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Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County, New Jersey

Fishing Regulations Updates

Fishing Management Issues - By John Toth

Fluke - so far I keep hearing that the regulations we had last year will be the same for this year. More definitive info on fluke regulations will come out later in February or early March. I will keep you all posted on it.
At a recent public hearing with the Atlantic States marine Fisheries that was held to receive input from anglers on what they would like to see changes in fluke regulations, Paul Haertel, ( past president of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association) expressed comments that most in attendance agreed with. They include New Jersey having the same regulations as NY and Connecticut since we already are in the same region with them. But for fluke quota purposes, NJ should be in its own region and not combined with the other two states. We would most likely end up with a bigger quota for fluke under this new scenario. Also, the southern region of our state should have a 17 inch size fluke to be more competitive with Delaware that has a 16 inch size limit for fluke. This should help NJ's party/charter industry that is suffering losses with anglers going to Delaware for their lower size limit. These are only comments and we have to see if they are included in future fluke regulations to come.
Sea Bass - The regulations on this fishery has been nothing but draconian! Each year, our quota is reduced because we are overfishing it. The quota set for us is too low each year so the outcome is predictable. Ironically, fishing managers say that they no idea how many sea bass are in the ocean, but they have to error on the side of caution and set our quotas low. Anglers are fed up with this picture and want to make a statement that they are tired of it. Stay tuned on this one!
Access - The Hackensack Riverkeeper and the NY/NJ Baykeeper sued the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over the DEP's handling of beach and waterway access. An Appellate Court in December 2015 ruled that the DEP cannot regulate access since there is no legislation on the books granting it that authority. In this void of authority, municipalities could make rules making beach access for anglers more difficult. Who does the Army Corps of Engineers report to in regard to beach replenishment? Alarmed, our legislators quickly passed legislation (1/12/16) giving the DEP this authority and with our governor's approval on 1/19/16. I have never seen our legislators pass anything so quickly! If only they could work together like this on other problems our state is facing like taxes etc.!
Both the Riverkeeper and the Baykeeper want the DEP to regulate access, but under better regulations under a bill (S-919) sponsored by Senator Smith. On January 25th, I attended Senator Smith's hearing on this issue in Trenton and he asked a number of groups to get together and work on what they want in his bill for the DEP to follow in regulating beach and waterway access. I will be working with this group to improve access and I will keep you updated on its progress.

Garden State Seafood Association Workshop Report - By John Toth

On December 11th, the Garden State Seafood Association hosted a Fisheries Workshop and members of the recreational community were invited to attend it.  It was an all-day meeting and I represented the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance., There were about 50 people in attendance and they were from the NJ DEP, Rutgers, National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) and other organizations that have deep ties to the fishing industry, both commercial and recreational. There were so many issues discussed and I cannot begin to put all of it in this column. So, I will cover just a few major points that may be of interest to you.

The first speaker was Rick Robins, Chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Council (MAMFC).  He went quickly through the process of the factors that go into the development of our quotas. When he was done, the floor was open to questions.

I said that while I do not want to be disrespectful, I said that "We do not have any confidence in the numbers MAMFC comes out with".  I said that  "NOBODY believes your numbers !"  They are so bad that I refuse to even try to explain them to my Bergen County fishing club.  While I did not have specific numbers on hand at this meeting,, I said that how did we catch more fluke during the time period of Sandy when boats were destroyed and missing.  How are we catching more fluke when boat registrations are down so bad that our legislature just recently reduced the taxes on boat sales to spur more people to buy boats!  And how did you come up with a 45% reduction for our fluke quota in 2016 and that we are so supposed to be so happy that you are spreading this pain over several years?  Are your numbers so wrong that instead of a   more reasonable 5 % or 10% reduction in our quota you come out with a whacky 45% reduction!  The livelihood of businesses are on the line while we are trying to play by the rules of your quotas.  Jeff Reichle, President of Lund's Fisheries said that he agreed with me and also said "we do not need more data, but the right data ".  I don't think Mr. Robins expected these comments, but  I could not sit still and let this pass without saying anything!  Mr. Robins responded with something like "we will try harder'.

Pat Sullivan,  Associate Professor from Cornell University working with the Save Our Summer Flounder staff (SSFFF),  and  Eleanor Bochenek from Rutgers  and representing Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFIS.org), reported on their efforts to develop a model that can give a much better picture of the stocks of summer flounder.  This model will include sex of both male and females, length of fish and discard information.  All of this information is to give us a better picture of fluke stocks that we don't currently have that can be useful in making a case against the reductions we are currently facing.  Dr. Sullivan reported his new model  is not expected to be in place for 2016, but hopefully in the near future.

John Manderson from NMFS and Josh Kohut from Rutgers talked about the difficulty in getting the right data to develop a good picture of fishery stocks and the time it takes to decipher what they see and what fishing managers  use to develop our fishing regulations.  They also pointed out that climate change is altering their information with fish on the move from their traditional grounds and moving northward.

Attending this Workshop was a Dr. Kevin Chu, Assistant Regional Administrator for Constituent Engagement, and he said that he has heard this lack of confidence statement a number of times and asked how this situation can be improved.  While the obvious answer is to "get the right data", I said that I have attended many management meetings and the groups running them like the MAMFC and others ask for public comment, but in most cases never look at the person making the comments and don't even make the Thank You comment at the end of the comments.  This lack of engagement gives the person making comments that his comments are worthless, decisions have already been made and the managers running these meetings know everything and we know nothing.  Mr. Chu thanked me for this information and said he would pass it to John Bullard, Director of NMFS.  Hopefully, we will at least see some changes in how meetings are conducted.


2016 - Reduction in Fluke  Quota for next Year by John Toth

Fluke - The picture for fluke is Ugly! The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) has approved a 29 percent reduction in the allowable biological catch for summer flounder in 2016! What this all means is a shorter season to catch fluke, a bigger minimum size,  a smaller bag limit, or a combination of all three of these options.  We will have a better idea of what our 2016 fluke season will look like in the spring of 2016 when all of the data relating to its quota is analyzed.  No matter how these cutbacks takes place, they will definitely hurt the for-hire charter/party boat industry and tackle shops. These cutbacks to fluke are based on faulty data and we all know this and have lived with this problem for quite some time.  Bad data going into computer models bring bad results out of them.

About seven years ago, a group of recreational anglers, party boat and for-hire captains and representatives of the tackle industry joined forces to form a group called Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund (SSFFF) to hire scientists to take a better look at the data used by fishing managers and come up with a better model to save the fluke season at the time from shutting down.  Money was raised by the SSFFF to pay for the scientists to do this analysis.  Given the present situation of dire cutbacks for 2016,  the SSFFF has become active again and wants to hire a scientist from Cornell University, Dr. Patrick Sullivan, to take another look at the data that was used to justify the cutbacks we are about to experience during the 2016 fluke season.  He will try along with other scientists to develop a better stock assessment model for fluke that can possibly result in lessening of the 29 % reduction we are facing. 

However, the model developed by Dr. Sullivan still has to be approved by the National Marine Fishery Services (NMFS).  If he is successful and the results are favorable for recreational anglers, this new model will not come in time to stop or lessen the 29% reduction for the 2016 season.  I will be in contact with the SSFFF and will keep this page current on the latest developments concerning the fluke picture for 2016.