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New Fluke Regulations for 2017

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

The culmination of our struggle to have fluke regulations that we wanted for 2017 (5 fish - 18-inches- and a 125-day season - the same as 2016 - Status Quo) was decided at a NJ Marine Fisheries Council meeting at the Community Center in Avalon, NJ on May 17th. This meeting started at 4:00 p.m. and finished at 5:30 p.m. It was chaired by Councilman Dick Herb and it was attended by about 70 anglers and members of the press.

After much negotiation with NJ DEP (Bob Martin) and NOAA staff, we were presented with a new regulation to comment on that includes: 3 fish - 18 inches and a 104-day season (May 25th to September 5th). Most of the comments made by anglers to the Council centered around two major issues and they were: (1) This season is very short and the party/charter boats will sit at their docks while they could be out fishing until the end of September like last year. There are bills to be paid like insurance, dock fees, boat maintenance, etc., and how can these bills be paid while the boats are not operating and bringing in revenue? (2) After September 5th, what can we fish for since the black sea bass season does not open up until October 22nd. Only bluefish will be around and that is not what most customers want. Stripers come in late September/early October. After these and other comments were submitted, this new regulation was unanimously passed by the Council with no abstentions.

What necessitated and drove quick Council approval is that the fluke season needs to be opened before Memorial Day (May 29th) and it is already May 17th! There is no time to dicker and go back to NOAA to challenge this new and onerous regulation or otherwise there would be no fluke season in place before Memorial Day or even some time after that! Not an acceptable option!.

At a JCAA May 11th Board meeting, the JCAA Board (after reviewing the new regulation) voted for No Compromise/Status Quo and that we should have the 2016 regulations in place for our 2017 season. However, the JCAA Board does not have the authority to set policy and the board has to bring this type of issue and others like it to the General Membership meetings for JCAA members to vote on and approve. Upon receiving this approval, the issue at hand becomes the official JCAA position of the JCAA. Since our General Membership meeting is on May 30th, we could not get JCAA's membership approval for the No Compromise/Status Quo position in time for this May 17th meeting in Avalon.

So that the JCAA could provide comments from our membership to the Council at this meeting, I sent out a survey on May 15th (prepared by Paul Haertel) to ask our member clubs to weigh in on their club’s preference on this issue. Basically, the survey asked clubs if they wanted our state to go out of compliance/status quo, or if they wanted to approve the regulations presented by NMFS. Approximately 15 clubs replied in such a short time frame, and all of them replied "Go Out of Compliance and stay at Status Quo." Supplied with this information, I testified to the Council that not one of our member clubs voted in favor of the new regulations! In many ways, I knew my testimony was moot since the Council obviously had their minds already made up on how they would vote on this issue. But I think they needed to know what many anglers/clubs were thinking. I believe that they were very surprised to learn of the overwhelming negative reaction by many anglers to the new fluke regulations that the Council was just about to vote on. I gave the list of JCAA clubs that voted this way to the Council for their reference.

What are the positives that we gained from this? (1) Our state for the very first time came to our defense when a 19-inch fish was proposed by NOAA. Hopefully, it won't be the last time since we have a battle to fight over sea bass reductions from 15 to 5 fish in the late 2017 fall season. (2) we have an 18-inch fish instead of a 19-inch fish to catch resulting in less fish mortality. (3) As part of the NJ DEP agreement with NOAA, New Jersey will have "Conservation Equivalency" in place which means that we will not be lumped in together with NY and Conn. that overfished and resulted in our quota reduction and our facing a 19-inch fish. While our State DEP and our legislators who supported us in this effort did not produce the results that we wanted, we have to THANK them for going to bat for us.

What are the negatives? (1) After the 9/5/17 fluke closure, our party/charter/private boats will sit at their docks and cannot go for fluke. A number of boats/tackle shops will go out of business. (2) Anglers who normally obey the regulations will become "pirates" and take illegal fish. (3) Less boats will be sold and will hurt the boating industry. (4) More anglers will become disgusted and give up fishing (I heard a number of them tell me this at fishing trade shows I attended in the winter months). There are a lot more negatives than positives to this story.

Every year, there always seem to be some drama on fluke, but I think this year's drama tops them all! The main driver of this misery is the bad data used by NOAA's staff to come up with these bad quotas that is slowly killing our fishing and this has to change! Let's see what happens in 2018 and certainly hope that it has a better outcome than we just experienced! As always, The JCAA will always be fighting these crazy and destructive quotas for all of us! Here are New Jersey’s 2017 regulations that are in place right now:

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