Recreational Summer Flounder Options Are Varied

By Dusty Rhodes 

The brouhaha which surrounded recreational summer flounder measure setting for 1999 is far from over. Though vibrating a few decibels lower, the debate over customizing New Jersey’s measures has generated its own heat. And for the first time in the history of summer flounder management, state anglers have an opportunity to comment on how measures should be fashioned for local waters.

This opportunity arose because last December when the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted coastwide recreational summer flounder measures they included the provision for state equivalencies. That is, each state could fine tune, or customize, if you will, the coastwide measures based on its own fishing experience as long as such changes produced the same percentage reduction. Basically, that reduction was about 40 percent. In other words, recreational measures had to reduce landings by at least 40 percent to insure the recreational sector stayed within its 1999 quota limit, which coastwide is 7.41 million pounds.

At a meeting with New Jersey Marine Fishery representatives on February 8, recreational fishermen representing organizations, fishing clubs and the charter and partyboat industry learned about the 1999 options available for New Jersey. To help you understand those options and to formulate an opinion or recommendation of your own, the following information has been provided.

For  background, the coastwide measures called for a 15-inch minimum fish size, an eight-fish daily bag limit and an open fishing season from May 29 through September 15. Stated another way, summer flounder fishing would be closed from January 1 through May 28, and from September 16 through December 31. Any state could adopt those measures with its recreational anglers fishing accordingly.

However, states could also opt for some variation based on its fishing experience, which for New Jersey means certain flexibility. For example, increasing the minimum fish size produces a LONGER open season. Likewise, reducing the bag limit from eight to six fish yields a very slight increase in the open season, in actuality, three days. In addition, New Jersey could also select alternative starting dates, which further influence the season length. Using the 15-inch minimum with an eight-fish bag limit as an illustration, an April 1 start date would mean a season end on September 9; whereas a June 15 start date would allow the season to run until September 27.

Recognize that the foregoing is in no way a recommendation. Rather, it’s by way of illustrating how by varying the factors at our disposal we can adjust the length of an open season. And make no mistake about it, to achieve the 40 percent reduction mandated by the managing bodies, states must establish a season because increasing minimum fish size or reducing bag limits alone do not yield the full savings. The one exception is a 16-inch minimum size. That’s right, if New Jersey were to opt for this measure at a bag limit of eight or ten fish, no closed season would be necessary. And while there has been no apparent support for going to a 16-inch minimum, it remains an option. However, as we’ll discuss later, minimum size increases carry a hidden danger, which must be understood before they’re selected.

If we eliminate a 16-inch minimum option for this portion of the discussion, we have two size choices: remaining at 15-inch minimum, or increasing to 15.5-inches. Let’s examine what each produces.

Assuming an eight-fish bag limit for this explanation, a 15-inch minimum size yields these seasonal opportunities: May 1 through September 11; May 15 through September 14; and May 29 through September 27. Incidentally, we have ignored the option of an April opening or one as late as June since the former is hardly considered a high yield time while the latter is simply too late for most people. However, those are options, and you can see the entire option array by visiting the JCAA website at:

Note in the above example that delaying the opening from May 1 to May 15 adds only three days to the season. And in actuality it might be only a two-day difference since the state marine fisheries people say the difference between a September 11 and September 12 closing is so slight, we might be able to elect the latter. In any event, it would hardly seem advisable to delay the season opening for 14 days just to gain two or three more days at the end. But delaying the opening until May 29, a full 28 days from the earliest possibility, allows almost an extra week in September. To some, that extra week at the end of the season might be more valuable than an earlier opening. Again, this is not by way of trying to influence your decision; the analysis is offered just to help you put all of the data into perspective. Also, going down in bag limit to six fish adds three to four days to the season, whereas going to 10 fish decreases the season by about one day.

From this analysis, it appears that a bag limit DECREASE is hardly worth the gain. And as you’ll quickly see when we explain the affects of increasing the minimum size to 15.5 inches, bag limit decreases are simply not necessary. A bag limit increase is another matter. The data clearly indicate that virtually no difference in seasonal considerations exist at eight or ten fish. Furthermore, going up in bag limit might stand us well down the road should a bag limit reduction become necessary. In that case, the drop might not seem quite as onerous. However, bear in mind that bag limit cuts are usually effective only when they’re relatively severe since most anglers don’t catch their limit. Therefore, if history were an indicator, a bag limit reduction, should one become necessary, would in all likelihood be so great that it wouldn’t matter if we dropped from eight or ten fish. Moreover, opting for a bag limit increase might draw from various quarters criticisms we could well do without. Just weigh all the facts before you decide whether a bag limit increase is worth pursuing.

Now to the size limit increase, which offers significantly more impact than a bag limit hike does. At any bag limit (six, eight, or ten), a 15.5-inch minimum size produces an open season which runs into October. For example, at eight fish, the season would run from May 1 through October 6; from May 15 though October 11; and from May 29 through October 20. The 10-fish bag limit is about the same, whereas at six fish the season would run, respectively, until October 10, October 15 and October 27. Enough to matter? That’s your call, but bag limits aside, beware of the aforementioned hidden danger in size limit increases.

Throughout the history of summer flounder management, both commercial and recreational quotas have been calculated by weight, not numbers of fish, even though recreational statistics are gathered by numbers. When landings are calculated, the recreational counts (numbers of fish) are multiplied by the average weight to determine poundage to match against the quota. As you can readily understand, the average weight for a 15.5-inch summer flounder is greater than the average weight for one at 15 inches or 14.5 inches. Therefore, as long as the recreational sector’s landings are measured by weight, increasing the minimum size also heightens the risk that the quota will be exceeded more quickly. In fact, an analysis of the affects from increasing from 14.5 inches to 15 inches in 1998 showed that while the numbers of fish landed increased over 1997 figures by under 30 percent, the increase by weight was almost 40 percent. Not surprisingly, some have argued we should not increase minimum fish size until recreational performance  is measured by numbers of fish, not weight. On the other hand, no one can predict what increasing the minimum size will mean to New Jersey performance, and concern about length of fishing season is, to some anglers, paramount.

To recap, you have some options to consider, the most critical, as we see it, being whether to increase the minimum size to 15.5 inches. Next is the season start, bearing in mind that many anglers and the businesses which serve them are usually anxious for an early season launch. Finally, and to a much lessor extent, is the question of bag limits. 

Think it over and communicate your ideas to New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council before March 4 when the New Jersey Marine Fisheries council meets to select the state’s 1999 recreational measures. JCAA would also like to hear you ideas on these choices. We have a membership meeting on February 23 and that is when we will vote on our position. Our email address is>. Fax is 732-506-6975