Time to discuss easing fluke rules

Though fishing is legal in N.J. and N.Y. at this point, it’s likely that regulations relating to the pandemic will greatly impact the sport this year. That being the case, even the small fluke quota assigned to the public will probably not be filled. It would be appropriate now for the ASMFC and MAFMC to consider loosening fluke regulations in order that those taking advantage of restricted fishing opportunities will have a reasonable chance of bringing home a meal.

Reduced fishing pressure comes at the right time for the striped bass population which needs rebuilding, but fluke are in such good shape that the agencies even added to the commercial quota last year. Then there’s the possibility that if recreational fishermen aren’t filling their quota that the agencies will transfer the unused portion to the commercial side — just as they did with bluefish despite any provision in the management plan to do so.  To top it off, the greatly reduced recreational catch may be used next year as an excuse to further lower the public quota.

Lowering the minimum size would be the best way as a 16 or 17 inch fluke is a reasonable eating size that’s been readily available inshore and in the surf. It wouldn’t be necessary to go all the way down to the 14-inch fluke provided to commercial fishermen even though they have a huge advantage by dragging nets over miles of bottom.

Due to the social distancing provisions of the governor’s order, it doesn’t look good for party and charter boats at this point. It’s hard to find any written guidance with state offices closed, but a woman in the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife thought there was no problem with fishing with a friend as long as the group restrictions are followed. Shore fishing should be fine as fishing distancing for casting is greater than social distancing.

Keep in mind the fact that we’re still fishing under last year’s regulations. The new striper regs are supposed to go into effect on April 1, but the governor still hasn’t signed that authorization.

Phil Sciortino said the phone (732 264-7711) was ringing steadily at The Tackle Box in Hazlet today. Though the shop is closed, he will take credit card orders over the phone for worms and tackle which he’ll drop off at homes or marinas, or leave in front of the store,

The Golden Eagle from Belmar is supposed to start fishing on  April 4, but they don’t know at this time if that will be possible.

The small craft warning is coming down at 6 p.m., but Wednesday starts with east winds at 15-20 knots which increase to 20-25 in the afternoon with rain and 4-to-7-foot seas.

 

Correction to bluefish comments address

The e-mail address in yesterday’s blog for comments on bluefish not submitted at last month’s bluefish scoping hearings was incorrect. It should be mseeley@mafmc.org. Your bluefish comments can be submitted prior to midnight.

I emphasized the fact that the Mid-Atlantic Council and ASMFC have to take part of the responsibility for he bluefish decline by allowing unused recreational quota to be transferred to commercial fisheries even as the shortage was developing. There was no provision in the management plan for such transfers, and it’s vital that such actions must be specifically prohibited by amendment to the plan.

Comments on fluke will also be accepted before midnight by e-mail to jbeaty@asmfc.org. My response emphasized the fact that NOAA Fisheries estimated the recreational summer flounder catch in 1970 (before management started) was 39 million pounds — nearly seven times the commercial landings. Yet, the management plan provided 60% of the quota to commercial interests in one of the worst abuses of the public trust since fisheries management started. The result has been ever-larger minimum sizes, short seasons and small bag limits for the public while dozens of party and charter boats have gone out of business.

The ASMFC has cancelled its spring meeting from May 4-7 in Arlington, Va. due to the pandemic. One day may be added to the summer meeting in August, and issues demanding quick action can be handled through webinars or by conference calls.

One more day of fishable weather is coming up as the forecast for Wednesday is for north winds at 5-10 knots before going to southeast in the afternoon — and blowing up to 15-20 after midnight along with rain.

The Ocean Explorer is planning to sail from Belmar for cod on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.

Betty & Nicks Tackle in Seaside Park notes that the restaurant remains open though no one will be seated or waitress service provided. Orders will be delivered to your car.