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President's Report

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

The actions of NOAA and its National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), including the MAFMC and the ASMFC, are causing a slow and painful death spiral of our fishing industry with its continued reductions in what we can fish for. With the introduction of an 18-inch minimum size for fluke, many anglers could not catch fluke at this size and went home with not much to show for and, in many cases, nothing at all! While we all enjoy the sea and love our fishing, there is an expectation that we will take home something for dinner! Given this repeated scenario, many anglers have cut back on their fishing trips or even gave up fishing for fluke! With the reduction of anglers and fishing trips, more and more tackle shops and boats have gone out of business. An 18-inch size also means more dead fish from throwbacks and more egg-laying females removed from stocks since fish this size are almost all females. So, we end up with killing more fish than we are taking home! Insane management of our fisheries!

This insanity does not end with the ASMFC telling us in the options presented to us for our 2017 fluke season that we need to go to 19 inches to have a fishing season. I do not want to cover all of those options presented to us since we covered this ground before in our previous newsletters. This 19-inch fish was just too much for us and our state DEP Commissioner, Bob Martin, stepped in to challenge the ASMFC and appeal the regulations fostering this 19-inch fish. Our state took the position that until better data is available to justify this 19-inch fish, NJ should have a 2017 fluke season the same as 2016 with five fish, 18 inches and 128 days (Status Quo) and no compromises will be made to change it. After much back & forth, we ended up having to choose between the regulation of 3 fish at 19 inches and a 128-day season that was mandated by the ASMFC or with a compromise of 3 fish at 18 inches and 104 days that the NMFS stated they would approve. Neither is an acceptable option to many of us.

If we accepted the compromise regulation (and we eventually did), the shortened season means that boats will sit at their docks after September 5th resulting in the loss of revenue for them and related businesses such as tackle shops. If we chose to accept the 19-inch fish, the same businesses would suffer due to the difficulty of catching a legal-sized fish. It is simply a no-win situation that no one is happy with.

If our state dug in its heels and we remained at status quo and continued with our appeal, we would have been found out of compliance as soon as our season opened. Eventually the new Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, would have to make the ultimate decision of either backing NJ to have our 2016 regulations in place, or shut the entire fluke industry down (including the commercial industry) for not complying with the regulations mandated by the ASMFC. Given the likelihood that Mr. Ross's decision would go against NJ, our state backed off from its No Compliance/Status Quo stance. This is due to the fact that all the other states complied with the ASMFC mandate and did not support our position of opposing the 19-inch fish. While our state has clout with the Trump administration, so do the other states. Had other states joined us in our appeal we would have had a much better chance of being successful. As a lone state, though, it would have been much harder for Commerce Secretary Ross to side with NJ. I think our state sensed his decision would go against us which is why they reached the compromise with NMFS who agreed to overrule the ASMFC, if necessary.

We have never seen such support for anglers from our state including Commissioner Martin and our legislators. While things have not worked out to our satisfaction, I think we have to give them credit, especially Commissioner Martin since he made a noble effort for us and showed up at fishing management meetings to testify on our behalf. Also, I am glad to see our state stand up and take a stand against a bureaucracy that does not even believe the data that they use to justify our quota reductions as even accurate!

What we are left with is frustration, again and again, and that is why many of our clubs voted against any compromise and wanted status quo - our 2016 regulations. I made this frustration known at the May 17th NJ Marine Fishing Council meeting. I sense, unfortunately, that we will experience more of this frustration in the future!

(Please see my column "New Fluke Regulations Set for 2017 " that provides more details on this issue and the meeting that approved the new regulations).

On a different subject, the JCAA Fluke Tournament is on August 5th and that is not far away. Please support the JCAA by entering it. Go to: www.jcaa.org or call our office at (732) 506-6565.

Thank You for your continued support!

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