This it, my final fluke editorial of the year. The way I figure it, I’ve written close to 20,000 words on the summer flounder fiasco since last fall, covering everything from the crazy data collection methods and questionable trawl surveys, to bycatch mortality and over-harvest of breeding females resulting from increased size limits.
But after this, I’m done!
On May 17, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted to support a three fish at18-inch size limit for the Jersey Coast from May 25 to September 5; New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Bob Martin made it official the very next day. While the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) has protested New Jersey’s refusal to follow their 19-inch and 128-day season mandate, the Commerce Department has apparently pledged support for New Jersey’s solo plan.
It’s the first time since 2010 that the Garden State has been forced into this Memorial Day to Labor Day box; but the move also ensured that the state wouldn’t do something it’s never done before, which is to raise the size limit on fluke over 18 inches. However, we lost two fish from the bag, not to mention four days off the start of the season and another three weeks at the end, which no one is very happy about. On the plus side, Island Beach State Park surfcasters get two fluke at 16 inches, while anglers on either side of the Delaware Bay enjoy the same 17-inch size limit on summer flounder this year.
Fluke or flounder, Giants and Eagles, sub vs. hoagie; fold the coastal map of New Jersey from the tip of Sandy Hook to Cape May Point and you’ll find the north/south dividing line crossing darn close to the Causeway Bridge to Long Beach Island (roughly the same gray area between Benny and Shoobie). Regrettably, the state has been unable to stagger season, size and bag limits to address the fundamental differences between the two ends of the state. However, I’m told that’s one management idea in the mix for the future, as are slot limits and other alternative recreational management approaches.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to this so-called “compromise” is that New Jersey has separated itself from the regional trap designed by some ASFMC members to maintain an equal size and bag with Connecticut and New York (big fluke out on Eastern Long Island Sound has caused major management issues inside state borders). That 2014 regionalization deal took away New Jersey’s ability to manage quotas for the best interest of its own constituents, removing the concept of real “options” discussed democratically at the state level council meetings. So while no one is happy with the loss of fishing days, the silver lining may lie in the fact that individual state rights have returned, for now.
The emails, texts and instant messages since the final fluke decision have been frenetic, with some expressing sense of relief, others railing against an unfair system. Many anglers I’ve spoken with just wished the state took the fight to the bitter end, even going “out of compliance” with what Commerce Department officials would’ve allowed. But at the end of the day, I believe the Christie administration considered the ramifications of that approach. Consider a complete and immediate federal closure, with accountability measures (punishment) in years to come, even the voidance of an entire season of “illegal” landings; imagine ASMFC arguments for state allotment of fluke under state-by-state “conservation equivalency” if other states were able to use 2017 numbers as a harvest baseline in negotiating new state quota allocations.
Yes, the U.S. Department of Commerce could’ve held the line on the 2016 fluke quota and sided with the status quo argument by retaining last year’s coastwide harvest. Regrettably, New Jersey stood alone in the uprising; over the past seven months, I’ve personally offered a number of “frank” opinions on who’s to blame for helping torpedo the cause. Ultimately, it really is a congressional failure to address a broken federal fisheries law. But it’s over now, for now; though rest assured the fluke issue will come back again unless members of Congress start treating their job as a professional responsibility.
So yes, I’m done ranting about fluke – now it’s on to black sea bass!