Controversial NJ Marine Fisheries Decision on the 2021 Fluke Season

by John Toth
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2021 Newsletter)

The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council met on March 4th to discuss a number of issues on its agenda, but the “main event” for those of us listening in on the meeting by Webinar was the Council’s decision on what will be the 2021 fluke season for NJ’s anglers. There were 2 options to be considered for this season:

Note – in both options, the bag limit remains the same with 3 fluke at 18 inches.

It seems like this is a no-brainer and the preferred option would be Option # 2 since it gives us 3 more days of fishing! Also, it better closes the gap when the fluke season ends and when we have limited fishing opportunities until the sea bass season starts on October 8th.

Anglers in the southern part of our state prefer Option # 1 since the fluke come in earlier in their bays and their rivers providing them with better opportunities to catch legal size fluke in inshore waters. Anglers in the central and more northern part of our state prefer Option #2 since it provides more days of fishing and also reduces the gap until we can fish for sea bass.

There was a survey done before the Council meeting was conducted by NJ Marine Fisheries to determine which of these two options anglers preferred. This survey showed overwhelming support for Option # 2! Of the 725 responses to this survey, 73% or 531 recreational anglers and related businesses picked the later season! In a breakdown of the four Shore communities, Atlantic County was the only one to support Option # 1.

With this information at hand, the logical conclusion would be for the Council to approve Option # 2. After discussing these options, the Council asked the public to voice their opinion on these two options. To do this, the public had to pre-register on their Webinar site before the meeting if they wanted to give their comments. This is standard procedure so that the meeting chairperson can recognize the caller and proceed with the call list in an orderly fashion. Most, if not all the callers, voiced their opinions to approve Option # 2. I was taking notes of the responses made by the callers and not one person by my notes voted approval for Option # 1!

Why and how did the Council approve Option #1 (May 22 - September 19) that was not supported by most of the public? Several Council members in favor of Option #1 indicated that the Council did not hear enough comments from the public on the two options. One Council member indicated that his phone “was ringing off the hook” from people calling in to support Option #1. (Funny, no other Council members commented that their phones were “ringing off the hook”). Another Council member said that “he has many friends who support Option # 1”. (I could have easily said that I have two million friends that prefer Option # 2)! Another Council member said that the Council cannot make a decision unless it hears from the entire public. (Why not the entire world)? All of this was just maneuvering to steer the Council to approve Option # 1. It succeeded so that southern anglers could have better opportunities to catch legal fluke in their inshore bays and rivers! In these inshore waters, fluke arrive early and their numbers decrease as the season progresses. For these anglers, the later season of Option # 2 would not be to their benefit.

This inshore/offshore issue has come up in almost every meeting I have attended on fluke fishery as an Advisor to Council members to determine what should be our next season for fluke. I sent an email to the NJ DEP’s Marine Fisheries indicating that this issue should be resolved ASAP by different seasons, size limits or even by different regions so that this issue receives resolution. Hopefully, this will be done so that we will not have to address this problem again that has been so divisive to anglers across our state and a huge problem for our NJ Marine Fisheries Council.

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