East coast salt water anglers, especially those in New Jersey and New York, have yearly concerns about the continually changing fluke (summer flounder) regulations. The federal government, through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission determines the seasons, catch limit, and minimum sizes of salt water species (both recreational and commercial), then leaves it to the individual states to enforce these regulations. States that ignore or fail to enforce these regulations are subject to the federal government shutting down a fishery. ASMFC recently issued changes in fluke regulations for New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. The three states were lumped together and given the same rules for taking summer flounder, where in the past they had not been the same. Fluke anglers in these three states are now limited to keeping four fish with an 18-inch minimum size, and a 120 day season. For New Jersey anglers it means keeping one less fish (NJ had a five fish limit) and a larger fish (NJ had a 17.5 inch size limit), and a shorter season.
For New York anglers, who were saddled with a 19-inch size limit and two fish, the new rules give them a break. Delaware, which had a 16-inch limit gets to keep that limit, along with Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Since regulations are influenced by how many fish are caught by each state’s anglers, ASMFC must believe that Delaware, Maryland and Virginia anglers caught a lot less fluke last year than New Jersey anglers.
The ASMFC determines how many fluke were taken last year by recreational anglers and commercial fishermen. The commercial take is easy to determine since every recreational catch must be reported to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
How do you determine how many fish recreational anglers take? While the ASMFC has a formula, much of it sounds like how opinion polls reach conclusions.
“Why not just hold your finger in the air to see which way the wind blows,” was one opinion some anglers gave recently at the Atlantic City Boat Show.
After speaking to anglers for a week at the event, many were perturbed by the continual reduction in the number of fluke taken and the increase in the minimal size.
Many area anglers who fish the Delaware Bay are worried about that the disparate sizes (New Jersey 18 inches; Delaware 16 inches), lest they violate Delaware regulations.
Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, rhetorically asks of the ASMFC: “Did they not consider all the fishing boats lost during Sandy? That had to mean less fluke were taken than in previous years due to a turndown in fishing trips.”
Hutchinson’s questions were echoed by Chris Lido, editor of the FISHERMAN magazine.
Both they, and other representatives of fishing organizations, took the ASMFC to task in their assessment of fluke taken by New Jersey anglers last year. The ASMFC board that supervises fluke also supervises black sea bass. So far, no decision has been taken on sea bass as to 2014 regulations.