Flounder story

Zach Robbins, a mate aboard the Starlight in Wildwood Crest, displays a 3lb flounder caught during a fishing trip. The Starlight one of many party fishing boats that tourist can enjoy a day of fishing Sunday June 26, 2016, (Dale Gerhard/Press of Atlantic City)

A federal regulatory council voted this week in favor of drastically cutting next summer’s flounder harvest, despite strong protest from South Jersey fishermen and politicians.

No final state bag or size limits were decided at the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council meetings in Baltimore, but the organization did approve a 40 percent reduction in the coast-wide summer flounder catch for 2017.

The number is subject to change pending data still coming in from this season’s catch, but fishermen targeting fluke will likely face much stricter controls on the fish they can keep next summer.

“The stock is currently in a state of overfishing,” said Kiley Dancy, a fishery management specialist at the council. “It’s not looking great right now.”

Local government leaders and fishing-related business owners fear the new regulations could hurt South Jersey’s economy.

“Basically, I came out of there understanding that they want to shut down fishing,” said Robin Scott, owner of Ray Scott’s Dock in Margate, who attended the meetings.

Jim Donofrio, executive director of the New Gretna-based Recreational Fishing Alliance, has even vowed to appeal the decision by asking President-elect Donald J. Trump’s incoming administration to strike down the restrictions.

Bob Martin, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said he was “greatly disappointed” by the decision to tighten controls on flounder.

“In effect, these actions will result in a moratorium on one of our most important recreational fish species,” Martin said in a statement Thursday.

“These current and prior actions taken by the Commission and Council will cripple recreational and commercial fishing in New Jersey and will be felt sharply throughout our shore economy,” he added.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th, co-wrote a letter earlier this week to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an attempt to get the agency to reconsider its recommendation to set an all-time low harvest limit.

New Jersey bag and size limits could range anywhere from three fish at 18 inches to two fish at 19 inches, according to example regulations included in the draft addendum approved at the council meeting.

The flounder season length could vary from around 80 days to over 100 days.

“We strive to put in some example measures to give people a representation of what the measures will look like” for the upcoming summer, said Kirby Rootes-Murdy, senior Fishery Management Plan Coordinator for summer flounder at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, another agency that regulates the industry.

Rootes-Murdy said the final bag and size limits could be set as early as March 1, after public hearings in January and another meeting later that month.

NOAA Fisheries can supersede state regulations if it is determined the regulations wouldn’t keep numbers under the harvest limit, according to the addendum.

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