The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council) met on Thursday, March 2 in Galloway Township and memorialized changes to the black sea bass and porgy regulations for 2023. As expected, summer flounder (fluke) regulations that were in effect for 2022 will stay the same for another season.
Fluke opens on May 2 with a season to run through September 27 with a three fish bag limit, two of which must be within the “slot” of 17 to 17.99 inches, and one at 18 inches or above. The same three fish bag and 17-inch minimum size limit will be in place again west of the COLREGS on Delaware Bay in 2023, with a two-fish limit at 16 inches for surfcasters at Island Beach State Park.
As per requirements passed down from NOAA Fisheries through both the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), all states along the Atlantic Coast were required to keep their same fluke regulations in place again for 2023, while also coming up with regulations to meet a 10% cutback in black sea bass and scup (porgy).
The Council voted 3-1 in favor of new black sea bass regulations for 2023 which cuts the two-fish summer limit back to just one fish while lowering the size limit from 13 inches to just 12-1/2 inches. New Jersey’s black sea bass season will be open from May 17 through June 19 with a 10 fish bag limit; from July 1 through August 31 with a one fish bag limit; from October 1 through October 31 with a 10 fish bag limit; and from November 1 through December 31 with a 15 fish bag limit.
To meet the 10% cutback in porgy harvest in New Jersey, the season was essentially halved to an August 1 through December 31 season, with a 30 fish bag limit and a 10-inch size limit.
While the Council’s advisors recommended the options that were ultimately voted upon by the Council, of the roughly 20 people in attendance at the Galloway Township branch of the Atlantic County Library, and another two dozen or so struggling to listen in on the webinar (technical issues), most anglers including representatives of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA), the Fish Hawks Saltwater Fishing Club, South Jersey Saltwater Anglers Club and a divers club from Monmouth County spoke out in favor of a separate sea bass option which would’ve allowed a two sea bass limit catch from July 20 through August 31.
Despite the unanimous public comment from individual anglers and club reps in attendance who supported the additional sea bass for the second part of summer, the Council carried a motion made by recreational council member Bob Rush in favor of the one fish limit through July and August. Those voting in favor of the preferred option included Rush, at-large representative Eleanor Bochenek, and commercial rep Kevin Wark. Recreational seat-holder Pat Donnelly was the sole opposition vote, while commercial delegates Joe Rizzo and Jeff Kaelin abstained from the vote. The only other recreational seat-holder was Dick Herb, who as Chairman of the Council does not vote.
In a post at the JCAA Facebook page the day after the meeting, JCAA representative Paul Haertel spoke out against the council vote. “Once again it became apparent that public sentiment means absolutely nothing,” the post stated. “Every single one of the 15 or so people who spoke, including individuals, representatives from various clubs, charter and party boat captains as well as myself on behalf of JCAA spoke in favor of option 4. Despite that, three representatives on the council voted in favor of Option 1 while one voted against it and the others abstained,” Haertel added at Facebook.
As frequently reported in The Fisherman Magazine, the Council should have 11 members, with the council makeup set by statute stating it should be composed of four sports fishermen, two active commercial fin fishermen, one active fish processor, two members of the general public, and the chairman of the two sections of the Shellfisheries Council. However, for over 2 years the Council has been short one sportfishing representative and one member of the general public.
According to Jeff Brust from the Bureau of Marine Fisheries, possible Council candidates have been collected by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and forwarded along to the Governor’s office for review. According to the state statute that formed the Council all members are appointed by the Governor, with the consent of the Senate. The statute also states that the governor also “shall appoint a Chair person from the citizen members of the Council, who shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor.” Other resource related council and committee seats left vacant through neglect by Governor Phil Murphy include the Fish and Game Council (one seat), Atlantic Coast Shellfish Council (one seat), the Delaware Bay Shellfish Council (one seat), and Wildlife Rehabilitators Advisory Committee (one seat).
In terms of the timing of the new regulations for sea bass and porgies, Brust said he expects the new limits to be in place sometime in late April or early May after they’ve officially been approved by the governor’s office. “Notices are effective upon final, not upon publication but upon final, so it could take a week,” Brust said, adding “As soon as these are signed and filed and therefore effective that turns off our current regulations.” As of Monday morning, the new Attention Anglers notice was posted at the state website.
Also finalized at the March 2 meeting of the Council was a new regulation in the state of New Jersey which prohibits the use of gaffs in the striped bass recreational fishery. That regulation is pursuant to an ASMFC mandate as of 2022 that all states implement a prohibition on the use of gaffs in the recreational striped bass fishery under Amendment 7 to the Atlantic Striped Bass Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and aims to reduce striped bass recreational release mortality.
The Council also suspended until their next meeting a vote that’s being encouraged by the New England Fishery Management Council to implement new limits in New Jersey waters aimed at conserving Georges Bank Cod. The recommendations are to close state waters to cod fishing from June 1 through August 31, with incorporation of a minimum size limit of 23 inches and a bag limit of just five cod per day.
The next meeting of the Council will take place on May 11 when members are expected to take up the regulatory cod proposal for state waters for the final time.