As I mentioned to you in my President's column, I want to give you my account of attending the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAMFC) meeting on December 14th that was held at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland to discuss possible new regulations for fluke in 2017.
When Paul Haertel and I arrived at the Sonesta Hotel, we encountered a MAMFC representative who was helpful in getting the MAMFC to vote for getting traps off the reefs at its November 12th meeting. I thanked him again for helping us to make the 13 reefs SMZ's and then I asked him, "Are we going to have an equally successful meeting this time concerning fluke regulations for 2017?" He responded to me and Paul, "No, you are looking at two fluke at 19 inches for 2017 and nothing can be done about it. Relief may come in 2018 the earliest. We (MAMFC) have to take these draconian measures or we will be sued." He did not elaborate, but I presume it is an organization like PEW. Unfortunately, he was prophetic in his comments to us concerning 19-inch fluke for 2017.
The MAMFC in its PowerPoint presentations made the case for a 19-inch minimum size for fluke. They went through a number of scenarios for different fluke sizes, but kept coming back to the 19-inch size.
Congressman Pallone even came to this meeting to say the 19-inch minimum size would be "devastating" for recreational anglers and that the MAMFC should take more time to study this issue and go to NOAA to change direction on this 19-inch issue. This letter too was also co-signed by Senator Booker (Senator Menendez's name was not on it). After Congressman Pallone left this meeting, the MAMFC went right back to discussing the 19-inch minimum size for 2017.
Ray Bogan, Jeff Guttaman (Captain, of the Voyager), a woman who operates a tackle shop in southern NJ, and myself pleaded to the MAMFC NOT to adopt a 19-inch minimum size. I indicated to the Council that it is tough to catch an 18-inch fish let alone a 19-inch one. Anglers do have an expectation to take home some fish to eat. If they don't, they don't come back to the boat and the captain eventually goes out of business. I also cited that tackle shops like Meltzers in Bergen County that have been in business for 100 years and the party boat Doris Mae on Long Beach Island, in business for 50 years, went out of business and they both blamed excessive regulations for their demise. We did not, in my opinion, have any effect on most of these Council members with our comments. If their livelihoods depended on it, they would most certainly have a different opinion than going with a 19-inch fluke!
This meeting went on for about 3 hours and the Council approved a non-preferred coastwide measure of a 19-inch minimum size, a 4 fish bag limit, and a season from June 1 to September 15th. This is NOT the final fluke regulation for 2017 and additional options will be considered. The Council is waiting for additional information on the number of fluke caught this year that will have a further impact on the new fluke regulations for 2017.
After this meeting and others that I have attended over the years, I keep wondering if we would be much better off if these management agencies did not exist with their bureaucracies that have mismanaged our fisheries to the point of putting people out of business. More party/charter boats, tackle shops will be put out of business with this 19-inch fish. These councils do not listen to what we have to say and I also wonder if they know anything about fishing other than what they read about it. We need a change from their disconnected policies who have discouraged more and more anglers from fishing.
How do we change this picture? I am not sure at this point, but we have to do something to save our fisheries!