The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) on Thursday, February 2, voted 7-3 in favor of the so-called Option 5 of the Summer Flounder Draft Addendum XXVIII for 2017 recreational measures for fluke. The option would apply a “near coastwide 1-inch size limit increase and bag limit reduction to four fish or less” along the Atlantic Coast in 2017, with North Carolina exempt from the measures, and the tri-state region of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey getting a three-fish bag limit.

Because the measure is thought to achieve a roughly 30% coastwide reduction on recreational fluke harvest – less than the required reduction of 41% required by NOAA Fisheries – the approved measures are not certain to meet the ASMFC Technical Committee requirements and final approval by NOAA Fisheries. A motion made by New Jersey to postpone final action until later in February when ASMFC meets jointly with the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) in Kitty Hawk, NC in hopes of getting that final analysis and approval failed.

Spearheaded by the New York delegation, the vote was also approved by Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the Potomac River Commission. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey voted in opposition to the Option 5 compromise, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) both abstained.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island had pushed to approve an option that would’ve resulted in an over 43% reduction for the region consisting of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, an effort that would’ve drastically cut the length of season in those states to 96 days or less. That vote failed 8-2.

While Option 5 would allow special Delaware Bay COLREGS fishery regulations for another year where New Jersey anglers on portions of Delaware Bay can fish under a size limit that’s an inch less than the rest of the state in order to better adapt to Delaware’s less restrictive limits, the New Jersey delegation made a motion for status quo measures in 2017 until confirmation of a new Secretary of Commerce, and until NOAA Fisheries can submit new regulations to the federal register. That motion failed 10-2, with only New Jersey and Delaware voting in favor.

During the morning long discussion and debate, several ASMFC members felt that if NOAA Fisheries did not approve the selected option 5 because it doesn’t completely meet the full reduction required for 2017, a precautionary default measure would then be automatically implemented requiring a 20-inch size limit, two fish possession and a July 1 to August 31 season.

ASMFC executive director Bob Beal, executive director said it’s possible to reconvene the ASMFC members should option 5 not get the Commerce Department’s approval. “There’s definitely a process where the Board can get back together and take additional action to decide what the next alternative would be if this one is not accepted by NOAA Fisheries,” Beale said on Thursday.

Under Option 5 approved by the ASMFC, if approved by the technical committee and ultimately the Secretary of Commerce, the state-by-state limits on summer flounder in 2017 are expected to be as follows:

Massachusetts – four fish at 17 inches (125 days)
Rhode Island – four fish at 19 inches (245 days)
Connecticut – three fish at 19 inches (128 days)
New York – three fish at 19 inches (128 days)
New Jersey – three fish at 19 inches (128 days)
NJ/Delaware Bay – three fish at 18 inches (128 days)
Delaware – four fish at 17 inches (365 days)
Maryland – four fish at 17 inches (365 days)
Virginia – four fish at 17 inches (365 days)
North Carolina – four fish at 15 inches (365 days)

The ASMFC and MAFMC will convene again from February 14-16, 2017 at the Hilton Garden Inn at 5353 N. Virginia Dare Trail in Kitty Hawk, NC.