Fishing regulations have a bad reputation. Their biggest fans think of them as a necessary evil.
The most well-intended and well-researched regulations can have unintended consequences. One recovering species can decimate another. A small pest can become a large nuisance. No matter how well we humans do it, trying to regulate any system as complex as the Atlantic Ocean is a humbling experience.
But that doesn't mean it's not worth trying. Ten years ago, restrictions on commercial harvesting helped the striped bass make a comeback. The popular fish had been decimated by overfishing in the 1970s. Its return in large numbers was a boom for southern New Jersey anglers, and for the businesses they patronize.
And the success of flounder management efforts means the allowable catch for New Jersey fishermen will increase 34 percent this summer.
Last Thursday, the New Jersey Fishery Management Council, meeting in Galloway Township, approved a plan to meet that quota. The council had four options, each with a different season length, minimum-keeper length and bag limit. Some would let people take slightly shorter fish for a shorter time. Others gave them a longer season in which they could only keep longer fish.
The council chose the option that creates the longest season, 142 days, from May 7 to Sept. 25, and maintains the minimum size of keepers at 18 inches.
Apparently, fishermen got what they've been asking for. In an online vote at PressofAtlanticCity.com, more than half of the respondents chose that option.
That may be because experienced fishermen saw so many 17.5-inch fish last year that they are confident there will be plenty of fish over 18 inches this year. Or it may be that fishing is about more than taking home fish - it's about having the chance to catch fish, even if you have to throw them back.
It makes sense that sportsmen would choose the longest season, the longest opportunity to enjoy their sport, even if it doesn't guarantee that they'll be eating more flounder dinners. Think about your favorite hobby or activity. If you could make one change, would you rather make it easier, or create more time to enjoy it?
And that extra time to enjoy fishing, even with no guarantee that you'll catch anything large enough to take home, translates to money spent in the New Jersey shore economy: more party boat trips, more bait sales for tackle shops and gas sales for marinas. More overnight stays and more dinners at restaurants.
The 2009 flounder season is remembered as the one that got away. The season ended on Sept. 4, before the all-important Labor Day weekend, undercutting the local fishing industry.
The importance of that industry is both a reason to support efforts to manage the fishery and to insist that those efforts include a common-sense concern for sportsmen, businesses and holiday weekends.