Hurricane Sandy was a factor Wednesday as other East Coast states agreed to give some of their summer flounder quota to help New Jersey and New York.
New Jersey anglers were given an extra 11 fishing days. The season was set to end Sept. 16, but now it will be extended to Sept. 27. Anglers in New York will be able to land a 19-inch flounder, also known as fluke, instead of a 19.5-inch fish.
New Jersey pushed hard for the changes during a Wednesday afternoon telephone conference call meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The ASMFC, a compact of East Coast states that regulates migratory fish, proposed an addendum, approved unanimously, to the summer flounder plan that allows states to give unused quota to New Jersey and New York.
Both states over-fished their 2012 quota and faced reductions at a time when Hurricane Sandy affected hundreds of marinas in the two states. There was also concern because the Oct. 29 storm damaged boats and the homes many anglers live in when they go fishing at the shore. Flounder is a large part of the recreational fishing economy in the two states and cutbacks would hurt marinas, bait & tackle shops, party boats and other businesses.
The other East Coast states did not over-fish their quotas last year and had already set conservative 2013 regulations that would have left 809,147 pounds of unused flounder quota, which according to ASMFC calculations equates to 266,781 fish.
New Jersey will receive 232,949 pounds or 85,392 extra flounder. New York will get 565,282 pounds or 150,022 fish. This leaves only 10,916 pounds as a hedge against over-fishing.
New Jersey and New York fishing officials had been in contact in recent days trying to come to agreement on how to divvy up the fish, but the exact deal happened late in the 90-minute conference call. New York wanted to use its poundage by lowering its minimum size to 19 inches. New Jersey has a 17.5-inch minimum size and New York has the highest on the coast at 19.5 inches. Rhode Island is 18.5 inches and Connecticut is 18 inches.
The New York size reduction would have taken 569,040 extra pounds. That did not leave enough for New Jersey to have the 11 extra fishing days it sought, extending the season through a Friday (Sept. 27) on the calendar.
“We fully support New York going to a lower size limit,” said Peter Himchak, a fisheries biologist with the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection. “We recognize that New York would need the lion’s share of the fish and that’s OK, but we want 11 more days. We are looking at 11 days, and it would come at New York’s expense.”
The problem was solved when New York agreed to give one of its fishing days to New Jersey. The New York season will end on Sept. 29 instead of Sept. 30.
A public-comment period on the plan to give unused quota to New Jersey and New York drew some opposition from anglers in states that did not over-harvest their quota. New Jersey was given a quota of 1,090,407 flounder last year but anglers caught 1,153,975 fish. A representative from Delaware said anglers in his state “are very much opposed” to the plan, but when it came to a vote no state voted against it.
One concern is allowing more fish to be caught could put the whole East Coast over its recreational harvest limit of 2.5 million fish. The devastation from Sandy, which led some to vote for the plan, was cited as a reason not to worry about over-fishing. Jim Gilmore, a representative from New York, said many marinas will not open until late in the season.
“Most won’t get back into business until late in the season because they’re waiting on FEMA checks and insurance checks,” Gilmore said.
David Pearce, of Massachusetts, said he understood the argument that states that were conservation-minded should not give their fish to states that were less cautious. But he still supported the plan due to Sandy.
“I appreciate the difficulty New York and New Jersey have had. It’s a one-year initiative. I think it’s worthwhile,” Pearce said.
Massachusetts kicked in 25,000 flounder.
Adam Nowalsky, a New Jersey representative on the commission, argued for more review before making a decision. Nowalsky expressed concern about effects on the 2014 season.
While New Jersey was over its target last year, Himchak said over the past 12 years the state has been 3 percent below “what we’re allowed to harvest.”
“Hurricane Sandy has hurt us. Can these places get up and running? We hope so and we wish them the best,” Himchak said.
The industry will still be taking a cut. The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council voted in March to reduce the season by 25 days. Even with the 11 days, the season is still shorter.
Last year the season ran from May 5 to Sept. 28 and this year it is set to run from May 18 to Sept. 27.
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