NJMFC Spurns Public Opinion and Sets Early Fluke Season

by Paul Haertel
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2021 Newsletter)

At their webinar meeting on March 4th, the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council shockingly voted unanimously in favor of Option 1 (status quo). Therefore, our season will be exactly the same as last year, beginning on May 22nd and extending through September 19th. Special regulations for Island Beach State Park and the Delaware Bay area will also remain the same. The decision left many people outraged as the vast majority of those who commented at the meeting as well as those who submitted emails favored option 2 with a later season. The later season had across the board support from all sectors; the private boaters, shore fishermen, the for-hire fleet and tackle stores. Bay and ocean fishermen alike overwhelmingly favored the later season. Even when broken down by counties along our coast, only Atlantic County favored the early season. The state had made their survey available to everyone and there were 826 responses with 725 choosing an option. Of those, an astounding 73% favored the later season. The councilís decision left many scratching their heads and asking whatís the sense of having public input if their recommendations are going to be totally ignored. Others were calling for all new council members while some further indicated they would never get involved again. Still others said they donít care what the regs are; they are just going to go fishing and keep whatever they want.

As far as why the council chose option 1 the reason is unclear. One council member argued that the survey and meeting was not fair as it did not allow everyone to speak. Information about the survey was in several newspapers and our Bureau of Marine Fisheries sent out an email blast. I was on Rack and Fin Radio talking about it and also posted it on the JCAA Facebook page. That post was shared 41 times and reached over 20,000 people. Simply put, the meeting and survey were as fair as they could be under the circumstances. Everyone had an equal opportunity to email their comments in or join the webinar. It is not the Bureau of Marine Fisheries fault that some people are technologically challenged. Also, there were far more people who voiced their opinions via email or on the webinar than any other council meeting we ever had.

Another council member claimed that the BMF did the survey to influence their decision. Well, isn't public opinion supposed to influence their decision? Yet another council member claimed his phone was "blowing up" with texts and phone calls from people who wanted to comment. Funny how that was not happening to the other council members. Finally, one of the council members said he had a lot of friends who wanted option 1 so he made a motion for that option which passed unanimously. No explanation was given to the public as to why they voted that way.

Some council members seemed miffed that the BMF did the survey without consulting them. They had no knowledge of the results until a day or two before the meeting. Additionally, a majority of advisors had recommended the early season long before the survey was completed. Most agree that in the future it would be beneficial for the BMF to consult with the advisors and council members for input for the survey and then have the results to share with them well before any meetings. The BMF agreed to try to do that.

Despite the fact that 73% of those surveyed preferred the later season, the council sided with the 27% of people who wanted the earlier season. Even had everyone who wanted to comment had been able to do so this, the percentage would not have changed by much. People are really upset about this and believe the decision was made long before the meeting. It is a shame that so many people have now lost faith in the system.

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