Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Fisheries Management Plan Update with Proposed NJ Regulatory Options

by Paul Haertel
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 2018 Newsletter)

Black Sea Bass

On 2/8/18 the ASMFC’s Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Board approved Addendum XXX which establishes a regional allocation of the coastwide Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL) as opposed to Coastwide Measures. Allocations will now be based on both historical harvest and exploitable biomass rather than just historical average which had been done in the past. JCAA supported using this new method as it addresses changes in the resource’s distribution and abundance. In recent years this fishery was managed by a two-region approach but there will now be three regions. The three management regions are defined as Massachusetts through New York, New Jersey as a state-specific region, and Delaware through North Carolina. JCAA supported that option as well because New Jersey is a transitional state in which its sea bass fishery doesn’t really fit in with the states to its north or to its south. This option will allow the NJMFC to set regulations that best suit our fishermen while allowing them to address spatial variation in size and abundance. However, there could be more volatile regulatory consequences if we over fish our regional quota.

The timeframe for setting allocations was a contentious issue. JCAA recommended using the ten-year time frame from 2006-2015 as it more accurately captured our historical share of the harvest. States to our north preferred using the five-year time frame from 2001-2015 as those were the years when their share of the harvest had skyrocketed. Tom Fote was away on vacation for this meeting and his proxy was unable to attend due to a family emergency. That left Adam Nowalsky to carry the torch for our state and he did an outstanding job representing us. The states seemed hopelessly deadlocked on the timeframe issue until Adam made a motion to combine the allocations from each timeframe and then take the average of the two. This hybrid approach resulted in an allocation of 65.35% of the recreational harvest limit for the northern region (Massachusetts-New York), 30.24% for the New Jersey Region and 8.41% for the southern region (Delaware-North Carolina). While the compromise was not the best solution for us as our historical share of the RHL was much higher, it is probably about the best we could have hoped for under the circumstances. The board also agreed with the JCAA position to adjust management measures to the allowable catch limit, though this may take until 2019 to be implemented as it has to be further refined. This method should be an improvement from the status quo method of annually evaluating the recreational fishery based only on harvest against the RHL. It is expected to result in better data and reduced mortality which hopefully will create more fishing opportunities for our fishermen. Educational programs to reduce mortality such as the one New Jersey has for summer flounder could be developed that would not only enhance our fishing opportunities but help maintain the sustainability of our stock.

So the $50,000 dollar question probably is what does this mean for our regulations this year. Unfortunately, we don’t quite know yet but it seems that the severe cutbacks that were indicated in the charts in the draft addendum won’t be as severe. New mathematical formulas will be used that will smooth MRIP numbers that seem way out of line. This will help smooth over extremely high harvest numbers like the ones in wave 6 (November-December) for New York in 2016 and wave 3 (May-June) for New Jersey in 2017. This may result in regulations similar to those we had last year but we won’t know for a couple more weeks.

Additionally, the ASMFC as well as the MAFMC at their meeting a week later, voted to remove the mandatory closure of the sea bass fishery in federal waters from 9/22-10/21. That will benefit the states to our south as their regulations are identical to those in federal waters. It may also be beneficial to some states to our north as there are transportation issues when moving into and out of state and federal waters in the area of Block Island. At this time, though, it may not help New Jersey unless we decide to reduce our bag limits and instead fish more days during September and October.

Summer Flounder

For 2018, the ASMFC approved New Jersey being its own region with no strings attached to what the other regions decide regarding their regulations. As you may recall, last year we were our own region but we were required to have the same 19” size limit that the Connecticut-New York region had. Our state won its appeal of that requirement and we were able to remain at 18” though our season length was reduced by 24 days. At the joint meeting of the ASMFC and the MAFMC this past December, states were given the approval to liberalize their regulations by up to 17% for 2018. Based on that, NJ submitted the following three proposals which were all approved. All have an 18” size limit and a bag limit of 3 fish. The seasons could either be from 5/15-9/16, 5/22-9/20 or 5/25-9/22. It is possible that these options could be tweaked a little or other new ones developed but that is unlikely. (The special regulations of 3 fish at 17” for Delaware Bay and 2 fish at 16” for Island Beach are expected to remain the same) While JCAA has not yet voted on which proposal to support, I anticipate that we will favor the one with the season ending on 9/22 as we need to bridge the gap to when sea bass season opens. Last year many of our fishermen were outraged when fluke season ended on 9/5 as sea bass season was closed until 10/22. That left our inshore fishermen little to fish during that nearly seven week long period of time other than a limit of one blackfish and porgies for the boats in the northern part of the state.

Scup (Porgies)

We received some good news on porgies as we will be allowed to increase our harvest by 59%. This will allow New Jersey to have a year-round season. Previously our season was closed from March 1st to June 30th. The bag and size limits will remain the same, 50 fish at 9”.

When will regulations be set for the aforementioned species? Regulations for fluke, sea bass, scup and perhaps blackfish will most likely be set at the next NJMFC meeting. This meeting will be held at 5PM on Thursday 3/15/18 at the Stafford Township Municipal Building located at 260 East Bay Av. in Manahawkin. The public is encouraged to attend and give their opinion on any of the proposals. JCAA will keep you posted as to specific options as they become available via our newsletter and on our Facebook page.

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