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Ristori: Debate continueson winter flounder
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff
Though the Winter Flounder Management Board decision to permit anglers only 60 days of fishing and a 10-flounder bag limit with a 12-inch minimum in 2006 represents a huge improvement over the original preferred option of a March-April closure followed by a 6-fish limit, or a 2-flounder limit all year, many New Jersey fishermen and organizations still feel they've been short-changed.

It's not surprising that hardly anyone is satisfied with the proposed restrictions which still have to be approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) at next month's meeting. Bruce Freeman of the Division of Fish and Wildlife and I were the only New Jersey representatives at the Board meeting in Providence as there was no proxy for Assemblyman Robert Smith, the state's legislative commissioner, and no party boat skippers or tackle shop owners were there to state their economic cases in person.


Nevertheless, I doubt if we could have done any better since each state gets just one vote and with only New York on our side there was no way we could outvote the five New England coastal states plus the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Indeed, even New York joined the others to outvote us 7-1 on increasing the minimum size to 12 inches.

Those commissioners came in ready to vote for one of the two preferred options, and they probably would have done us but for our pleas plus the backing of the Belmar meeting turnout and hundreds of letters and e-mail messages from New Jersey calling for status quo.

As it is, the state will be able to run a 60-day season in the mid-March to mid-May period when probably 99 percent of the flounder have been taken the last few years.

The 12-inch minimum will certainly decrease that catch, especially in the rivers, but most of the flounder we encountered in Raritan Bay and off Sandy Hook were well above that size. The 10-fish limit will also hurt, though statistics indicate that very few anglers actually bag that many.

Though we probably did as well as could reasonably have been expected, the plain fact of the matter is that very little will be accomplished by restricting the public flounder catch which amounted in 2003 to a mere 5.62473 percent of landings.

The commercial catch comes primarily from federal waters which are controlled by the New England Fishery Management Council through their Groundfish Plan that intends to reduce pressure on all the species involved by restrictions on days at sea, mesh sizes, etc.

The other commissioners and the lead scientist for the Board all felt those restrictions will reduce the commercial catch by the same 40-to-50-percent they're seeking from the public, but there is absolutely no assurance there will be any reduction at all.

It's that "pie in the sky" projection of commercial reductions which makes the recreational restrictions so distasteful. The Jersey Coast Anglers Association and Recreational Fishing Alliance are both considering the possibility of asking the state to intervene with a law suit.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) wrote last week to ASMFC executive director John V. O'Shea asking the Commission to reject the Board's proposal.

Pallone cited the lack of a socio-economic study of the effects of winter flounder cuts in New Jersey, and pointed out the fact that even severe restrictions on recreational harvest won't have much effect when over 90 percent of landings are commercial.

Pallone said, "New Jersey's recreational fishermen should not be penalized for a problem whose primary causes lay elsewhere." He's also troubled that the new proposal doesn't seem to be based on the best scientific data available.

Al Ristori appears regularly in The Star-Ledger. He can be reached at [email protected].
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