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New Jersey anglers will be able to land fewer black sea bass this year - but still more than they had expected.

Preliminary estimates during the winter had put the reduction in allowable black sea bass catch at 52 percent. That was downgraded earlier this year to a 32 percent cut in black sea bass catches for the East Coast states from New Jersey to Massachusetts. These five states had over-fished their targets in 2012.

This week the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a compact of East Coast states that regulates migratory fish, further reduced the cutback to just 24 percent.

In the coming weeks the five northern states facing reductions will each be in charge of coming up with regulations to meet the new target.

Dick Herb, chairman of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, said a number of options would be considered at the council's next meeting, which is set for May 2 in Galloway Township.

"It's still less than last year," Herb cautioned.

The council can use a combination of bag limit, size limit and the number of days in the fishing season to achieve the 24-percent reduction.

The council tries to make sure anglers always have something to fish for from one of the major categories. Herb said the decision by the ASMFC earlier this week to allow New Jersey to have 11 extra days to fish for summer flounder could play a role in the black sea bass decision. The council could try to use the flounder days, or some of them, as they reconfigure the sea bass season.

Herb said it hasn't been decided yet how the 11 days will be used or even if all of them will be used, since over-fishing flounder this year could lead to cuts in 2014.

Herb expects some or all of the flounder days will be used, but is not sure of the details, which could depend on setting the black sea bass season. There has even been talk of splitting the flounder days up.

The council in March established a flounder season from May 18 to Sept. 16. It's been assumed the 11 days would go onto the end (Sept. 17-27) since a decision isn't being made until the July council meeting so they can't be tacked onto the beginning of the season. Now it can be tailored to the sea bass season that will be set on May 2.

There will be other sea bass options on the table besides reducing the season, such as increasing the size limit from 12.5 inches to 13 inches. Herb said five or six options will be on the table.

There has been quite a bit of debate on whether the extra flounder days would lead to over-harvesting the target. Some argue it won't because damages from Hurricane Sandy will reduce the fishing effort at the shore this year. The storm damaged marinas and hundreds of recreational fishing boats. Nowalsky, who often questions the recreational fishing data used to make decisions, understands the lure of taking whatever fishing days the system offers.

"I've long been an advocate that if you have days to take, take them," he said.

Contact Richard Degener:


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