N.J. Fishing rules tighten up

Though fishing has been endorsed in N.J. as good recreation during the pandemic, there’s been quite a bit of confusion as to just what is allowed.

Jim Hutchinson Jr. of The Fisherman magazine has been able to determine through various sources that while party and charter boats can’t take out customers, private boaters can fish with immediate family members while still observing the 6-foot distancing requirement. Tackle shops are allowed to take orders and deliver bait and tackle or leave it outside for a curb pick-up. The Tackle Box in Hazlet has a 24-hour refrigerated dispenser with bait outside the store.

There can be no groups involved, even while fishing from shore. Anglers are responsible for avoiding that by moving away if necessary. That’s likely to be a problem during Saturday’s trout opening day, and the DEP has urged anglers to fish on other days of the long trout season. Hutchinson also got word of the possibility that the May 15 opening of the Striped Bass Bonus Program may be postponed. Applications are not being accepted at present.

Gov. Phil Murphy didn’t change his closure of N.J. state and county parks despite an attack on that executive order by the NJOA which I saw this morning on News 12. Ironically, there was a completely different stance by N.Y. in a press release issued with the following headline:

Please continue down

DEC AND STATE PARKS ANNOUNCE BOAT LAUNCH DOCK INSTALLATIONS UNDERWAY

Boat Launches Are Becoming Available Across the State to Access Great Fishing or Enjoying a Day on the Water

Boaters and Anglers Encouraged to Use Boat Launches Safely and Responsibly, Recreate Locally, and Practice Social Distancing to Prevent Community Spread of COVID-19

 

 

There’s a lot of wind on the way, with small craft warnings up Thursday afternoon before going to a gale watch into Friday afternoon. The morning marine forecast is for south winds at 10-15 knots plus gusts to 20 before shifting to southwest with gusts to 30 knots and 4-6-foot seas in the afternoon.

NJ state parks & forests closed

Gov. Phil Murphy today closed New Jersey state parks and forests plus county parks due to instances of groups gathering in some areas over the weekend in violation of the state’s social distancing requirement during the pandemic.

Murphy never mentioned the Wildlife Management Areas, and I haven’t seen any mention of them in his executive order or his press release — though they were noted in the blurb preceding the release. Since Wildlife Management Areas are lands administered by the DEP. I assume they are also closed.

Chuck Many got his Ty Man back from the winter fishery in Virginia and got into even better volume fishing today in Raritan Bay. Fishing alone, he went through 60 live bunkers in four hours while releasing 27 bass up to 24 pounds!

Jerry Lasko and Maren Toleno got into small stripers in the Island Beach State Park surf this morning before finding out that was their last shot there for some time. Maren released 17 of the 11-14-inchers, but Jerry had the “big” bass of 20 inches among his three. Small paddletails did the job.

The morning marine forecast is for southwest winds at 5-10 knots with possible showers and thunderstorms. The wind shifts to northwest in the afternoon.

The following releases from NOAA Fisheries details what they are doing to encourage the “dirty” practice of longlining  that kills gamefish and birds as well as targeted species by opening up closed areas which have greatly improved billfish and bluefin tuna stocks. Longliners have been trying to get into the closed areas under the pretense of research for years, and NOAA Fisheries seems to be giving in while trying to make it look like a conservation project. Read the release carefully and see what you think.

New Requirements Protect Bluefin Tuna, Expand Opportunities in Other Fisheries

March 30, 2020

The measures remove one closed area, adjust management measures for two other areas, and change a gear requirement in the Gulf of Mexico. They are in part a response to the success of our Atlantic bluefin tuna catch share program in reducing bycatch.

Bluefin tuna swimming together

Atlantic bluefin tuna. Photo by Rob Atherton/Getty Images.

Today, NOAA Fisheries announced measures that provide more fishing opportunities for vessels targeting Atlantic swordfish and some tuna species. We will continue under these measures to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.

The changes give fishermen using pelagic longlines access to new fishing areas originally closed to reduce the number of bluefin caught unintentionally. Under the new rules, longline fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico are also required to use weak hooks only when bluefin tuna are spawning. This means they are only required to use them January through June rather than year-round.

Regardless of where or when they fish, longline fishermen are still not allowed to target bluefin tuna. They can keep some caught unintentionally, but they have to stay within their individual allocation of the U.S. bluefin quota. This allows them to fish for economically valuable species like swordfish and other tunas while protecting bluefin.

The measures are in part a response to the success of the Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) Program in reducing bluefin bycatch. We also designed the measures to help reverse a trend of underharvesting the U.S. swordfish quota.

“The success of the IBQ Program has allowed us to simplify and streamline Atlantic HMS management,” said Randy Blankinship, who leads the group responsible for managing Atlantic bluefin in the United States. “With this rule, we are optimizing fishing opportunities for pelagic longline fishermen while continuing to manage and conserve bluefin tuna through the IBQ program and other management measures.”

The Number of U.S.-Caught Swordfish is Falling

Every country that fishes for North Atlantic swordfish is given an annual quota by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The collective total is  set at a level to ensure nations don’t harvest swordfish faster than the population can be replenished.

The baseline quota for the United States is 2,937 metric tons a year. U.S. fishermen harvest just a fraction of that. In fact, domestic swordfish landings have fallen almost every year since 2012. In 2018, for example, we only harvested 34 percent of our quota.

Graphs showing the decline in pelaglic longline fishing effort in 2018 compared to 2015.

 

For seafood lovers in the United States, this means fewer opportunities to purchase local, sustainably harvested swordfish products. Our below-quota harvest rate might also have ripple effects for the future conservation of stocks beyond North Atlantic swordfish, including bluefin tuna. A portion of our quota could be reassigned to another country if we consistently do not use it. And the receiving country could have less robust domestic management for reducing bycatch or ensuring the survival of released fish.

Fishermen Will Have Access to New Areas

This year, swordfish fishermen and others who use pelagic longline gear will be able to fish in three areas previously restricted during parts of the year. One of these is located in the Gulf of Mexico. Another is near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the third is off the coast of New Jersey. All three were originally established to reduce fishermen’s interactions with bluefin tuna. That is accomplished now by a program that only allows pelagic longline fishermen to set out on trips if they stay within their individual share of the U.S. bluefin quota.

Map of three closed and gear restricted areas impacted by this rule.

Providing access to these areas relieves an unnecessary regulatory burden on pelagic longline fishermen. It gives them greater flexibility for where they can target swordfish and yellowfin tuna throughout the year. They will also be able to use their expertise to avoid interactions with bluefin tuna.

In addition, these changes will allow NOAA Fisheries to collect more data. This data is used to evaluate management decisions, set retention limits, close fisheries, and assess stocks.

Fishing Activity and Bycatch Will be Closely Monitored

Under the rule announced today, the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area will be permanently removed on April 2, 2020.

The Northeastern United States Closed Area and the Spring Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area are not being removed. Instead, we’re converting them to monitoring areas for three years. Pelagic longline fishermen will be allowed in those areas as long as their total bluefin tuna landings and dead discards stay below a set threshold.

Here’s how it will work in the new Gulf of Mexico Monitoring Area for the three-year period:

  • Fishermen will be allowed to target swordfish and other tunas in April–May, when they previously couldn’t.
  • If bluefin tuna landings and dead discards during that time stay below the threshold, fishermen will have uninterrupted access to the area. At 55 percent of the available Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline quota, that threshold ensures we won’t exceed our overall bluefin quota if it is ever reached.
  • If the fishermen ever exceed the annual threshold, they will lose access to the areas in April–May for the remainder of the three-year evaluation period.

We’ll follow the same basic process in the Northeastern United States Monitoring Area, where fishermen historically couldn’t use pelagic longline gear in June. We will monitor annual bluefin tuna landings and discards to see if they stay below 72 percent of the available Atlantic pelagic longline quota. If so, fishermen will have continuous access to the area for the three-year period.

In both the Gulf and Northeast areas, staying below the threshold would suggest that these closed areas are not needed to protect bluefin from overfishing. It would show that other management measures are successfully ensuring that bluefin tuna catches stay within the overall science-based quota set by ICCAT.

At the end of the three-year evaluation, NOAA Fisheries will analyze the information we collect. We will then determine whether we will continue to use these closed areas to manage bluefin tuna bycatch.

Change in Weak Hook Requirement Will Reduce Billfish Bycatch

The new rule also changes when pelagic longline fishermen are required to use weak hooks in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead of using them year-round, fishermen will be required to use weak hooks in January–June.

Weak hooks are designed to straighten more easily under strain. This allows larger animals that exert more force on the hook to swim away after being caught. That feature helps reduce bluefin bycatch in the spring, when larger bluefin are in the Gulf to spawn. But this hook type has also been shown to increase unintentional white marlin and roundscale spearfish catches by nearly 46 percent.

The new seasonal requirement balances these impacts by tying weak hook use to the different seasons when bluefin and billfish are more likely to be caught. Fishermen are still required to use weak hooks when bluefin tuna are spawning. But they can choose to use other hooks in July–December, when white marlin and roundscale spearfish catches are higher in this area.

Graph of bluefin tuna and white marlin average monthly catch rate in the Gulf of Mexico

Bluefin Tuna Catches Will Still Be Managed Through the IBQ Program

In the midst of the changes from today’s announcement, the IBQ Program remains the same. Started in 2015, this catch share program creates individual vessel limits within the overall science-based quota for bluefin tuna. It applies to pelagic longline fishermen permitted to catch Atlantic swordfish and yellowfin tuna.

Each year, fishermen in the program are given their own individual shares of a portion of the U.S. Atlantic bluefin quota set by ICCAT. Every bluefin kept or discarded dead is deducted from a vessel’s account balance. That balance has to be above a minimum level at the start of each quarter to pursue a desired species. If a vessel falls below its quarterly allocation, it won’t be allowed to set off on a longline fishing trip unless the owners lease some quota from others in the fleet. The result is a financial incentive for fishermen to use their expertise to avoid interactions with bluefin tuna.

Since it was implemented, the program has reduced the average annual bluefin bycatch by 65 percent compared to the three years before. That’s about 330,000 pounds—or around four fully loaded semitrucks—less bycatch each year.

“The success of the IBQ Program comes from making fishermen individually accountable for avoiding interactions with bluefin tuna,” said Blankinship. “The program gives them operational flexibility while tapping into their professional expertise to help prevent overfishing.”

Last updated by Office of Sustainable Fisheries on April 02, 2020

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Atlantic Yellowfin Tuna

Anglers explode onto Raritan Bay

Pandemic concerns seem to be cast aside today as anglers frustrated with quarantines took advantage of a calm day to seek out striped bass in Raritan Bay.

Dave Lilly of Hazlet was happy that the boat he used this morning was in the water at Keyport because the roads were clogged with trailers trying to launch at the Keyport ramp. The trolling bite wasn’t what it had been during his previous two trips, and it wasn’t until he changed from the light chartreuse Tony Maja mo-jo to the black pearl model that he started catching stripers steadily in 15-foot depths at the back of the bay.

That dark color seemed to make all the difference as Lilly didn’t see much caught by other trollers or by the fleet of kayackers casting lures. The bass were mostly 34-to-35-inchers. Lilly thought the slower bite might have been due to the cold 42 degree water temperature, whereas it was up to 48 to 50 degrees last week. He talked to a friend who was fishing off Old Orchard and hadn’t seen a bass caught.

On the way back to Keyport later in the morning, Lilly spotted flashing lights at the Keyport ramp and found out that the police had closed the ramp — probably due to prohibited large groups gathering there while waiting to get out.  As a result, he said the arriving boats had to use the Keyport Marina ramp.

When I checked Facebook, there were mentions of similar activity at the Atlantic Highlands Marina and on the water. With so many people not working, there may be a similar situation tomorrow as the forecast is for south winds at just 5-10 knots before shifting to west in the afternoon.

Fishermen should be aware of the danger in fishing in close proximity to friends at this time. Bassmaster reported that a doctor member who went black bass fishing with his buddy recently maintained the six-foot separation by fishing at opposite ends of the boat and sanitizing the net handle after every use.

Raritan Bay stripers turn on to chunks

The solid run of striped bass continues in Raritan Bay, but when Joe Massa went out Wednesday on his My Three Sons from Morgan Marina he found that their preferences had changed.

Whereas the bass had gorged on live bunkers last week, they were very fussy when he tried them this time. A friend told him that he had tried chunking with success, so Massa anchored up on readings and ,  sure enough, was soon hooking up. In addition, the bass were all 20-to-30-pounders.

The N.J. Bureau of Fish and Wildlife continues to urge anglers to fish for trout which they’ve been stocking for some time so they can disperse throughout the waters. during the catch and release period when the minimum six-foot distancing is easy to maintain.. Yet, they’re also suggesting that anglers avoid the April 11 opening day as that annual trout mania may involve the crowding which is unacceptable during the pandemic.

As previously noted, the state parks and Wildlife Management Areas remain open and without fees so the public can enjoy safe recreation for their physical and mental health during this stressful period.

Northwest winds are blowing up to 30 knots this afternoon along with some light showers, but move to the northeast at 15-20 knots Saturday morning before dropping to 10-15 in the afternoon. Sunday is looking good so far with a forecast of south winds at a mere 5-10 knots.

Fishing during the pandemic


The Empire State’s marine striped bass season runs from April 15 to Dec. 15 with one bass of 28-35 inches.

The wind is shifting to northwest, with a forecast of 15-20 knots plus gusts to 30 in the morning — and 4-6-foot seas.

 


 

 

Dense fog advisory for the morning

Though the wind forecast for the morning is better, along with fairly mild temperatures, the marine forecast includes a dense fog advisory up to 6 a.m.

Surprisingly, the forecast doesn’t mention that as the morning continues with southwest winds at 5-10 knots. More wind is predicted after midnight tomorrow with northeast gusts to 20 knots.

Phil Fischler worked the Navesink River with his boat from Highlands yesterday morning and came up with just one 16-inch flounder before switching to stripers. A few were caught, including one keeper, before the cold rain drove him home.

Blogger Dan tried fishing from shore in Shrewsbury River and Sandy Hook Bay this morning, but had no luck with stripers which he speculated must be further back in Raritan Bay.

Indeed, that’s where Joe Massa found large bass from his My Three Sons out of Morgan Marina on Friday as he had his best release fishing in years as stripers hit both large plastic shads — and glomped live bunkers without hesitation.

striper on bunker

Stripers best bet for weekend

Striped bass in Raritan Bay are the best bet at present, if you can find a way to get at them. Relatively few anglers have boats in the water so far, and getting launched may be a problem as marinas aren’t considered to be an essential business. To top it off, there are no party boats sailing in the bay, and some charter skippers aren’t sailing until the legality of doing so is settled.

Joe Massa went out himself with his My Three Sons from Morgan Marina today and had steady action casting a large shad. He then netted some bunkers and found that the bass responded to them as well. The stripers were mostly 15-20-pounders, but he also released a 40-incher.

Fisherman’s Den in Belmar Marina can supply bait, and reported a pick of flounder from the docks.  One angler told them that he had done well with stripers at Union Beach. A few small stripers have been taken on lures in the local surf.

At Seaside Park, Betty & Nick’s  is open for food take-outs, and the rest of the store is accessible for bait and tackle purchases. John Bushell continues to report a strong smell of bluefish blowing in from the surf, though it’s very early for blues.

Grumpy’s Tackle is closed, but the mail order business continues for those using Pay Pal.

Bill Hoblitzell has been raking worms and fishing for flounder, but only catching shorts lately. Yet, he did get a surprise in Point Pleasant Canal when a very early 18-inch blackfish put up a spirited battle on light tackle before the release.

Lots of N.J. anglers are still in Florida. Ric Gross of Point Pleasant said he had a fine offshore trip Wednesday with a boat  out of Hillsboro Inlet which trolled lots of blackfin tuna plus little tunny.

Tommy Cox bought a kayak, and has been doing very well in Lemon Bay on the west coast with seatrout, redfish and snook –including a 30-incher yesterday.

Vinny D’Anton is still wading in the Sarasota area, and finding good action as the waters have warmed to 80 degrees. Snook have been hitting the Zara Spook, though it’s been hard to get hooks in them. Seatrout and ladyfish have also been abundant.

Bob Corell of Bay Head and his wife Mary Agnes hosted his brother Todd and wife Karen on his Sea Vee out of Marathon yesterday as they finally got a calm day which produced a good catch of dolphin and blackfin tuna trolling out at the Hump.

Capt. Sal Cursi, who ran the Cathy Sea from Seawaren for many years,  took advantage of the good weather a couple of days ago to get out in his small boat at Palm Bay for a limit of mangrove snappers while releasing a few puppy black drum.

 

Stripers hot in Raritan Bay

Dave Lilly reported striper fishing as hot as it was last week in Raritan Bay, but with bigger fish. The bass were in shallow waters at the back of the bay when he came out of Keyport, and it was the Tony Maja 5-ounce mo-jos that did the job trolling. His friends kept a couple and released others steadily before returning early in the morning.  They only came across one short, and released bass up to about the 38 inches that is supposed to go into effect as the maximum on April 1 if the governor signs that provision. Right now we’re still fishing on the old regulations.

Dave said that 30 to 40 boats were taking advantage of the perfect weather and what Tony Arcabscio used to call “stupid fishing” when he was chunking out of Great Kills over a decade ago and fishing was so easy that even beginners could drop an anchor anywhere and chunk tripers.  Kayackers were doing as well as power boaters in the exceptionally clear waters, though Dave saw no signs of fish. There wasn’t much to mark in shallow waters, and he never saw a bunker or a bird dive.

The N.J. D.E.P. issued a press release today encouraging outdoor activities except in groups. Commissioner Catherine McCabe emphasized that the state parks and Wildlife Management Areas are open and not charging fees. The rest rooms are closed, as are the offices. Anyone needing any sort of license must go online.  Social distancing is required. Be sure to stay at least six feet away from anyone else.

West winds of 10-15 knots are forecast for tonight with gusts to 20 and rain after midnight. Friday starts with west winds of 5-10 knots and rain before switching to north in the afternoon.

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.

 

Uncertainty about fishing

The striped bass fishery is underway, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether we’ll be able to fish.

I read Gov. Murphy’s N.J. shutdown order, but it didn’t refer specifically to fishing or boating at all.  Yet, the state parks and Wildlife Management Areas are open for public use — though with offices and rest rooms closed. I’ll try to get more detailed info tomorrow.

Grumpy’s Tackle in Seaside Park closed today until further notice. Apparently bait and tackle shops are considered nonessential, but the governor is allowing liquor stores to operate. Isn’t an obsession with healthy fishing better than one with booze?

You won’t be missing much tomorrow weather-wise. There are small craft warnings up into the afternoon. East winds at 20-25 knots with gusts to 30 plus rain and 4-6-foot seas are predicted.