GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The black sea bass season has been cut by 30 days and anglers will also get a reduction in the bag limit from 25 to 20 fish per day under regulations approved Thursday by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council.
The 10-0 council vote cuts the season from 191 days to 161 days. The council actually approved three separate seasons: May 19-Aug 8, Sept. 27-Oct. 14 and Nov. 1-Dec. 31. The vote retained last year's minimum size limit of 12.5 inches.
The council had five different options to pick from with a range of 120 to 172 fishing days. More days produced a lower bag limit. Most anglers spoke for Option 4, the one chosen unanimously.
In spite of the cuts, most anglers left the meeting at the Atlantic County Library branch in Galloway Township feeling the outcome could have been worse.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates migratory fish along the East Coast, originally told the states from New Jersey through Massachusetts to cut their catch by 32 percent. That likely could have created a minimum fish size of at least 13 inches. The ASMFC recently reduced the reduction to 24 percent.
"Based on new biological information, the ASMFC agreed to adjust the reduction to 24 percent for the northern region," said council member Sergio Randossi.
That allowed New Jersey to maintain the 12.5-inch minimum size it had last year. When the larger reduction was in play, there was even talk of reducing the bag limit to just 15 fish per day.
A second reason anglers thought it could have been worse is that the new season gives hope that the summer flounder season will be extended to make sure there is always a signature fish for anglers to catch while giving party boat and charter boat captains one they can use to lure customers.
New Jersey was recently given some unused flounder quota from other states that would allow 11 more days of fishing. Council is expected to make a decision on adding days, from 0 to 11, at its July meeting.
Since the season for flounder, also known as fluke, ends on Sept. 16, and black sea bass doesn't open until Sept. 27, council members are talking about filling the gap with flounder. It's not a done deal, since more days could lead to overfishing, and that would reduce the 2014 flounder quota, but anglers asked for the full 11 days and council seemed very receptive.
"We want to have something to fish for after fluke season closes. We'd like council to approve the extra 11 days so we don't have 11 days with nothing to fish for," said Paul Haertel of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association.
Brandon Muffley, a fisheries manager with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, said picking the option that starts black sea bass season on Sept. 27, compared with Sept. 23 last year, assures more flounder days. He said the sea bass options were drafted with summer flounder in mind.
"We reworked it with the idea of having fisheries open at all times," Muffley said.
Most anglers preferred the option chosen but it was not unanimous. Sea Isle City party boat captain Victor Hartley said going to a 13-inch fish would produce a season of 197 days and losing "that half inch isn't going to hurt us." He also wanted to trade some days from November and December for days in the summer.
"Why take it off summer when the tourists are here? Why not take it off November and December when it's cold?" Hartley asked.
Muffley said a winter day does not produce the same catch as a summer day and that would be figured in. Muffley said only 6 percent of the catch is landed in the winter season. A December day could not be taken away, for example, to produce a day in September. Muffley, however, said dropping a September day would produce three days in the front of the summer season in May or June when fewer bass are caught.
Muffley said going to a 13-inch fish could have a big impact on "angler success" and would not be consistent with federal sea bass regulations in waters outside three miles. The federal regulations have a 12.5 inch minimum size.
Hartley was also concerned that overfishing in other states could close down the season early so having later days may not ever be used. It has happened before when too many sea bass were landed in Massachusetts.
"Massachusetts has outfished us two years in a row. If that happens again our season ends on Aug. 8," Hartley said.
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