GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council has approved a pilot program to allow shore-based anglers to land undersized fish this summer but only at Island Beach State Park in Ocean County.
The program will allow anglers to land two summer flounder, or fluke, that measure just 16 inches. It’s a smaller keeper but fewer fish per day. Regulations now allow five fluke per day, as long as they measure at least 18 inches.
Depending on how things go, the program could be expanded in 2015.
“In the future, we could have three locations: north, central and south. We have to make sure it’s enforceable, but I’m not saying no to expanding it in the future,” said Brandon Muffley, chief of the New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries.
The idea of allowing anglers fishing off the beach, jetties or bridges to keep a smaller fish began several years ago in Connecticut, Muffley said. He said that state began with only one smaller fluke. Muffley reasons if an angler gives up three fish on the bag limit, they should be rewarded with at least two fish. He said the program is not open to those fishing from boats, including kayaks.
The council unanimously approved the program at a meeting Thursday here at the Atlantic County Library, but it must be put in the New Jersey Register to be finalized. Muffley said it likely will not be approved when fluke season starts on May 23 but should be ready by June 1.
The only council member to raise questions was Joe Zabrowski, who was concerned success of the program will lead to anglers in other shore-based fisheries to lobby for similar programs. Among other issues, allowing undersized fish in a number of fisheries and locations could cause enforcement headaches. Zabrowski ended up voting for it.
Shore-based anglers spoke in support of the program but wanted more locations. President Paul Haertel, of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, said Connecticut has expanded it about 40 locations and now allows five fish at 16 inches.
President Tim Burden, of the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association, wanted it expanded in 2015 to four locations, including Sandy Hook and Liberty State Park.
Muffley said the program could bring some welcome data on catches, because the state will weigh in all the fish that are keepers. This data can be compared with information the federal government is collecting under a 2006 law. The law set up the Marine Recreation Information Program, or MRIP, which anglers have criticized as inaccurate. MRIP data is used to set regulations.
“We could get a census count of the harvest at Island Beach State Park and make a comparison to MRIP,” said Muffley, who noted the states may take over the MRIP program in 2016.
He said the plan is to sample the age, length and weight of the fish that are caught. He said any fluke less than 18 inches would have to be taken to a check station, and a harvest report form would be filled out. Council member Joe Rizzo questioned whether the bureau has the manpower to do all this. Muffley said he would use some part-time workers at Island Beach State Park, so it would be “relatively cheap”
“I’m willing to invest the resources to collect this information, because I feel it’s worth doing,” Muffley said.
This season runs from May 23 through Sept. 27. The five-fish bag limit and 18 inch size limit will be in place in other areas.
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