New Jersey’s summer flounder season is set to end Sept. 16 this year, but the state still has a chance to get unused quota from states not using their full share and thus extend the season.
“There is still hope,” said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a compact of East Coast states that regulates migratory fish, has proposed an addendum to the summer flounder plan that allows states to give unused quota to states that need it. New Jersey and New York, which both overfished their 2012 quota and face reductions, both need it. The commission is making the proposal partly to help New Jersey and New York.
New Jersey was given a quota of 1,090,407 flounder last year, but anglers caught 1,153,975 fish. While many argue about the veracity of recreational angler surveys used to come up with this catch data, those are the numbers the commission is going by.
The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council was told to come up with regulations this year to reduce the harvest about 10 percent, and the council, at a meeting in March, voted to reduce the season by 25 days.
Last year, the season ran from May 5 to Sept. 28, and this year it is set to run from May 18 to Sept. 16. Fluke anglers, and the businesses that rely on them, typically want the season to include both Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. New Jersey did not change the bag limit of five fish per day and the minimum fish size of 17.5 inches.
With damages from Hurricane Sandy affecting marinas, bait & tackle shops, and other shore businesses, some are concerned about losing a big chunk of the flounder season.
John Kolias, who runs Reel Fun Sportfishing in the Sandy Hook area, is one who wrote the ASMFC pushing for the addendum. He said it would bring revenue to shore businesses devastated by Sandy.
“As a charter fishing captain, my main concern has never been size or bag related issues, but time on the water. The more time on the water, the more days I can keep myself gainfully employed and my business solvent,” Kolias said.
Paul Haertel, who represents a number of fishing organizations, including the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association, is also pushing for more fish. Haertel said the only downside is if it leads to the entire East Coast quota being exceeded, because that would reduce the flounder catch in 2014. He does not see that happening, due to Sandy.
“There is no doubt that participation in New Jersey and other states affected by Hurricane Sandy will be down significantly. Many of the marinas in New Jersey were damaged or destroyed, and may not open again until later in the season if they are able to open at all,” Haertel said in a letter to the ASMFC.
President Joe Puntasecca of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association is also pushing for a longer season due to Sandy.
“An extended season would result in many fishermen continuing to come to the New Jersey shore, thereby giving a much-needed boost to the local economy,” Puntasecca said.
Tina Berger, a spokeswoman for the ASMFC, said she expects there to be extra fish once all the numbers come in. The commission has set an East Coast flounder quota of 2.5 million fish, called the RHL, or recreational harvest limit, for 2013.
Toni Kerns, the ASMFC’s Interstate Fishery Management Plan director, said requests from the states are due this week, but no state had turned one in as of Monday. The commission has been waiting for all states to come up with flounder regulations for 2013 to determine how many extra fish there will be.
Kerns said the only state that has not yet come up with regulations is Delaware, but the commission is ready to look at the data it has at this point to project how much of the RHL would not be harvested based on state regulations.
Hajna said New Jersey is waiting until Wednesday to make a decision because the ASMFC is scheduled to vote on the addendum that day and take requests from states to utilize any RHL that remains unused. Hajna said some hope remains but it is not a done deal.
“At this point, we don’t know if we’ll come out with the ability to use extra fish. If we do, we’ll convene a meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council to discuss it,” he said.
The issue may first go to the council’s summer flounder committee, but then the full council would meet, either at a special meeting or the next regularly scheduled one May 2.
The public comment period on the addendum did produce some negative reactions from some states that did not use their full quota last year. Some argued it would penalize states that were conservation-minded when they set their flounder regulations.
“We were simply being cautious, as we have in the past. It is incorrect to assume that this is quota we decided to donate back into the pool,” said Jeff Deem, a Virginia fisherman.
Deem was also concerned any quota shift would become permanent. He said the commission may be “starting down a slippery slope.” The commission says the addendum is for 2013 only.
New Jersey already enjoys the largest percentage of the annual East Coast quota at 39.2 percent, but that is partly because it is the hotbed for flounder catches. The quota is based on historic catch data. One reason anglers catch more than a quota is because the fish are simply available, although some also argue that over-harvest can result from states setting regulations that are too liberal.
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