TRENTON — Larger sized J-hooks that help anglers land bigger fluke — and prevent the need for releasing and injuring small fish — are now being distributed for free at local bait-and-tackle shops.

It’s part of the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s "If You Can't Keep It, Save It!" campaign to educate the fishing public on how to safely release fluke, or summer flounder, that are returned to the water because they do not meet minimum size requirements.

Since fluke is one of New Jersey's most important recreational and commercial fish species, the effort focuses on the proper methods and gear to use to reduce unintentional mortalities when these fish are released back in the ocean and other coastal waters.

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"We are asking all anglers to help protect summer flounder for future generations," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. "New Jersey is fully committed to doing the right thing by using science and public education to conserve a species that is critical to the fishing culture and economy of New Jersey."

The DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife, in coordination with the American Sportfishing Association and Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle Co., are distributing at no charge 20,000 larger-sized J-hooks at local bait-and-tackle shops, including:

  • Fishermen's Den, 905 Route 35 in Marina Grille Building, Belmar
  • Mac’s Bait and Tackle, Route 1301 Route 35, Neptune
  • Bogan’s Deep Sea Fishing Center, 800 Ashley Road, Brielle
  • MV Tackle, 420 Euclid Avenue, Brielle
  • Reel Seat Bait & Tackle, 707 Union Avenue, Suite 101, Brielle
  • L&H Woods and Water, 2045 Route 35,Wall

For a complete list of shops, click here or follow the state Division of Fish and Wildlife on Facebook at NJFishandWildlife.

The "If You Can't Keep It, Save It" campaign comes on the heels of U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s recent decision to uphold New Jersey's size, bag limit and season length regulations for the current summer flounder season.

Earlier this year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to increase the size of fish that could be legally taken in New Jersey, a move that could have had severe economic impacts on the shore's tourism economy. However, the DEP provided data that demonstrated the increased size limit would have resulted in high rates of discard mortalities and would have forced anglers to keep female breeder fish, which account for the vast majority of the largest fluke found in New Jersey waters.

The summer flounder season in New Jersey runs through September 5. The minimum size is 18 inches for summer flounder for most coastal waters, including the ocean, estuaries and creeks. Anglers in these areas may keep three legally sized fish per day. The size limit for Delaware Bay is 17 inches, with a three-fish per day limit. At Island Beach State Park, the size limit for shore fishing is 16 inches, with a daily two-fish limit.

Doing Your Part to Keep New Jersey's Fishing Population Thriving

As part of its "If You Can't Keep It, Save It" campaign, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife encourages anglers to follow these techniques:

  • Plan ahead. Expect to release fish and have the necessary equipment to do so, including de-hookers and nets; more experienced anglers may also consider using a recompression tool, a device that allows fish to be returned to the water at a safer depth.
  • Use appropriate gear. Make sure you have gear suited to the size of the fish that you are trying to catch; 5/0 to 7/0 size hooks are recommended to successfully land bigger fish and reduce discards.
  • Handle fish carefully. Use knotless, rubberized landing nets and rubberized gloves to avoid removing the protective slime layer on fish and help ensure survival when the fish is returned to the water.

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