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New Jersey anglers are encouraged to attend March 15 meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council to take the good with the bad for 2018; the preliminary rundown on the fluke, porgy & sea bass season ahead.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  February 19, 2018
There were quite a few empty seats at the January 11, 2018 meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council in Manahawkin; that probably won't be the case on March 15 as the season, size and bag limits for fluke, porgies and sea bass get formalized in Galloway Township.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Board approved Addendum XXX to the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan establishing a new regional allocation of coastwide recreational harvest limits on black sea bass.

What that means is that three management regions are being set up in 2018, (1) Massachusetts through New York, (2) New Jersey as its own state-specific region, (3) and Delaware through North Carolina. Respective allocation percentage of total harvest will be 61.35%, 30.24%, and 8.41% for the year.

States are now in the process of developing regional proposals for ASMFC review and approval in March of 2018. Given that the recreational quota is being reduced by nearly a half-million pounds in 2018, regions 1 and 2 are expected to implement significant regulatory cuts to meet the requirements of Addendum XXX, while the southern Mid-Atlantic States in region 1 aren’t expected to see much of a change.

Fisheries managers were still awaiting the final wave of 2017 black sea bass landings in the recreational fishery (MRIP) as of the recent ASMFC and Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) meetings, with more information expected out this week.

“It looks like we have 2017 preliminary data for sea bass, and New Jersey’s landings were very close to what they were last year, while New York’s as expected were way, way down,” said Capt. Adam Nowalsky by phone this week.

A representative for New Jersey at both the ASMFC and MAFMC, Capt. Nowalsky said on Monday that he saw nothing in the newly released data that would suggest that the decisions made thus far need to be thrown out in the negative direction.

“We just don’t know what the answer is right now,” he added.

Tom Fote, legislative proxy for ASMFC in New Jersey said continually relying on MRIP data year after year is a losing proposition for anglers.

“What needs to be done is we need to go directly off the stock assessment, and take the figures from the stock assessment,” Fote said, explaining that as it stands now quota recommendations go to the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) which puts additional precautionary measures in place to reduce the catch even further.

And while we may be up at higher precautionary numbers than in years past, Fote says the process is still flawed. “They penalize us for NMFS not doing their work,” he said of the data collection efforts.

Now for some good news; more days to fish for fluke and porgies in 2018!

All states and regions with the exception of North Carolina submitted proposals to the ASFMC to adjust their 2018 recreational management measures for summer flounder based on previous action allowing a liberalization of harvest by up to 17% above last season. Collectively, the potential measures outlined in the proposals would result in a nearly 16% increase in coastwide fluke harvest from 2017 levels.

When state fisheries managers meet in the next several weeks at their respective advisory meetings, states will finalize fluke management measures for 2018. After breaking free from the three-state fluke region with Connecticut and New York prior to the 2017 season, New Jersey will be able to maintain the same three fish at 18-inch size limit while increasing the duration of the season by up to three weeks from the 104-day season in 2017, depending on selected options:

May 25-September 22 (121 days)
May 22-September 20 (122 days)
May 15-September 16 (125 days)

“Those options were presented for the purpose of having the methodology reviewed," Nowalsky said, while adding "those may be the options that are brought forth to the Marine Fisheries Council but they may not be.”

Last year New Jersey’s fluke season opened on May 25 and closed on September 5. While many South Jersey anglers prefer to see the season open earlier based on an initial rush of flounder into the back bays of Atlantic and Cape May counties in early spring, anglers north of Barnegat Inlet and along the Raritan Bay in particular prefer the later season.

On March 15, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council will meet at 5 p.m. at the Galloway Township Branch of the Atlantic County Library at 306 East Jimmie Leeds Road in Galloway to review final options. Anglers with a particular interest of start and end dates are encouraged to attend.

“I would say we are about 95% sure that Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia will be going to a16-1/2-inch minimum size for summer flounder for 2018 and we will retain the 365-day season and four-fish daily possession limit,” said John H. Clark, Fisheries Section Administrator for Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. “We should have the final decisions on summer flounder and black sea bass very soon.” Clark said the next Advisory Council meeting on Tidal Finfish will be on April 18 at 6 p.m.

For scup/porgy, the northern region of Massachusetts through New York and the state of New Jersey submitted proposals to adjust their 2018 recreational management measures based on an increase allowance for harvest this season. New Jersey’s proposal to extend its porgy season length from 243 days to a full year-round season was approved and should ultimately be formalized by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council at their March 15 meeting.

In other management related news, NOAA Fisheries has published a proposed rule to designate 13 New Jersey artificial reef sites as special management zones (SMZ). This action would finally establish year-round SMZ status for all 13 New Jersey artificial reefs that restricts fishing activity to only handline, rod and reel, or spear fishing. This is the final step in the process to prohibit fixed gear (pots or traps) on the 13 artificial reef sites located off the New Jersey coast in federal waters outside of 3 miles.

In 2015, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) officially adopted new regulations limiting the use of lobster, fish, and conch pots on artificial reefs in state waters, including the two existing New Jersey artificial reefs, the Sandy Hook Reef and the Axel J. Carlson Jr. Reef.

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment on this proposed rule through March 15. You may submit comments through the online Federal eRulemaking Portal or by mailing comments to Mike Pentony, Regional Administrator, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Please mark the outside of the envelope, “Comments on New Jersey Special Management Zones Designation.”

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