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JCAA Comments on Fluke and Sea Bass Addendum

by Paul Haertel
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association February 2016 Newsletter)

On 1/7/16, I testified on behalf of JCAA at the public hearing regarding Draft Addendum XXVII to the Summer Flounder, Scup, Black Sea Bass Management Plan. The meeting was sponsored by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in conjunction with the New Jersey Bureau of Marine Fisheries. The meeting was well attended with roughly 50 people in the room. My testimony was similar to the letter below which was written to the ASMFC. As evidenced by a show of hands, the vast majority of those in attendance were in agreement with the JCAA positions on both fluke and sea bass. It was also refreshing to hear all the praise given to Tom Fote by one of the speakers for all the work he has done in trying to help the anglers in the southern part of our state in regard to the fluke regulations.

Though this public hearing has ended, comments will still be accepted until January 21, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. Comments may now be submitted by mail, email, or fax. If you have any questions or would like to submit comments, please use the contact information below. Mail: Kirby Rootes-Murdy, FMP Coordinator Email: krootes-murdy@asmfc.org Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Subject: Draft Addendum XXVII) 1050 North Highland Street, Suite 200A-N Phone: (703) 842-0740 Arlington, VA 22201 Fax: (703) 842-0741.

You may familiarize yourselves with the addendum by going to the following link.

1/16/16 Kirby Rootes-Murdy, FMP Coordinator Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 1050 North Highland St., Suite 200 A-N Arlington, Va. 22201 Dear Kirby,

The Jersey Coast Anglers Association appreciates this opportunity to comment on Draft Addendum XXVII to the Summer Flounder, Scup, Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan. Regarding fluke, the Jersey Coast Anglers Association supports Option 2, Adaptive Regional Approach and more specifically, Regional Option 2B. This regional option would allow New Jersey to be its own region. We would still be required to have the same size and bag limits and same season length as the region to our north (New York and Connecticut). However, we would be allowed to have special regulations for Delaware Bay. In 2015, people in southern NJ were treated unfairly in that fishermen from New Jersey and Delaware were fishing essentially the same waters in Delaware Bay but had different size limits. Delaware had a 16" size limit while fishermen from NJ had an 18" size limit. This option would allow for a 17" size limit for NJ fishermen fishing in Delaware Bay and close the gap with those fishing from Delaware. While a 16" size limit for NJ anglers fishing in Delaware Bay would seem even more equitable, that would then create a two inch gap between Delaware Bay and the rest of NJ. A one inch gap is not as severe and is something most of us can live with. We also favor the option in that it would allow NJ to continue its shore based enhanced fishing opportunity to keep two fluke, 16" or greater at Island Beach State Park and possibly expand this program to other areas as well. Lastly, we prefer option 1, no extension under Section 3.1.1, Timeframe for Summer Flounder Measures.

The addendum is also proposing a 23% reduction in our harvest of sea bass for 2016. At the JCAA meeting on 12/29, the club representatives voted unanimously to oppose any addendum or any regulation that would further restrict us. Enough is enough!

Sea Bass are now considered by many to be the new nuisance fish. Again we can thank the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council for setting a ridiculously low quota. The sea bass population is increasing so fast and their range has been expanding so far that our "best science" cannot keep up with it. There are tons of them out there and during 2015, New Jersey was restricted from keeping any sea bass at all from 8/1-10/22. With the poor fluking we had during the summer, many fishermen went home fishless when sea bass could have bailed out their trips.

Sea Bass are now causing problems in southern New England where they are eating the baby lobsters and may be contributing to their decline. There have been many complaints from fluke fishermen who cannot even fish some of their favorite fluke wrecks because they are inundated with sea bass. Further, they are eating small fluke and competing for the same forage species with fluke. This is a replay of what happened not too many years ago when the council restored the population of spiny dogfish. Now we can even catch them while fishing for fluke in 75 degree water.

Worse still is that New Jersey continues to get shortchanged, as our traditional share of the harvest of sea bass has declined significantly. Regarding sea bass, NJ is in the northern region along with New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In 2004, NJ accounted for 72% of the sea bass (in pounds) harvested among those five states. From 2004-2008, NJ caught an average of approximately 56% of the harvest for those states. Then as sea bass expanded their abundance and range further to our north, those northern states began harvesting more fish. From 2008-2014, NJ was responsible for only about 25% of the harvest. When this new region was created in 2011, a quota was established for the entire region. However, each state was given a target quota and forced to establish regulations that would likely not result in exceeding their regional quota. The problem is that NJ established regulations that were so restrictive that they resulted in us harvesting only 18% of the region's quota. One would think that because we underfished our target that year we would be able to relax our regulations in 2012. That would have been the case in state-by-state quotas but it does not work that way in regional management. States to our north caused our region to overfish the quota and then all states had to establish more restrictive regulations than were in place for 2011. Each state is required to cut back by the same percentage whether they underfished or overfished their target quotas. This problem has snowballed with states to our north generally causing our region to overfish resulting in ever tightening regulations for New Jersey. New Jersey seems to have become the nursing grounds for sea bass. We are not allowed to catch them like we used to as the season and bag limits have been drastically reduced. Due in part to less fishing pressure they have become more abundant, grown larger and migrated to the north where those states now harvest them rather than us. As an example, NJ traditionally harvested 750,000 to over 1,000,000 million pounds of sea bass while Massachusetts traditionally harvested approximately 200,000 pounds. In recent years, NJ has been restricted to about 600,000 lbs. while MA harvested over one million pounds in three of the last five years (2010-2014). A big part of the problem is that fisheries managers in states to our north have failed to set regulations that keep them under their targets. However, I would like to re-emphasize that the real problem is that the coastwide quota is far too low. When there is a shortage of a particular species, quotas often go unfilled. Therefore when the quota is overfished year after year, doesn't that show that the stock is robust? These unfair regulations are making pirates out of many fishermen who used to always obey the law and many believe it is time to rebel against this unfair treatment.

Sincerely, Paul Haertel JCAA Board Member, Past President
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