC hearing in Toms River this week where "slot fish" management of tautog will be discussed as possible management measure for 2018.

After a sticky six months of fluke debate within the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), the coastal management body is back on the management hot seat for a plan that would limit the blackfish harvest by nearly 50% for Long Island Sound fishermen, forcing Connecticut and New York anglers into a one-fish bag limit for most if not all of the season.

Based on the 2015 Benchmark Stock Assessment, tautog was determined to be overfished and overfishing occurring on a coast-wide scale. That reported downtrend in stock resulted in a proposal (Draft Amendment 1) that the ASFMC calls a “fundamental change in tautog management, moving away from management on a coast-wide basis towards regional management.”

Specifically, Draft Amendment 1 proposes delineating the stock into four regions due to differences in biology and fishery characteristics, Massachusetts-Rhode Island, Long Island Sound, New Jersey-New York Bight and Delaware-Maryland-Virginia.

Al Ristori, longtime Conservation Watch editor for The Fisherman Magazine said in a recent blog post, “The ASMFC Draft Amendment 1 to the Tautog Fishery Management Plan proposes setting up regions which cut across state lines and makes sense since tog are not coastal migrators.”

The so-called Draft Amendment 1 also proposes the establishment of a commercial harvest tagging program, which would require that all blackfish harvested for sale be tagged at the point of capture with the tag remaining in place until final purchase by the consumer. That plan has been widely promoted by recreational fishing groups and conservationists in that it would be allow regulators and enforcement personnel to track fish sales and more easily identify black market tautog.

While Connecticut and New York anglers who fish Long Island Sound are up in arms over the regionalization proposal and the impending restrictions there, the 2018 measures for New Jersey aren’t nearly as onerous. Based on the 2016 stock assessment update, the New Jersey-New York Bight region is overfished and overfishing is occurring; however, based on the recreational harvest data from 2013 through 2015, that shared region will need to reduce harvest by a minimum of 2%.

Among a suite of options being reviewed for consideration by the public is a 15- to 18-inch slot limit proposal as a way for fishermen to keep a good percentage of current harvests while allowing the largest fish to remain in the population given the fact that research has shown larger tautog are the greatest contributors to the reproductive potential of the stock. According to the ASMFC, the percent reductions for this slot limit were calculated by taking the proportion of total harvest of the fish legally landed in the recreational fishery in New Jersey and New York’s south shore which exceeded 18 inches.

New Jersey anglers will get a chance to review the “slot fish” option and all other components of Draft Amendment 1 to the Tautog Fishery Management Plan this week when the ASFMC holds the one and only New Jersey public hearing on Tuesday night starting at 6:30 p.m.

June 27, 2017 (6:30 – 9:30 p.m.)
New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife
Ocean County Administration Building
Public Hearing Room 119
101 Hooper Avenue
Toms River, New Jersey
Contact: Russ Allen at 609-748-2020

As for south of New Jersey, tautog management measures for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia (DelMarVa) have historically been state-specific. In response to the 2016 stock assessment update, managers are proposing regional management options for the public to consider.

Delaware anglers will get a chance to review the proposal on Wednesday starting at 6 p.m. in Lewes.

June 28, 2017 (6 – 8 p.m.)
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
DNREC Lewes Facility
901 Pilottown Road
Lewes, Delaware
Contact: John Clark at 302-739-9914

Final action on the Amendment is scheduled to occur in August. For more information, please contact Ashton Harp, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator, at or 703-842-0740.

Download the entire Draft Amendment 1 to the Tautog Fishery Management Plan.

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