GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — New Jersey’s fight against approved summer flounder measures hangs in the balance, and a meeting next month could prove critical for flounder fishermen.
The state’s Marine Fisheries Council met Thursday evening at the Galloway Township branch of the Atlantic County Library in part to discuss its strategy in opposing a federal regulatory commission’s decision to cut this year’s summer flounder catch by 30 percent.
“I’m getting questions every day,” said Dick Herb, the council’s chairman. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen there.”
“There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes,” he added.
Earlier this year, the state council voted to go out of compliance with the federal measures, which could trigger a pivotal decision by new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross following a federal regulatory meeting in May, Herb said.
Ross could decide to shut down recreational and commercial flounder fishing in New Jersey, or he could study the issue and allow fishing to continue, among other options, according to Herb.
“He can do what he wants to do,” Herb said. “I think we’re going to have to move awfully quickly when we get some movement on this.”
In February, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved the new reductions, which would limit New Jersey recreational fishermen to three fish at 19 inches in the Atlantic Ocean and three at 18 inches in the Delaware Bay.
Last year, anglers in the state were allowed to keep five fish at 18 inches in the ocean and four fish at 17 inches in the bay.
The state’s representatives on the commission have filed a formal appeal of the decision.
The ASFMC is scheduled to revisit the issue May 10 and could take action against New Jersey by asking Ross to rule that the state is out of compliance, Herb said. He said the state council would have to call a meeting soon after and examine its options.
In the meantime, those in the recreational fishing business are waiting for an answer. Last year, the recreational flounder season opened May 21.
“It’s a little disturbing,” said Brook Koeneke, owner and operator of the Duke o’ Fluke party boat in Somers Point. “The uncertainties that we’re seeing are preventing me from making a lot of decisions.”
He said he’s not sure when he should begin running trips, and he may even target species other than flounder.
“To make up for a possible shortcoming in the season, I might just try some striper fishing,” Koeneke said.
The decision to cut the flounder catch was based on federal fishery studies that indicate the fluke population is declining and has been experiencing overfishing since 2008. Some at Thursday’s meeting questioned the data.
“New Jersey’s annual trawl survey through 2015 is very close to its 23-year average,” said Adam Nowalsky, captain of an Atlantic City charter boat and a member of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.
“I’m not up here to say that there’s not declines in the stock,” he said. “It’s very easy to just fall in line with what we’re told without looking a little closer.”