A federal regulatory commission voted Thursday to reduce this year’s summer flounder catch, leaving New Jersey leaders fuming and vowing to take action.
It’s a move many in the state believe could devastate the recreational fishing industry at the Jersey Shore by tightening size and bag limits on the fish.
“We will use every legal and administrative tool available to stop these unfair cuts that will devastate our state’s fishing industry and have far-reaching impacts on the shore economy,” state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said after the decision.
Thursday’s vote means recreational anglers in New Jersey could be limited to three keepers at 19 inches in the Atlantic Ocean and three at 18 inches in the Delaware Bay for a 128-day season, according to example measures presented in the approved document.
It would represent a dramatic cut from the 2016 regulations, which allowed fishermen to keep five fish at 18 inches in the ocean and four at 17 inches in the bay.
But it could have been worse for those who like to filet a flounder or two after an afternoon on the water.
At its meeting in Virginia, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission chose Option 5, which implements reductions between 28 percent and 32 percent the length of the coast. All other options included in the plan would have mandated a 41 percent cut.
Federal experts have argued the reductions are necessary to preserve the stock. At a public hearing last month in Galloway Township, Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a senior fishery management plan coordinator at ASMFC, said the flounder stock is in “an overfishing situation.”
Option 5 passed by a vote of 7-3, with delegates from New Jersey voting against it.
The vote followed a failed effort to delay the restrictions until the federal government selects a new Secretary of Commerce.
New Jersey and Delaware both voted for a delay, but they were vastly outnumbered by other states, including New York and Connecticut.
However, because the strategy doesn’t meet the required 41 percent reduction, the National Marine Fisheries Service could step in and mandate draconian default measures — 2 fish at 20 inches from July 1 to Aug. 1.
State leaders and fishing activists who oppose the cuts say it’s not over.
After the vote, Martin and U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, met in Washington to develop a plan to fight the new regulations, according to a news release.
“Just when our fishing industry was recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, unelected bureaucrats in Washington use questionable methodologies and outdated science to cut us off at the knees,” LoBiondo said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power to run this ASMFC decision aground.”
Others plann to appeal to President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We think we have a really good chance with President Trump’s team,” said Jim Donofrio, president of the New Gretna-based Recreational Fishing Alliance. “The president is against regulation for regulation’s sake.”
One contentious issue is the way the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measures the health of the flounder stock.
Martin criticized NOAA’s data in testimony Thursday before the vote, calling it flawed and contradicting information the state has gathered on its own.
“Our data has consistently shown that our fluke population has been stable since 1992,” he said.
For Robin Scott, owner of Ray Scott’s Dock in Margate, the decision could have far-reaching consequences on her business and beyond.
“They actually voted and flew in the face of reason, common sense and facts,” said Scott, who went to the meeting in Virginia wearing her handcrafted flounder-themed jewelry. “It was the most ridiculous thing I have ever witnessed.”
“This is a lifestyle,” she added. “It’s not just people’s jobs.”
Staff Writer Brian Ianieri contributed to this report.