While the U.S. Department of Commerce and its National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have yet to officially require new recreational harvest limits for the summer flounder fishery in 2017, the state of Delaware apparently isn’t taking any chances.
Effective April 1, Delaware’s recreational minimum size limit for summer flounder will increase to 17 inches.
In a press release on March 15, the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife announced that DNREC Secretary David S. Small signed an Emergency Secretary’s Order to increase Delaware’s minimum size limit regulation by 1 inch to remain compliant with an addendum to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Delaware’s four-fish possession limit and year-round open season remain unchanged.
DNREC said the emergency regulation was necessary to meet the implementation target date, remain compliant with the FMP and to protect the summer flounder resource from overfishing. The decision was made after consulting with Delaware’s ASMFC regional neighbors Maryland and Virginia, both of which also have committed to adopting a 17-inch minimum size limit and a four-fish possession limit by April 1.
The press statement said such action will allow sufficient time for Delaware’s fishing community to plan for this important fishery.
Harvest reductions were based on recent stock assessment updates that determined the summer flounder population is experiencing excess harvest that could result in a detrimental population reduction. Although spawning stock biomass is above the target threshold, juvenile production has been below average for the past six years.
Delaware officials also said that harvest reductions were necessary in the coastwide commercial fishery as well, but these reductions are achieved through actual quota monitoring dockside.
Meanwhile, a source inside the NJDEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife said they’ll continue to wait for an official mandate from the Commerce Department, while stressing they’re “continuing to fight the regulations with all of our administrative and legal tools.” The March meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council where summer flounder and sea bass regulations are typically finalized was cancelled by the NJDEP; meanwhile, a March 21, 2017 meeting of the NYDEC’s Marine Resources Advisory Council has also been cancelled because of the lack of mandate from NOAA Fisheries and the Department of Commerce.