A Split State - The Fisherman

A Split State

I received an interesting email from longtime subscriber Richard Lopardo of Forked River with the subject line Suggestion for Senior Aged Fisherman, detailing an idea he presented to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in a letter, and also at a recent hearing in Belmar.

A senior who fishes primarily in Barnegat Bay, Mr. Lopardo noted how he’s able to fish four or five times a week, mostly weekdays, when most other anglers he sees are also seniors.  “The main reasons seniors like myself fish the bay are because most have smaller boats, they cannot maneuver through the physical challenges of the inlet and ocean and they cannot afford the fuel to go out into the ocean daily,” he said.

“It’s extremely hard to catch an 18-inch inch fluke in the bay, this past season I only caught five or six keepers, most days I catch between eight and twelve fluke and only maybe get a measurer or two,” Lopardo said, adding “Sadly, while trying to keep the mortality rate as low as possible, I know that I am throwing fish back that will not survive.”

Remember that the folks at NOAA Fisheries take into account release mortality when accounting for annual harvest and ongoing stock assessments.  Given that throwback fluke carries a 10% statistical mortality rate, one in every ten short fish released will count as dead.  Thus, if you’re coming off the dock and happen to get surveyed by one of the fish counting folks for the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP), a sarcastic response of “yeah buddy, I caught a 100 fluke, but only got one keeper,” actually tabulates as 11 dead flatties for your trip.  Yes, mortality rate on released fish is a huge issue!

“I feel seniors should be granted a two or three fluke bag limit at 16 inches or more,” Lopardo wrote, adding “Currently, Island Beach State Park and Cape May have that limit for all.”  He goes on to reference the commercial fishery whereby size limits are smaller than 16 inches in length, which of course is another story altogether.

Lopardo said eligibility for this unique limit should be for angler 65 or older.  “At 77 I have been fishing for over 70 years and I am looking forward to catching some fish I can keep,” he added.  He makes a strong argument for bay anglers and surfcasters overall; while the age angle is certainly interesting, I’ve always wanted to see how a differing set of regulations could be implemented based on size and season, particularly bay versus ocean fishing, or perhaps by divvying up different coastal regions of the Garden State.

For example, I keep my boat in the Great Bay area where the best fluking of the season is in the spring and early summer; by the beginning of August that fishery often turns off as fluke head out for deeper water.  I know different size or split-season concepts have always intrigued small boat anglers and surfcasters in the back bays from all the way down into Cape May County.

Conservation officers have typically pooh-poohed any split-state ideas because of enforcement difficulties.  Then again, the state manages different hunting regulations depending on which side of a particular tree you’re hunting, so that seems mostly like a copout.  Thankfully the enforcement folks have been more flexible with allowable size differences at Island Beach and on Delaware Bay.

Honestly, I’m not sure how government officials will even be able to conduct MRIP this season given the COVID-19 crisis.  With all the stay-at-home requirements for individuals on top of “non-essential” business restrictions devastating our local charter and party boat business this season, it sure would be nice to see NOAA Fisheries and the Mid-Atlantic council prioritize the participation issues to start 2020, perhaps with a little size and season relief as the season progresses.  That’s something that anglers of all ages could surely appreciate during the crisis.

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