TRENTON, NJ — While New Jersey anglers began the fluke season last month with strict federal catch limits still in place, state legislators are pushing to have those regulations lifted until there is better data available on the popular fish’s offshore stock.
The State Assembly is asking the federal government to suspend a 40 percent quota reduction that enters its second year until a new fluke stock assessment is completed and new rules can be established based on those findings.
“(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommendations for the 2017 and 2018 seasons were based on flawed data collected from inconsistent sampling and methodology,” said Assemblyman Edward H. Thomson (R-Monmouth/Ocean), who sponsored the resolution to freeze limits to 2015 levels.
“We need more accurate data so we can make informed decisions to protect the fish and the people who depend on it," he said. "Until then, we’re calling on the feds to freeze further flounder quotas until a new stock assessment is completed.”
The resolution specifically asks Congress to enact the Transparent Summer Flounder Quotas Act, which was introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-6th District) and Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd District) in March 2017, but has not moved from the U.S. House’s Committee on Natural Resources since then.
“Our state’s recreational fishermen have already suffered from last year’s slashed catch limits and shortened season. Going forward, any further reduction of summer flounder limits would be nothing short of devastating to our state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries,” said Thomson, who represents the 30th Legislative District, which includes Belmar and Lake Como.
“New Jersey desperately needs Washington to stop relying on flawed numbers and bad science and complete newer, more precise stock assessments so we can accurately assess the health of our fluke stocks while protecting our fishermen’s livelihoods,” he added.
Also known as summer flounder, fluke is one of the most sought after saltwater fish on the Atlantic Coast and it is crucial to New Jersey’s recreational and commercial fisheries. There are more than 1 million recreational saltwater fishermen in New Jersey. The fishing industry contributes $7.9 billion to the state’s economy and supports 50,000 jobs. In addition, the state’s $44.1 billion a year tourism industry supports more than 500,000 jobs.
Summer flounder is managed cooperatively by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) in state waters, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and NOAA fisheries in federal waters.
As a result, state regulators were able to take several steps to ease fluke restrictions for recreational fishermen. The N.J. Marine Fisheries Council extended the 2018 summer flounder season from May 25 to September 22 — with a daily limit of three fish measuring no less than 18 inches. The extended season was made possible after ASMFC increased its recreational quota by 630,000 pounds to 4.4 million pounds for 2018.
Commercial vessels are limited to bringing to 100 pounds of fluke — measuring no less than 14 inches — from May 1 through October 31, according to N.J. Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Marine Fisheries Administration.