Editor’s Log: NJ’s Bonus Bass - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: NJ’s Bonus Bass

Remember the striper survey you took last spring?  The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (Division) sent it to registered anglers in June of 2019 to collect opinions on New Jersey’s favorite saltwater gamefish.  Despite a lot of online sniping about the state’s final striped bass decision, the Division really did have a lot of good information to go by when setting new 2020 size and “bonus” limits back in February.

After establishing “gamefish” status for stripers 30 years ago, New Jersey began reallocating some of the unused commercial quota to recreational fishermen through the Striped Bass Bonus Program (SBBP).  Some folks hate that New Jersey can reassign a portion of that roughly 215,000-pound quota to anglers; but I would ask, how many anglers in other states would turn down similar offers to transfer commercial quota to the recreational community?

Besides, how is New Jersey worse than Massachusetts where practically anyone with a checkbook can get a commercial permit to catch and sell striped bass?  While Mass “anglers” catch and sell stripers every day against a 735,000-pound annual quota, Jersey anglers with an individual SBBP tag harvested just 5,382 tagged 24- to 28-inch striped bass for personal consumption during a four-month period in 2019, a total of 31,239 pounds (less than 15% of the entire allotted quota).  Talk about fishing in glass houseboats!

For those angry about not getting in to the packed Stafford Township meeting in February, you’re right; the size of the room was a fiasco.  Many of the marine fisheries meetings are held in Manahawkin being equidistant from Sandy Hook and Cape May, but there certainly should be better location planning for highly charged topics like striped bass.  But in terms of being heard, the Division went to great lengths to collect opinions.

First there were three public striper hearings last fall – more than any other state – attended by approximately 150 people, 29 of whom registered public comments with another 50 following up with written responses.  Secondly, New Jersey did something that most other states did not, and that’s use the angler database to survey anglers.  That survey was sent to 150,000 email addresses, to which 23,549 anglers responded (a 16% response rate).  I would think this information on size options and regulations went a long way in helping the Division craft their rather hefty suite of proposals for the ASMFC final review.

At the November meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, the Division shared the survey results showing roughly 35% of respondents wanted to see the SBBP suspended versus the other 60% who were in favor of some type of bonus option (roughly 25% wanted a small slot, 20% favored a medium slot, and around 15% supported a big fish trophy tag).  While there was some Monday morning quarterbacking on social media by those who wished to see the SBBP suspended, the survey seemed to show that a majority of registered anglers felt otherwise.

Could a single speaker have swayed the council’s final decision?  I’ve seen it happen before; but folks really have to know their facts and be able to deliver a precise and influential message; emotion alone is unlikely to change a councilor’s mind or affect a democratic outcome.  I would imagine that each of those 23,549 anglers who responded to the survey probably had the strongest influence of all on the final regulations.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the SBBP registration was delayed this spring; but the program is underway again as of May 15 with applications for individuals and party/charter boats being accepted through October 31 at www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/bonusbas.htm (Google NJ Striped Bass Bonus Program).  Remember, anglers who choose to participate in this optional program must keep detailed catch reports.

And make sure you register to fish the salt at saltwaterregistry.nj.gov.  As we’ve learned, participation does make a difference!

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