Declines in the spawning stock of summer flounder may lead to cutbacks in the catch over the next two years, beginning with a 10 percent reduction in 2013.
Two fishing councils that make recommendations on future catches agree that the 2012 quota should be reduced by slightly more than 10 percent next year. The quota this year was 21.22 million pounds, but the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council want to cut that to 19.07 million pounds next year.
Final decisions are made by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Toni Kerns, Interstate Fisheries Management Plan director for the ASMFC, said the spawning stock biomass between the past two stock assessments declined from 132.8 million pounds to 125.7 million pounds. The spawning stock represents the fish that can reproduce.
“It could be fishing pressure or environmental conditions. When it’s such a small amount, it’s hard to say what caused it,” Kerns said.
The councils are recommending a smaller cut in 2014, to 18.98 million pounds.
Summer flounder catch is divided along the East Coast, with the commercial fishing industry getting 60 percent and recreational anglers getting 40 percent. How such a reduction would affect anglers in New Jersey remains to be seen.
Catches are generally managed by bag limits, size limits and fishing seasons. Kerns said the councils will hold a joint meeting in December to decide whether to set uniform limits for all coastal states — for regions that would each include several states — or to allow states to set their own regulations to meet the reductions.
States are usually given a target and allowed to set the regulations for their anglers. The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council set the state’s flounder rules this year with a five-fish bag limit, a 17.5-inch size limit and a season that runs from May 5-Sept. 28.
The councils are also recommending a reduction in bluefish catches. The 2012 commercial quota was 10.32 million pounds, which would drop to 9.08 million pounds in 2013 and 8.67 million pounds in 2014. The recreational quota would drop from 17.46 million pounds this year to 14 million pounds in 2013 and 2014.
Mike Waine, fishing management plan coordinator for the ASMFC, said 2010 and 2011 were poor years for production of new bluefish. That is more likely due to environmental conditions than overfishing, he said.
New Jersey has a bluefish bag limit of 15 fish per day with no minimum size and no closed season. The councils will set bluefish regulations. Waine said the states can adopt more conservative regulations but not more lenient ones. He noted states have bluefish seasons and several allow only 10 fish per day.
Councils are also recommending cuts in catches of scup, also known as porgy. The commercial quota of 27.91 million pounds this year would decline 26 percent over three years, hitting 20.6 million pounds in 2015. The recreational scup catch would drop from 8.45 million pounds this year to 6.6 million pounds in 2015.
The councils, however, have initiated a process to change the way scup are divided. Since 1996, the commercial sector has received 78 percent of the quota and the anglers 22 percent. Scup is a growing recreational fishery from northern New Jersey to Massachusetts, and the councils are considering giving the recreational sector as much as 40 percent of the quota.
The council did offer a recommendation to increase black sea bass catches next year. The proposal would increase recreational catches from 1.32 million pounds to 1.85 million pounds. That could lead to increases in New Jersey’s bag limit, which is 25 fish, or size limit, which is 12.5 inches, or add days to the two sea bass fishing seasons.
Black sea bass catch could increase from 1.71 million pounds to 1.78 million pounds.
Kerns noted that cutbacks are not always equal for commercial and recreational sectors and the difference is partly because the councils must project the mortality of fish caught and thrown back, known as “discards,” that can die in different percentages when landed in nets or caught by a hook.
The council recommendations will be proposed as a rule sometime this fall, and there will be public hearings before a final rule comes out in December or January, Kerns said.
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