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Captain's Focus

A possible change in the 60-40 split of the summer flounder quota in favor of commercial interests was one of the many issues up for discussion at Tuesday's public scoping meeting in Belmar Municipal Court. That issue was number two among those to be considered in development of the Comprehensive Summer Flounder Amendment to the Summer Flounder, Scup and Black Sea Bass Management Plan by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). The document explaining issues that already have been under consideration states that "the designation of the 60/40 split in 1993 was determined based on the significance of the summer flounder fishery". That isn't quite true. As readers of this column know, I found a NOAA document that studied the fishery before there were any regulations -- and estimated the catch at about 70 percent recreational. How did we get from 70 percent to 40 percent? The MAFMC and ASMFC ignored that study and instead rewarded the offshore trawler fishery for destroying the stocks. Traditionally, fluke were spread over vast inshore areas and harvested very inefficiently by millions of recreational fishermen as well as small trawlers. It wasn't until big offshore trawlers concentrated on the wintering fluke stocks that the nature of the fishery changed. By netting vast quantities of fluke where they are concentrated on spawning and wintering grounds, the big trawlers left little to come inshore in the spring. The recreational catch took a nosedive, and the catch percentage turned in favor of the trawlers with their winter fishery on the depleted , but still concentrated, fishery. Commercial fishermen at the meeting were quick to argue against any change in the division, and it certainly won't be easy to accomplish. Yet, if a fair division had been made the public wouldn't have been faced all these years of regulation with the ridiculously high minimum sizes we've had to deal with in the name of conservation. How can it be "fair" that the public has to release 14-to-17 7/8-inch fluke so a dragger can net the same fish while the fishless angler must then buy back "his" fluke at the fish market? Even some commercial fishermen noted the waste involved in setting such high minimums that anglers have to release the vast majority of what they hook in order to seek a keeper -- resulting in high mortality.In the recreational fishery, released alive fluke have increased from 30 percent of the total recreational catch in 1981 to 84 percent. Of the released alive fish, dead discards have accounted for about 12 percent of the total recreational catch using the assumed discard mortality rate of 10 percent. Scoping provides the best opportunity to bring up issues relating to the fishery long before the regulatory process. For additional information and background documents about the amendment, visit www.mafmc.org/actions/summer-flounder-amendment. Comments may be submitted through Oct. 31 by e-mail to nmfs.gar.FlukeAmendment@noaa.gov. Use the subject line Summer Flounder Amendment Scoping Comments. The 60th annual Long Beach island Surf Fishing Classic begins on Monday, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 30. A special $500 prize will be awarded om opening day for the largest striper weighed in by 6 p.m. -- and that will be repeated on Oct. 25. Another special award of $1,000 will be available on Nov. 16 in honor of Framk Panzone. The eight-week contest awards thousands of dollars in daily, weekly and monthly prizes, including $1,000 each to the largest striped bass and bluefish of the tournament -- and those winners also earn a CTS custom rod with matching Penn reel. Weekly awards are $125 for each species, and there are also $400 prizes for each of the three tournament segments. Seperate prizes are available for juniors, ladies and seniors. Capt. Stan Zagleski said the fluke season went out with a whimper last Saturday as keepers were hard to come by. Yet, he was well satisfied with his season as six doormats were boated on Elaine B. from Highlands -- up to the boat's largest ever, a 14-pound, 9-ounce mega-mat. The switch to porgies started out well on Sunday, though Zagleski said it was a shame to have to release so many big sea bass that day. Capt. Joe Bogan, of Jamaica II at Brielle, is also awaiting reopening of the sea bass season on Oct. 18. He's been working deep Mud Hole wrecks for some big ling plus a few cod and winter flounder. Ed Carter of Trenton won a pool with a 12-pound cod. The Jamaica II has also set up limited tuna, bonito and little tunny trips departing at 4 a.m. Oct. 8 and 13. Capt. Howard Bogan reported a good Tuesday to Wednesday canyon trip on his Jamaica from Brielle that started out with hot dolphin fishing . The night chunking bite improved as it went along, and they ended up with a catch of yellowfins and albacore. Sandor Zajacz of Bridgewater won the pool with a 130-pound bigeye. There's room on some upcoming canyon trips, including 31-hour sailings at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays -- and 22-hour trips at 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call 732 528-5014 for reservations. Capt. Chris De Stefano of Wall says canyon fishing has been very good when boaters can get out there. However, trolling is often frustrating due to masses of pelagic sargassum weed that make it almost impossible to keep the lures clean. That problem is even worse in the Caribbean, where some islands have shores covered with masses of the weed.De Stefano fished aboard Frank Criscola's Crisdel from Brielle Yacht Club on Monday as they ran north to troll about 15 stripers on shad rigs. Some of those stripers were in the 20-to-25-pound class, but had the red spots associated with some local fish. A big surprise was the several 5-pound sea bass taken on the rigs. Of course, they had to be released. Water temperatures have remained too high for the migratory run from New England to get started despite all the northeast winds we've had. Check my daily blog at nj.com/shore/blogs/fishing for updates on that situation. Striper fishing was a lot slower in the Raritan Bay area when I joined Chuck Many of Annandale on his Ty Man from Gateway Marina in Highlands on Monday. After first running down the beach and only finding small blues under rainfish, Many returned to the north where he and I had released 23 stripers up to 41 inches the previous Tuesday while chunking. This time that technique only produced small dogfish. Matt Calabria of Hazlet, Many and I each ended up settling for one released bass in the teens on live bunkers. The northeast blow changed everything, but Joe Melillo at Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant hopes the bite of school stripers on plugs in the local surf will resume as the waters calm and clear. Blackfishing in Point Pleasant Canal remains steady, though only one per man is allowed. Crabbing has been very good. At Seaside Park, both Grumpy's Tackle and Betty & Nick's reported lots of small blues in the surf. They had been hitting primarily on mullet, but are now also steady on metal and teasers.

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