So what’s the deal with striped bass and bluefish,” has been the biggest question on the collective minds of New Jersey anglers since the start of the 2020 boat and outdoor show season throughout the tri-state region.

On February 13, the recreational fishing community may finally get its answer.

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) is slated to meet on Thursday, February 13 at the Stafford Township Municipal Building at 260 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin starting at 5 p.m. Included in the list of regulatory actions on the Council agenda for the evening are recreational bluefish and striped bass.

Regarding striped bass, a January 28 memo from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) outlined a summary of proposed management options and technical reviews for states related to the “state-specific management” options for 2020.

ASMFC had voted in October to require a coastwide recreational size and bag limit of one fish between 28 and 35 inches, while allowing states to consider their own set of regulations to curtail harvest as of April 1 by 18% at minimum, so long as those regulations were approved by the ASMFC technical committee as being conservationally equivalent.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and its Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) did not make their conservation equivalency options public in New Jersey prior to sending to ASMFC by the November 30, 2019 deadline, though it was announced at the November 7 meeting of the Council that those options that would eventually be submitted would be based on the three public hearings on striped bass held last fall, in addition to the results of an email survey sent to registered anglers in the state pertaining to striped bass.

The final slate of striper options reviewed by the ASMFC technical committee as contained in the January 28 memo states how New Jersey has proposed combining the recreational and striped bass bonus program (SBBP) and varied time/area closures (most notably for Raritan Bay) to achieve the required reductions. There are five different recreational (R) size options expected to be reviewed at the February 13 Council meeting in Stafford Township, along with seven different options for using the unused commercial quota (C) for the 2020 SBBP.

The Council is also expected to discuss options related to the 2020 bluefish regulations at their next meeting in Manahawkin. At a joint hearing of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and ASMFC last fall, new recreational fishing regulations for the 2020 Atlantic bluefish fishery were approved, with a three-fish bag limit for private boat and shore-based anglers, and a five-fish bag limit for for-hire fishermen (those fishing on open or charter boats).

As with striped bass and most other coastal fisheries, states have the option of conservation equivalency and they may be able to adjust the regulations to meet the required 28.56% reduction required by the ASMFC/MAFMC decision. If there is a way for New Jersey to soften the blow of a three-fish bag for private anglers and five-fish bag for those on for-hire boats, it is expected to come through a meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council for official presentation to the public.

Regrettably, the January meeting of Council failed to reach a quorum and could take no formal action on bluefish. State statute requires that a minimum of six of the eleven members must be present at any Council meeting in order to make the proceedings valid, and there are currently only seven members officially appointed to Council, including acting chairman Richard N. Herb (Sportfish), Dr. Eleanor Ann Bochenek (Public), Warren Hollinger (Delaware Bay Shellfish Council), John J. Maxwell (Atlantic Coast Shellfish Council), Sergio Radossi (Sportfish), Joe Rizzo (Commercial), and Robert R. Rush, Jr. (Sportfish).

The four open seats on the council which have yet to be appointed by the Governor Phil Murphy – with the advice and consent of the New
Jersey Senate – since he assumed office in 2018 include a representative each for the positions of Commercial, Processor, Sportfish and Public at-large.