GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Fishermen packed a public hearing Thursday night to discuss a federal regulation that some say would effectively kill summer flounder fishing in South Jersey.
At issue is a federal proposal to cut this year’s summer flounder catch by 40 percent to an all-time low.
"What they're doing is taking away our ability to fish," said George Sylvester, 64, a fisherman from Cape May. "They're just making it harder and harder for the average guy to catch fish."
The reduction plan was advanced at a Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting last month, and its implementation would likely mean much stricter controls on New Jersey fishermen.
The flounder stock is in "an overfishing situation," said Kirby Rootes-Murdy, senior fishery management plan coordinator at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
"This trend is concerning," he said at the hearing which took place at the Galloway Township branch of the Atlantic County Library.
It featured a presentation by Kirby on the reduction addendum and a contentious question-and-answer phase and a public comment period. The commission will vote on the possible changes next month
The plan does not set any specific size or bag limits, but it does propose a number of possible options that could be implemented to meet the 40 percent reduction.
The options range from two fish at 18 inches during a 59-days season to three fish at 19 inches for varying season lengths (see chart).
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.
Critics of the addendum say no option is ideal for South Jersey’s fishing industry.
And many fishermen contend that the flounder stock doing better than federal regulators say.
"To decimate an economy with flawed data would be a crime," said Dave Mikionis, 63, an angler from Brigantine.
Hours before the hearing, several prominent New Jersey lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce of Penny Pritzker, asking her to order the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct a new benchmark summer flounder assessment before implementing the drastic reductions.
The letter said the new restrictions would have a “dramatic impact” on coastal communities, and endanger the livelihoods of recreational and commercial fishermen.
It was cosigned by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, and U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, D-1, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2, and U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3.
If the current administration doesn’t take action, recreational fishing advocates have said they plan on appealing to President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration.
An online petition started by a Brick Township fisherman opposing the measure gained more than 3,100 supported by Thursday evening.
It was first circulated last week and will be sent to a number of prominent politicians, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for Commerce secretary.
Commissioner Bob Martin of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has also come out against the move, saying it was akin to a “moratorium” on flounder fishing.