The new Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, has been confirmed -- and the path to a fluke season during which the public will have a reasonable chance at catching a legal fish seems a little clearer.
The following release from the governor's office emphasizes the Christie administration's commitment to maintaining status quo regulations rather then the 19-inch minimum which the ASMFC has imposed:
"The Christie Administration has formally requested the new U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, to put a hold on severe restrictions on recreational summer flounder fishing adopted recently by a regional fisheries commission, a move that would effectively cripple the state's fishing industry and have far-reaching impacts on the shore tourism economy, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
As head of the Department of Commerce, Secretary Ross oversees management of fisheries through the agency's Fisheries Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.
Last month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) approved a 34 percent reduction in the state's recreational quota for summer flounder.
Commissioner Martin wrote to Secretary Ross that the restrictions will "put our recreational summer flounder industry in serious jeopardy."
"This action imposes a de facto moratorium on recreational summer flounder fishing in my state," Commissioner Martin wrote. "This action also is disproportionately damaging to New Jersey compared with other states."
"In the short term, New Jersey is requesting that you stop these new regulations from going into effect and that NOAA Fisheries maintain the status quo for the 2017 Recreational Harvest Limit for summer flounder. At the same time, we are requesting an immediate benchmark stock assessment for summer flounder be conducted."
Summer flounder, also known as fluke, is one of the state's most popular sport fish. It is especially popular in New Jersey, attracting many thousands of anglers each summer season because of the abundance of these fish close to beaches and in bays and creeks. The summer flounder season in New Jersey typically runs from May through September, concurrent with the peak tourism season. Any reduction would be in addition to the 27 percent recreational quota reduction New Jersey had to implement after successfully fighting off a proposed 59 percent reduction in 2015. Last year's New Jersey regulations allowed recreational anglers fishing to take up to four summer flounder per day that met a minimum, 17-inch length requirement in Delaware Bay. For all other New Jersey marine waters, the minimum length was at least 18 inches long.
In order to meet the new quota, New Jersey's size limit would have to be increased to 19 inches and the number of fish that could be kept each day would be reduced from five to three. Due to their biological needs and migration patterns, summer flounder are smaller in New Jersey waters than in waters north of our state.
Ironically, most of the fish that anglers would be able to keep under the new regulations would be breeding-size females. Ninety percent of the fish that meet the 19-inch limit are females.
The Christie Administration argues that fisheries resources, managed by regional commissions based on information collected by the states and the National Marine Fisheries Service, varies too widely from year to year, causing a great deal of uncertainty for state fishery managers and for those who enjoy fishing. Conversely, New Jersey has over three decades' worth of fish trawl surveys that show a slight, but measurable increase in the summer flounder stock off the coast.
"New Jersey recognizes the importance of protecting our marine resources by preventing the overfishing of any species," Commissioner Martin added in the letter. "But the decisions that are made to ensure the health of fisheries must be based on reliable data about the health of the fishery and the use of up-to-date, sound science."
Recreational fishing in New Jersey alone directly creates some 20,000 jobs and contributes $1.5 billion to the state's economy, with commercial fishing generating another billion dollars in economic benefits. Restaurants, hotels, gift shops and a wide range of other businesses would be harmed if recreational anglers see no point in making the trip if they feel that their prospects for keeping a few fish to take home are not good.
Commissioner Martin testified against the quota changes at the Feb. 2 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting. In his letter to Secretary Ross, Commissioner Martin noted that NOAA's Fisheries Office and the National Marine Fisheries Service are required to review decisions by regional commissioners before they are published in the Federal Register and become final.
For a copy of Commissioner Martin's letter, visit: http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/2017/flndrletter02-28-17.pdf"
Though that stance could result in the state being ruled out of compliance by the ASMFC, the season could be long underway before that ruling is transmitted to the Secretary of Commerce for a possible federal closure. Yet, Ross grew up in Weehawken, and there is hope that he might be sympathetic to the economic concerns spelled out by Commissioner Martin which seem to be in line with the Trump administration's jobs positions.
Many experts believe that a new baseline summer flounder stock assessment will confirm that the sacrifices made over recent years have resulted in a healthy stock. It's bad enough that the public is given only 40 percent of the stock even though NOAA Fisheries had estimated that recreational fishermen were catching about 70 percent of fishery before management. Furthermore, the public will still be faced with an 18-inch minimum if we stay with status quo, while commercial fishermen can keep 14-inch fluke.
Representatives Frank Pallone and Frank Lo Biondo are planning to introduce legislation in the House of Representatives to stop the ASMFC increase, but that procedure might be a long shot for this year. They, and some other N.J. congressmen, had sent a letter to the previous Secretary of Commerce requesting status quo until the new baseline stock assessment, but she never answered it.
There have been some big changes on the fishing front as blackfish and porgies are now out of season, while winter flounder opened on Wednesday for the rest of the year with a daily bag of two at a 12-inch minimum. The striped bass season in bays and rivers also opened that day, and the first keeper was quickly caught in Mullica River by Donovan Vasquez, with a 30-incher to break the ice at Absecon Bay Sports Center. He also caught lots of shorts.
Raritan Bay is already loaded with bunkers, though it will probably be some time before stripers begin feeding on them.
Joe Melillo reports from Castaways Tackle in Point Pleasant that flounder are being caught in Manasquan River, with the rebuilt pier at the end of Point Pleasant Canal being a good spot to fish for them. He also noted that a most unusual mid-winter run of small stripers continues on small lures cast into the surf north of Manasquan Inlet. Though the phone line at Castaways is still out, that shop is open.
Bob Matthews has clams and worms in stock at Fisherman's Den in Belmar Marina for those seeking winter flounder from the docks. The Ocean Explorer from that marina finished up with blackfish on Tuesday, and is now sailing daily for cod. The northwest gale put a stop to that, but all that wind could result in a calm ocean by Sunday.
The World Fishing Expo opened Thursday at Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York. Friday hours are from 1 to 9 p.m. Adult admission is $13. Most national fishing tackle manufacturers are represented at the show. Shimano reps include experienced area anglers Doug Rusch, Greg Kondak, Patrick Latham, Kevin Fahey and Jordan Pullo. They'll be showing the new Tranx 300 and 400 size casting reels along with new spinning models and rods.
For details about seminars and other features at the Suffern show visit sportshows.com/suffern.
The Atlantic City Boat Show runs through Sunday at the Convention Center. The Canyon Runner crew is providing free offshore seminars at noon, 3 and 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus noon and 3 p.m. Sunday. They also invite all to see their new Canyon Runner 32-foot Yellowfin.
It was Greater Point Pleasant Charter Boat Association day in Florida last Friday as Capt. Pete Grimbilas took a break from running the N.J.O.A. and Reef Rescue to fish with fellow GPPCBA skipper Dennis Pelligrino on his 28.5- foot Sailfish out of Cape Coral. John King of Cape Coral and I were along during a 30-mile run out to hard bottom in 60 feet where there was non-stop bottom action for small lane and vermillion snappers plus red groupers up to Pelligrino's 23-incher