2018 Fluke and Sea Bass
Regulations Set

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

At the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council meeting on April 5 the following regulations for fluke and sea bass were set.

Fluke: May-25 – Sep-22, 3 fish at 18” Sea Bass: May-15 – Jun-22, 10 fish at 12.5” Jul-1 – Aug-31, 2 fish at 12.5” Oct-8 – Oct-31, 10 fish at 12.5” Nov-1 – Dec-31, 15 fish at 13”

However, there may be a problem with the sea bass regulations as states to our north have filed an appeal with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and they are threatening to go out of compliance. The process is pretty complicated but they are going after a portion of New Jersey’s quota. To recap what happened, on 2/8/18 the ASMFC’s Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Board approved Addendum XXX that established 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 are now 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 at the ASMFC meeting 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 timeframe 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.

At that time, though, it appeared that New Jersey might have to significantly tighten its regulations this year. None of the states to our north seemed to care about that. However, now that NJ is being allowed to liberalize significantly while the states to our north have to cut back, there seems to be a big problem and they want a portion of our quota. What happened was that the new addendum allowed for a “smoothing over” approach. Since the MRIP data for NJ seemed way too high for wave 3 (May-June) in 2017, we were allowed to smooth it over using wave 3 data from previous years. That is what allowed us to be able to liberalize our regulations.

Ever since New Jersey was forced into the northern region in 2012, our state was treated very unfairly and our percentage of the overall harvest dropped a great deal. This was to the benefit of the states to our north as their share of the harvest skyrocketed. It seems that the restrictions placed on NJ allowed the population of sea bass to grow to 230% of its targeted spawning stock biomass while at the same time their range expanded further to the north than ever before. In 2011 draconian regulations were forced upon us which resulted in New Jersey harvesting their fewest sea bass during this entire century though most other states were negatively impacted as well. There was a liberalization of the regulations in 2012 at which time New Jersey was placed in the northern region. Then for 2013, NJ was forced to establish harsh regulations that resulted in us harvesting only 61% of our target quota. At the same time, New York harvested 125% of its target and Connecticut harvested 150% of their target. NJ did its part but then the following year all states in the northern region had to cut back by the same percentage. In other words, CT and NY were rewarded for going over their target quotas while NJ was penalized for under fishing theirs. Those stringent regulations that NJ set in 2013 have hurt us just about every year since as they continue to be used as the basis for liberalizing or tightening our regulations based on each year’s target quota.

Further, NJ’s historical share of the harvest was 47.7 % for the period from 2001 to 2010 and probably even more than that previous to those years. Going back further, and for the 20-year period from 1991 to 2010, New Jersey harvested more sea bass than any other state except in 1998 when it harvested the third most and in 1999 and 2010 when it finished second. Yet, the states to our north want to use only the years from 2011-2015 when NJ finished first only once and finished fourth (its all-time lowest) in 2012. We believe it would be very unfair to base quotas on those years when New Jersey’s share of the harvest was at or near its lowest and states to our north were at or near their highest levels. JCAA would have preferred an option that went back further in time and did not include the years of 2011-2015 at all. However, considering the fact that there were only two options, JCAA supported using the base years of 2006-2015. We believed that would have been the fairest to all states as it not only included a more historical average but also accounted for the northward shift in biomass during recent years. However, the compromise of using the average of the two timeframes was agreed upon. That resulted in NJ’s share of the quota going down to 30.24% from its historical share of 47.7% or even more depending on how many years back you go. Still the states to our north want even more of our quota. It is a shame that those states seem to be ganging up against New Jersey when the real problem is not New Jersey’s share of the fish but rather the ridiculously low coastwide quota that is set.

Rather than fighting amongst ourselves, we should all be fighting together to take the power away from the Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) as they are the ones responsible for setting the unreasonable quotas.

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