The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) will hold its winter meetings the first week in February. And that can mean only one thing: we're getting closer to learning what our 2012 fluke regulations might look like here in the Garden State.
While thanks to some controversial decision making on the part of federal officials, we have to take a quota hit this year, our actual allowable harvest will increase because anglers in our state did not hit their quota last season.
When the ASMFC meets, it will consider a slew of potential regulatory options proposed by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife which will meet the federal harvest limits. The ASMFC will whittle those options down, and send several back to the state Marine Fisheries Council, which will choose one at a meeting in the spring.
New Jersey is allocated a recreational target of 1,090,407 fish for 2012, according to documentation filed with the ASMFC, a liberalization to the tune of 38 percent over the 2011 season.
Though it's based on pure sampling data using a number of methodologies, there is a chance that New Jersey anglers could see a summer flounder season where they're able to take home a fish smaller than 18-inches for the first time since 2007.
The 18-inch minimum size limit has been highly controversial, mainly because biologists have found that virtually all fish that reach 18 inches or larger are females.
For 2012, options include a May 5 to Sept. 23 season with 17.5 inch size limit. They also include seasons ranging from April 29 through Sept. 23 and May 5 through Sept. 29 with a 17.5 inch size limit. All of these options include an four fish bag limit, however, down from eight fish in 2011.
The options that keep the size limit at 18 inches all keep the bag limit at eight fish per day through a 170 day season, with date options including April 28 through Oct. 14; April 7 through Sept. 23; and May 5 through Oct 21.
In my opinion columns over the years, I have long advocated for a shorter size limit rather than extending the season length (or upping the bag limit, which next-to-nobody can achieve anyway).
For the majority of anglers, a shorter size limit will always equal more of an impetus to go out on the water, patronize bait shops, marinas and party boats, and increase one's chances of taking a fish home for dinner.
Participation in the 2011 fluke fishery, despite a longer season, was terrible from an anecdotal standpoint – and this is coming from someone who's out on the water nearly every day. September was – as it often is – a washout. Back bay and shore-based anglers, as usual, take the brunt of high size limits.
There is no doubt that for-hire boat operators will rally in favor of a longer season at all costs (I do understand why), but for independent anglers (and the businesses they support), it will always be my belief that a shorter size limit equals greater participation and a well-rounded distribution of access to the fishery whether one goes out on party boats, operates his or her own boat (in the ocean or bay), or fishes from shore.
For all the technical stuff, check out the filings of the ASMFC's summer flounder committee.