A bill calling on the federal government to halt proposed summer-flounder restrictions passed the state Assembly in a unanimous vote this week.
The resolution, introduced last week by Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, urges the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to reconsider plans to slash this year’s flounder harvest by 40 percent.
Federal officials argue the move is necessary. At a public hearing on the issue earlier this month in Galloway Township, Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a senior fishery management plan coordinator at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said the flounder stock is in “an overfishing situation.”
Last summer, fishermen were allowed to keep five fish at 18 inches in the Atlantic Ocean. They could keep four fish at 17 inches in the Delaware Bay over a 128-day season.
But to meet the proposed reductions, bag and size limits would have to be reduced to two or three fish at 18 or 19 inches for varying season lengths — almost all of which are shorter — according to example options presented in a fisheries commission addendum.
In a 67-0 vote Monday, the Assembly agreed to formally ask NOAA to conduct a new summer-flounder assessment before implementing the massive cutback.
The reduction plan, which is up for public comment, could get final approval at a fisheries commission meeting next month.
Recreational fishermen have questioned NOAA’s conclusions on the state of the flounder stock, and Mazzeo’s bill calls their measurements “merely estimates which may not represent the actual status of the summer flounder stock.”
Many South Jersey politicians and officials, including U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, have opposed the proposed harvest reductions.
Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, argued in a letter sent earlier this month to outgoing Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker that the harvest reduction would hurt South Jersey’s economy.
“The area I represent already has an unemployment rate twice the state average and cannot afford the loss of business that will occur directly to marinas, bait and tackle shops, charter boats, commercial boats and indirectly to tourism and fishing because of the new rule,” Brown said in the letter.