A South Jersey lawmaker introduced a bill Tuesday that would urge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to halt proposed reductions to this year’s summer flounder catch.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, introduced a resolution asking NOAA to conduct a new summer flounder assessment before implementing the proposed regulations, which would cut the flounder catch by 40 percent.
The reduction plan was advanced at a Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting last month but has been roundly condemned by recreational fishermen and prominent state leaders, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd.
Federal officials say the cuts are necessary because a recent NOAA report concluded the flounder fishery is overfished.
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Recreational fishermen at a hearing earlier this month in Galloway Township questioned NOAA’s methods for measuring flounder, and Mazzeo’s resolution, a draft of which was sent to The Press of Atlantic City, asks the agency to take another look at the stock.
“The findings in the report were based largely on data obtained through random sampling,” the bill states. “As a result, the assessments made are merely estimates which may not represent the actual status of the summer flounder stock.”
If passed, Mazzeo’s bill would be sent to the president’s office, various federal agencies that regulate the fishing industry, the state Department of Environmental Protection and members of Congress from New Jersey.
“It’s just another way to stand up for the New Jersey fishermen,” said Mazzeo, who called the proposed restrictions “devastating.”
The reduction plan, which is currently up for public comment, could get final approval at an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting next month.
Mazzeo said he wanted to fast-track the bill through the Assembly. A hearing to discuss the resolution will be held Thursday afternoon, said Tom Fote, legislative chairman for the Jersey Coast Anglers Association.
The reduction plan does not set any specific size or bag limits, but it does propose a number of options that could be implemented to meet the 40 percent reduction.
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The options for New Jersey range from two fish at 18 inches during a 59-day season to three fish at 19 inches for varying season lengths.
Last summer, fishermen were limited to five fish at 18 inches in the Atlantic Ocean and four fish at 17 inches in the Delaware Bay. Both were for a 128-day season.
Mazzeo’s bill states that the drastic changes “could destroy the recreational and commercial summer flounder industries in the state, and cause tremendous harm to the economy of the New Jersey shore.”