New Jersey anglers will see reduced fluke catches this year, to the benefit of neighboring New York, under a decision made Tuesday by an interstate fisheries panel.
The decision also could mean two different fluke sizes in the Delaware Bay, with a smaller keeper size in Delaware waters and a larger one on the New Jersey side.
New Jersey was on the short end of a 9-2 vote at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Virginia as the East Coast states that land the popular flatfish, also known as summer flounder, voted in new measures for the 2014 fishing season. Only Virginia voted with New Jersey.
“Virginia realized it wasn’t fair,” said Tom Fote, a New Jersey representative on the ASMFC, an interstate panel that regulates migratory fish. “Our allocation is basically going to New York. It sets a bad precedent where they basically take fish from one state and give it to another, because New York has been crying for six years.”
New York has complained its anglers are allowed fewer fish per day, and they must be larger to be considered keepers. The system in place since 2001 awards each state a quota, and the states get to determine their own measures, called a “conservation equivalency,” to meet that quota. New Jersey has received 39.1 percent and New York 17.6 percent of the East Coast quota, the two highest amounts of the nine states that fish for fluke, since 2001.
The disparity between New York and New Jersey quotas resulted in a minimum fish size last year of 17.5 inches in New Jersey and 19 inches in New York. Garden State anglers got five fish per day while Empire State fishermen got four. But New York did have a longer season, at 151 days compared to 133 in New Jersey.
Measures approved Tuesday lump New Jersey, New York and Connecticut into one of four regions. Every state within a region must have the same measures. While officials from the three states still must meet to determine them, one proposal would include an 18-inch keeper, a four-fish bag limit and 128-day season. Each state can determine which days fishing is allowed, but it must be the same number of days.
“It puts the fishermen at an equal opportunity to harvest the fish,” said Toni Kerns, the ASMFC’s Interstate Fishery Management Plan director.
Fote said the result will be higher catches in Connecticut and New York and less fish for New Jersey.
“We didn’t win anything here. They just did a better job of lobbying than us,” said Fote.
President Paul Haertel of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association said it will cost New Jersey anglers an estimated 41,000 fish and seven fishing days this year.
The region including Delaware, Maryland and Virginia is projected to get a keeper at 16 inches. This would lead to two sizes on the Delaware Bay. Haertel said New York argued that anglers from New York and New Jersey fish the same waters, so they should have the same keeper size. Numerous party and charter boats, as wells as private boaters from Cape May to Cumberland counties fish the bay for fluke.
“How is that fair for boats out of Cape May that fish similar waters?” asked Haertel.
Fote said Delaware should be included in the region with New Jersey.
“Delaware threw New Jersey under the bus. They voted in favor of regionalization,” Fote said.
Complicating matters, Fote said, is that Connecticut wants to talk about allowing a 16-inch fluke just for shore-based fishermen.
Fote offered a substitute motion that would have kept the old system, but allowed states that did not catch their quota to transfer it to other states. This could conceivably have solved New York’s issues, but the vote failed 7-4. Fote complained that it would have passed 6-5 if the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (who each get one vote along with the states) had not voted against it.
Kerns said the regional plan only was approved for 2014, so the system could revert to the 2001 regime in 2015.
Pressure from New York likely will continue.
Fote said the New York attorney general had threatened to sue for changes. And U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. has pushed a bill called the Fluke Fairness Act. Schumer could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he has said he would continue pushing for federal legislation unless the changes are made permanent.
Recreational fluke catches meanwhile, are being cut from 7.55 million pounds to 7.01 million pounds this year, due to spawning stock concerns. Kerns said the stock is getting older and that could be pushing more fish into New York waters, as larger fish tend to migrate north, though climate change could be a factor.
“Some papers say they are migrating north due to climate change,” Kerns said.
The 2001 quotas are based on 1998 landings data. Fluke may be moving north, but the new three-state region is the hotspot on the East Coast. New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were the only three states to overfish their quotas last year.
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