GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Summer flounder fishermen will lose 25 fishing days this year under regulations approved unanimously Thursday by the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council.
The council had six options to choose from to meet a reduction plan mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, or ASMFC, and chose the one that won the most support in a packed meeting room at the Atlantic County Library.
The option chosen keeps the daily bag limit of five fish per day and the minimum fish size of 17.5 inches that were in place last year. It shortens the season by 13 days in May and 12 days in September.
Last year’s season ran from May 5 to Sept. 28, a total of 147 days. Council chose a season from May 18 to Sept. 16, for 122 days.
Anglers left with some hope that days could be added later and were urged to return for the council’s May meeting. The ASMFC is considering a plan to allow states that are not using their whole flounder quota to put the extra fish in a pool from which other states could draw. There will be a public hearing on the plan, but a date has not been set.
“That’s a voluntary contribution program by other states. I’m not too sure how many we’ll get,” Council Chairman Dick Herb said.
The ASMFC is blaming a decline in spawning stock for lowering the East Coast flounder harvest from 21.22 million pounds last year to 19.07 million pounds. Cuts are different for each state, and New Jersey had the highest at more than 15 percent. New York was second at 14 percent.
One issue is that New Jersey caught more than its quota last year. The state was given 1,090,407 fish and landed 1,153,975. This year it is being given 997,998 fish, so the 15 percent reduction is compared to was landed last year and not to what was supposed to be caught.
The data the ASMFC uses to come up with the quotas, based on surveying anglers, was criticized during the meeting.
“They only sample 1 percent of the anglers. We’re just playing a numbers game. I certainly hope in the coming years they will have a better process,” said Adam Nowalsky of the New Gretna, Burlington County-based Recreational Fishing Alliance.
Some anglers argue Hurricane Sandy will stifle fishing efforts this year, as marinas, piers and boats were damaged. Marc Palazzolo, who owns a Point Pleasant Beach bait-and-tackle shop, said damage was heavy from Long Beach Island north and most marinas won’t even open until mid-May.
“It’s devastating what happened to us. I pray we get some fish from other states,” Palazzolo said.
David Showell, of the Absecon Bay Sportsman Center, wanted the option that started the season May 11 to help get marinas up and running.
Robin Scott, who owns a marina in Margate that sustained major damage in Sandy, also pushed for an early season. Scott did not want to count on the later part of the season, noting that in 2011, Tropical Storm Irene ended fishing even though the season was not over.
“Two years ago, we had Irene and my business was done. We pulled the boats,” Scott said.
Others pushed for the fall, trying to keep flounder going as close to the fall striped bass run as possible. Paul Haertel of the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association preferred the option that kept the season going until Oct. 2.
“There’s little else to fish for in the fall,” Haertel said.
The options that raised the size limit to 18 inches were not popular. Only one angler supported such an option.
Council voted 8-0 on the option that included a 17.5-inch minimum and started the season May 18. The majority of anglers who spoke supported this option.
Many, however, pushed council to make sure that as other regulations are drafted there is always something to fish. New Jersey is facing a 32 percent reduction in black sea bass catches this year and doesn’t yet know what the season will be. Some pushed to make sure there is sea bass fishing when the flounder season closes.
“That is a valid point. This year we don’t know where other fish will fit into the calendar,” Herb said.
The states from New Jersey through Massachusetts face a 32 percent reduction in black sea bass catches. Council member Sergio Radossi said New Jersey is waiting on some ASMFC approvals before it can develop options. The fishery is closed now. Pending new regulations, the 2012 rules are still in place, which would allow 25 fish per day and a 12.5-inch size limit, with the first of three seasons to run from May 19 to Sept. 3.
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