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The New Jersey Fish and Game Council will hold a special public hearing on Tuesday, November 14 at 7 p.m. at Assunpink Conservation Center in Robbinsville, NJ to discuss catch and release regulations for brook trout.

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  November 9, 2017
Eastern Brook Trout, New Jersey’s only native trout. Photo by animalspot.net courtesy of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Fish and Game Council is proposing amendments to the state’s Fish Code which will be discussed on Tuesday, November 14 at 7 p.m. at the Assunpink Conservation Center at East Branch and Eldridge Road in Robbinsville. Highlights of the proposed regulatory changes are as follows:

• Catch and Release For All Brook Trout Within the Brook Trout Conservation Zone
• In-Season Fishing Closures To Be Removed for Black and Walkill Rivers
• New Trout Stocked Wild Brown Trout Managed Waters Category for Five Streams
• Trout Stocking To Be Discontinued On Four Waterbodies
• Trout Stocking Boundary Limit Changes
• Wild Trout Stream Changes
• Barbless Hooks and No More than Three Hook Points in Total For Catch and Release Areas and Wild Trout Streams
• Wild Trout Stream Regulations For Upper Sections of Raritan River S. Br.
• Claremont TCA To Be Regulated As Part Of New Wild Trout Stream Section On the Raritan River S. Br.
• Trout Stocking on Rahway River An Additional Two Miles Downstream
• 15-inch Size Limit for Landlocked Atlantic Salmon For Trophy Trout Waters
• Private Fishing Clubs Located On Publicly Stocked Waters May Fish During the Three-week Pre-Season Closure

• Size Limit Increase For Muskellunge
• Increased Size Limit For Four Select Trophy Musky Waters
• Statewide Bass Regulations For Lake Audrey
• List of Baitfish Species To Be Amended
• Increased Size Limit For American Eels

The brook trout is officially New Jersey’s State freshwater fish and is the only salmonid native to the Garden State. According to the NJDEP, over time, impacts from urbanization, sedimentation, dams, and other forms of land and water disturbances have taken their toll on the wild brook trout population which is now present in less than half of the subwatersheds that composed its original range. Due to growing concern over the plight of brook trout populations in New Jersey, the Council is proposing to amend state fish code to require that all brook trout caught within a designated "Brook Trout Conservation Zone” must be immediately released unharmed.

In a 2012 trout angler survey conducted by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, 64% of trout anglers indicated they released most, or all, trout caught – an 11% increase over results from a similar survey conducted in 2003. In the Division’s 2016 online wild trout angler survey, 74% of respondents either moderately, or strongly, supported catch-and-release-only regulations on wild trout streams.

For saltwater anglers, the Fish and Game Council is also proposed to increase the minimum size limit for American eel from 6 to 9 inches and to limit the harvest to no more than 25 per day. The proposed regulatory fix is meant to provide consistency with New Jersey marine fisheries regulations, and in compliance with Addendum III of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eel.

The American eel is the only native freshwater eel in the United States; a catadromous species that lives in freshwater and migrates to marine waters to spawn, the most recent stock assessment found the American eel population in U.S. waters depleted. The assessment found the stock at or near historically low levels due to a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss and alteration, productivity and food web alterations, predation, turbine mortality, changing climatic and oceanic conditions, toxins and contaminants, and disease.

Since the turn of the 20th Century, the New Jersey state Fish Code has provided a system for the protection, propagation, introduction and conservation of freshwater fish in the State and for their use and development for public recreation and food supply. Biennial revisions of season dates, creel limits and other regulations based on scientific investigation and research ensures the greatest likelihood of success in reaching these goals. The Fish Code governs when, by what means, at which locations, in what numbers, and at what sizes, fish may be pursued, caught, killed, or possessed.

The proposals to be discussed at Assunpink on Tuesday, November 14 were posted in the New Jersey Register dated October 2, 2017. A copy of the proposal (PDF) is available to download at Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) website.

Written comments may be submitted electronically by December 1, 2017 at www.nj.gov/dep/rules/comments; or in hard copy form to:

ATTN: (DEP Docket No. 15-17-08)
NJ Department of Environmental Protection
2018 Fish Code Comments
Division of Fish and Wildlife
Mr. Larry Herrighty, Director
Mail Code 501-03, PO Box 420
Trenton, NJ 08625-0420

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