Update on New Fluke Regulations

by John Toth
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 2017 Newsletter)

We have all heard about the straw that broke the camel's back. Well that is the story with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) telling us that we need to have a 19-inch fluke for our 2017 fishing season. If implemented, it will put a lot of party boats/charter boats and related industries out of business! Looking at this looming prospect, our legislators and the Commissioner of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, Bob Martin, has come out swinging against this draconian proposal at a rally on January 27th at the Fisherman's Supply parking lot in Point Pleasant. Approximately 300 concerned anglers turned out to hear Commissioner Martin say that the new fluke options for 2017's season are unacceptable and our state will fight them with whatever means are necessary, including legal action! Commissioner Martin was accompanied by Congressman Pallone and other legislators and fishing organizations speaking against the new regulations. Since the data to justify these new regulations is so faulty, the Commissioner and legislators demanded that a new benchmark assessment of fluke stocks must be made before they could accept and approve what ASMFC wants for New Jersey's 2017 fluke season. Until then, they want the 2016 fluke regulations to remain in place (5 fish, 18 inches, 125 days) - status quo. Commissioner Martin also indicated that he would address the ASMFC at its Board meeting in Alexandria, VA. on February 2nd to speak on behalf of NJ to reject the proposed fluke regulations for our state.

Commissioner Martin attended this meeting and told the ASMFC that New Jersey would not accept their proposed fluke regulations for 2017 because the data used by them is very flawed. Until it is corrected by a new benchmark assessment of fluke, NJ will stay with the status quo for its 2017 season. The ASMFC's Board rejected NJ's proposal and voted for Option 5 that allows for 3 fluke at 19 inches and a 125 day season. So, at this point, New Jersey has opted to go out of compliance with ASMFC's regulations! We will start our 2017 on May 21st to September 25th with an 18-inch minimum size and 5 fish limit. To my knowledge, this has never been done before with fluke, but we are just sick and tired of having the minimum size bumped up to the point that people are losing their livelihoods because of lousy data that justifies it! Enough is Enough! Remember in the movie (Network) when Peter Finch puts his head out the window and screams "I am mad as hell and I am not taking it anymore"!

So, we are in unchartered waters now! What's going to happen next? That is a good question. It will take some time for us to be ruled out of compliance and our state may initiate legal action to slow it down or stop it. These new regulations are also injurious to NJ's tourism industry and hopefully we can get the Trump administration involved in stopping them since it is pro-business. There are a lot of variables here and it is difficult to say with absolute certainty what will be the outcome. But all of us are pulling together to stop this 19-inch fish that includes the NJOA, JCAA, RFA, United Boatman, The Federation of Sportsmen's Club and Save our Summer Flounder. We will keep you updated as this issue unfolds!

Sea Bass - quick update - looks like we will have status quo for 2017 regulations. The quotas for this fishery are based on estimates. Fishery managers think that our quota should be increased by 53%. But they also estimate that we overfished our 2016 quota by 8% and a reduction was due. To prevent these stocks from being overfished, they want the 2017 sea bass regulations to stay at status quo. Does this make sense to you? I don't think many of us do!

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