A proposal to drastically reduce this year’s summer flounder catch could get final approval at a federal regulatory meeting Thursday morning in Virginia.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Committee is scheduled to consider strategies that would reduce the summer flounder harvest by up to 41 percent coastwide and implement tighter restrictions on bag and size limits for recreational fishermen.
It’s a proposal that has been met with widespread criticism in New Jersey — from recreational fishermen, both U.S. senators, other politicians and even the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In August, the ASMFC and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council set the summer flounder harvest limit at an all-time low in response to the most recent stock assessment, and, last month, the regulatory bodies approved a set of options to meet that goal.
Recreational fishermen and owners of fishing-related businesses gathered at a meeting in January in Galloway Township and expressed disappointment with all five options presented in the plan.
“What they’re doing is taking away our ability to fish,” George Sylvester, 64, a fisherman from Cape May, told The Press of Atlantic City at that meeting. “They’re just making it harder and harder for the average guy to catch fish.”
Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a senior fishery management plan coordinator at ASMFC, has said the flounder stock is in “an overfishing situation.”
Last year, recreational fishermen were limited to five fish at 18 inches in the Atlantic Ocean and four fish at 17 inches in the Delaware Bay. Both were for a 128-day season.
If the plan is approved Thursday, fishermen could face a variety of stricter regulations, ranging from two fish at 18 inches during a 59-day season to three fish at 19 inches for varying season lengths.
State DEP Commissioner Bob Martin is planning to testify at Thursday’s meeting. He has called for federal regulators to keep 2016 regulations in place until a more thorough review of the scientific data about the flounder stock can be completed.