Public Scoping Hearings on summer flounder, scup and black sea bass are being held from 6-8 p.m. today in the Belmar Municipal Court at 601 Main St., and tomorrow at the Galloway Township Library in Manahawkin.
Allocations are among the issues to be discussed. While that appears to be mainly about shifting some commercial quota from N.J. to N.Y., the possibility of cutting into recreational quota always exists.
Though I fought to get a summer flounder management plan underway as a member of the original Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, along with the late Bill Feinberg of Asbury Park and Eliot Goldman from Pa., most of the members at that time were more concerned with surf clams and looked at fluke as an inshore species which could be left to the ASMFC. They weren’t even aware that fluke stocks were being decimated by large draggers on their offshore spawning grounds.
Fluke had been so abundant decades ago that there was no size or bag limit. Even commercial fishermen only had a very small minimum for sale. The imposition of a 14-inch minimum in N.Y. gained quick support as it was imposed not for conservation, but to spread out the catch to last all summer.
Summer flounder made it through the foreign fishing disaster in good shape as those fleets weren’t interested in them — and the State Dept. had an informal agreement with foreign fleets to stay out of the offshore fluke spawning area.
Prior to regulation, NOAA Fisheries put together a study referred to as The United States Marine Fisheries Resource — Marmap Contribution No. I — March 1974. It concluded that anglers in 1970 caught 39 million pounds of summer flounder that was nearly seven times the commercial landings.
Yet, the NOAA Fisheries study was ignored when the Council came out with their plan, and the public ended up with just 40 percent of the quota. I was off the Council at that time, and those preparing the plan selected landings from a year when big trawlers destroyed the spawning fluke offshore — leaving little for hook-and-line and traditional small draggers to catch inshore.
How that distortion got through is hard to comprehend, but funny things happen behind closed doors. The result has been high minimum lengths, small bag limits and short seasons for anglers and economic losses for party boats, tackle shops and all the others dependent on angling expenditures. It’s long overdue to right that wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see further erosion of the public’s share of the fishery.
One more calm day is coming up, as the marine forecast is for just 5 knot southeast winds in the morning before it switches to the east in the afternoon and light rain becomes more likely.