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New Jersey and Delaware anglers have not fished for black sea bass during the month of February since 2013; more to the point, they won’t be fishing for them in February of 2018 either.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  January 15, 2018
ASMFC staffers were unable to attend their own public hearing in New Jersey on January 11, leaving Jeff Brust of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife responsible for pointing out the pile of sea bass options for anglers to choose from.

At the Stafford Township Municipal Building in Manahawkin on January 11, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) voted unanimously to follow suit with nearby states like New York and Delaware in turning down the opportunity of a limited winter recreational fishery for black sea bass.

While having another available fishing option for the month of February might be welcome news for anglers in the tri-state region, state advisors based their decision on the future restrictions that would apply.

Delaware’s Advisory Council on Tidal Finfisheries will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 17, in the DNREC Auditorium, 89 Kings Highway in Dover, DE to discuss changes to finfish regulations.

Last fall, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) and Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) voted to support their Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board’s plan to allow a recreational black sea bass fishery for the 28 days of February, but only if those states that adopted the measure were also willing to give up 4 days later in the spring. In New Jersey, the Council’s sea bass advisory committee had met on December 18 to review the proposal, where members voted unanimously to recommend that council turn down the opportunity at a February opening.

While getting 28 days in exchange for giving up 4 days later may sound like a great deal on paper, given the fact that those spring days would come when more people were fishing and greater number of boats were in the water became a major sticking point.

“Due to the requirement of the board (ASFMC) motion, particularly the need to remove up to 4 days during the rest of the season, and possibly reducing further in following year’s potential of overharvest in February, the committee unanimously opted not to participate in the Wave One February fishery in 2018,” said proxy chairman Sergio Radossi reading from a document delivered from the members of the state’s sea bass advisory committee.”

In fisheries discussions, a calendar year is broken out into six waves of bi-monthly reporting, with Wave One made up of January and February. While NOAA Fisheries harvest surveys - also referred to as MRIP (Marine Recreational Information Program) - are undertaken during waves two through six from March through December, the federal fisheries agency does not conduct MRIP surveys during the wave one recreational fishery.

Capt. Adam Nowalsky, a representative for New Jersey at both the ASMFC and MAFMC cited the flawed MRIP estimates with torpedoing any chances anglers had at a limited February sea bass fishery.

“We had to fight almost an entire year, and we finally got the ASFMC, the Mid-Atlantic Council, NOAA Fisheries (who) just put out the proposed rule; heck, NOAA Fisheries was an instrumental part in shepherding this proposal through all those other management bodies,” Capt. Nowalsky said at the January 11 meeting of the Council. “And then we got the updated MRIP numbers, and at that point the discussion of the advisors went in the direction that we just can’t give up any more.”

Nowalsky went on to explain how anglers and the recreational fishing industry were essentially “prisoners to the recreational catch estimates” coming out of MRIP.

Earlier in the week, New Jersey anglers learned that Sen. Bob Menendez had officially signed on as co-sponsor Senate Bill 1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act. Also referred to as the Modern Fish Act, the bill to reform the federal fisheries law and expand recreational fishing opportunities through enhanced marine fishery conservation and management has the support of national fishing and boating organizations including the American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, International Game Fish Association, the Billfish Foundation and the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) among others.

“The outcome at the New Jersey council meeting is the result of a broken fishery management system, the fix is in the two bills sitting in Congress,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio, while explaining that Garden State anglers hoping to see a change in future meetings should contact Senator Cory Booker “and let him know you support the Modern Fish Act amendments."

In December, a bill in the House of Representatives called the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act (H.R. 200) sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) successfully cleared the House Committee on Natural Resources on Capitol Hill. Donofrio explained that Congressman Young’s bill is the primary vessel in which much of the recreationally critical language from the Modern Fish Act is contained, calling it “a bill that ensures long-term conservation while providing greater access and fishing opportunities for the recreational fishing sector.”

Atlantic states from Massachusetts through Virginia been holding public hearings to gather public comment on Draft Addendum XXX to the Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan; following the official Council meeting on January 11, New Jersey anglers had a chance to weigh in on the various black sea bass management options presented in the Draft Addendum XXX document, 11 of whom stepped up to the microphone to deliver official feedback to ASMFC.

“I want to go on record, this is a pile of crap,” said Capt. Bob Rush, a New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council member and party boat captain from Cape May County. Capt. Rush went on to describe the varied options in the addendum a choice between the gas chamber and the electric chair.

“I’m forced to do these options, and I don’t want to do these options,” added Don Marantz speaking on behalf of the Newark Bait and Fly Casting Club.

On a more positive note, New Jersey anglers attending the meeting last Thursday learned that the 2018 summer flounder regulations should see a 17% improvement over 2018 based on an increase in the coastwide recreational harvest limit. More information on fluke and sea bass will follow the February meeting of both ASMFC and MAFMC, and anglers can expect final state by state regulations sometime in March.