Editor’s Log: NJ Speckled Trout - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: NJ Speckled Trout

This Thursday, July 11th, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) will meet at 5 p.m. at the Galloway Township Branch of the Atlantic County Library, 306 East Jimmie Leeds Road in Galloway.  On the docket for public discussion is the status of New Jersey’s speckled trout and weakfish regulations.  Due to a quirk in the law, New Jersey has managed these two saltwater “trout” species as the same, even though from a coastwide regulatory standpoint these are indeed two separately managed species of fish.

If you look at the regulations for Delaware, weakfish (cynoscion regalis) carries a one-fish bag and 13-inch size limit with no closed season, while spotted sea trout or speckled trout (cynoscion nebulosus) is managed with a 12-inch size limit, no bag limit and no closed season.  But then you look to the north side of Delaware Bay and the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (Division) manages both weakfish and speckled trout as the same fish, with a one-fish bag limit and 13-inch minimum size.

Over the last several years, I’ve often editorialized (and continually asked at Council meetings) about this inconsistency in regulations, but it’s taken a long time to wind its way through the Trenton legal process to separate the two species in New Jersey.  Finally, that time has come, and the Division is looking to New Jersey anglers for assistance.  “Once we split them out of the definition of weakfish, they will need their own regulations,” said the Division’s Fisheries chief Jeffrey Brust, telling me how the Council will be discussing recreational spotted sea trout regulations at their July 11 meeting. “Council is looking for input on what they should be,” Brust said of the regulations.

Before I received the official notice from Brust, another Division staffer had called to ask what I thought the new bag limits for speckled trout should be, considering that I’ve spent the past 6 years pestering staffers to make the change (and credit to the RFA-NJ for working this issue prior to that group’s disbandment).  “That’s not up to me,” I told him the staffer, adding “That’s up to you, the council and the anglers themselves.” Now personally, I think that whenever a state is allowed to liberalize regulations to match the state next door it’s pretty much a no-brainer.  Heck, you want to have a discussion about equity and fairness, what’s more fair and equitable than opening up more opportunity to fish with liberalized regulations as a state with shared waters.  Too bad we can’t do the same thing with Delaware fluke, sea bass and tautog!

That said, my point in pushing for the separation of weakfish and spotted sea trout has been more about untangling a broken bureaucracy.  If rules are implemented based on science, then science should matter; and these are two different species, scientifically speaking.  Brust said options to be discussed on Thursday include keeping the same size and bag as weakfish- what he called “status quo, but separate” – or possibly matching Delaware’s 12-inch minimum size and limitless creel.  “Council’s preferred option is to mirror Delaware regs, but there hasn’t been a lot of input from anglers, so we are offering this opportunity before a decision is made,” he added.

“A few sea trout will be quietly caught in the sounds over the late summer months, but the real action usually occurs in November,” noted author Frank Ruczynski in an October, 2020 article in The Fisherman about South Jersey specks.  If and when that time comes this season, shouldn’t your ability to fully access this fishery be based on actual science?

If you have a preference, plan to attend this Thursday’s meeting in Galloway.  Regrettably, I have a prior family commitment, but I hope to be listening in on the webinar to hear the results of my incessant pot stirring!

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