NJ Marine Fisheries Meeting March 4th

Here’s some details on the March 4th NJ Marine Fisheries State Council meeting. It was another long call which started at 5pm and ending at 8:35pm. The main topics which I will detail below are; New Enforcement, NJ’s Striped Bass Bonus Program, NJ’s New Cobia Regulations, NJ’s New Summer Flounder Regulations and Offshore Wind.

New Marine Enforcement In Ocean County

It started off with the enforcement report. I was very happy to hear news about two new officers being added to the Marine Unit roster. One officer, Colby Capri will focus enforcement in the central New Jersey area. I’m happy to say that Colby is a great local angler who knows and respects the area. He will be a great resource to the Ocean Ocean County Marine Region. This past fall I saw him field training on LBI in a variety of areas. This addition was needed years ago.

Here's Colby Capri and Sabina Sullivan with four handfuls of fluke caught fishing in Barnegat Bay.
Here’s Colby Capri and Sabina Sullivan with four handfuls of fluke.

2021 NJ Striped Bass Bonus Program

Everything is basically the same with regards to the NJ SBBP. It is status quo for 2021. But now they are stepping in modern day technology and doing the entire process online. Both the application and submission will be online. Information is expected to be released soon, March/April timeframe. Keep an eye out for it!

Here are some bonus tag striped bass that were caught aboard Reel Fantasea with Captain Steve Purul during the later portion of the fall.
Here are some bonus tag striped bass that were caught aboard Reel Fantasea with Captain Steve Purul during the later portion of the fall run.

2021 NJ Cobia Regulations

Over the years NJ has always followed Virginia’s regulations on cobia. Recently Virginia changed regulations to reduce harvest by about 40% over the next three years. With the options that were on the table, few comments from the public came in. All that did were in favor of the option for no closed season. The board’s vote went that way.

The NJ Cobia Regulations for 2021 are: One fish bag/vessel limit with a 37″ total length minimum size with no closed season.

Here is Bob Misak with a beautiful cobia that was caught off the LBI surf on June 5, 2019. If the state chose to keep in line with Virginia this somewhat rare catch would have been out of season. The new 2021 regulations have no closed season.

2021 NJ Summer Flounder Regulations

For the 2021 New Jersey Fluke Season only the dates changed. It is still a 3 fish possession limit bag limit with an 18″ minimum size. The official dates are May 22nd to September 19th.

How did we get here? I digress…

Potential Creative Options In Future

This part of the meeting started off with a quick mention of some creative regulation ideas that might come about next year. Ideas like possibly splitting the state since there is a clear difference in desire between North Jersey and South Jersey. Ideas like having a separate back bay and ocean season, using zones to best satisfy anglers in different areas. Ideas like changing the bag limit and sizes to take the pressure off the females. Possibly one regulation for the first half of the season and a different regulation at second half. Possibly a slot and a trophy. We’ve heard this kinda talk before. So will 2022 be the year with new creative regulations that help the summer flounder? I’m hoping to hear more details after the fluke advisory meeting which will be taking place once in May/June and then a second in September.

Fluke Facts

Did you know that 70% of fluke 18″ are female and nearly 100% of fluke 21″ and larger are female? Did you know that a 12″ flounder is about 1 year old, 18″ about three years old and a 24″ fluke is about 6-8 years old?

Team Fish Heads Mike Frezza is holding up a nice fluke he caught bucktailing the bayside waters behind Long Beach Island.
Team Fish Heads Mike Frezza is holding up a nice fluke he caught bucktailing the bayside waters behind Long Beach Island.

Now onto the NJ Fluke Options…

These were the two options on the table:

  • Option 1) Status Quo: May 22nd – September 19th, 121 total days
  • Option 2) Shift Back: May 28th – September 28th, 124 days

Both options included the historical opening day before Memorial Day (5/31) and being open past Labor Day (9/6). So they really boiled down to THREE days. Options one an earlier season and option two a later season.

Not the biggest deal right? WRONG!

A public comment survey was done by the state to ask saltwater anglers which option they preferred. 725 responses were received…

And They Survey Says!

Option 1 – 27%
Option 2 – 73%

Here's a breakdown by angler type. It's clear that the NJ saltwater anglers who took the time to participate in the survey wanted option 2.
Here’s a breakdown by angler type. It’s clear that the NJ saltwater anglers who took the time to participate in the survey wanted option 2.

Now public comment opened and there was large/overwhelming support of Option 2. Most all mentioned the key benefits like:

  • Closing the gap between fluke and sea bass (reduces the gap from 25 days to 16)
  • The additional three days offers more opportunity as we all know days are lost due to weather
  • In May there’s lots of species to target; striped bass, bluefish, black sea bass, black drum, weakfish, BUT in September there is few especially for land based anglers
  • In late September the mullet run offers one of the the best times for land based anglers to fish for fluke
  • Late September is a great time to fish the state’s artificial reef sites

My public comment, “I would like to see Option 2 which supports both the survey and the overwhelming support of the benefits it offers (listed above).”  I also commented which was off topic but I had to express a concern that has been eating at me for a while.

“I need to mention the special Island Beach State Park regulation (2 fluke greater than 16″ total length) gives an unfair and preferential treatment to that IBSP area. Anglers that used to fish the Long Beach Island area going to IBSP for the more lax regulations.”

The Fluke Fiasco

Public comments end and then things got crazy. Some of the public (on the call via phone) could not make comments during the live meeting because they were in listen only mode and could not get an opportunity to speak. Concerns with the meeting’s platform (GoToWebinar) were raised. Zoom, Webex, Teams… but GoToWebinar is the same platform that the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission uses successfully. There was actually a motion to push off the decision to the next meeting!

It turns out that failure to pre-register for the event was the root of the problem. I’ll agree the inability to publicly comment does raise a representation concern. HOWEVER, there was more than adequate time given for written and online comment. Why the delay? 

Unfortunately during this fiasco, the overwhelming public interest in favor of Options 2 was blown off. The attention went to the potential tech issues and that debate rather than fluke. It really distracted from the situation at stake. What a coincidence, in the end failure to listen to public comment turned out to actually occur!

NJ Summer Flounder – Option One Status Quo

Offshore Wind

A new Offshore Wind Committee was previously created and the state’s advisory application period had received 32 applications. It’s great to see the interest. It was said that the Ocean Wind project was much further ahead of the Atlantic Shores project and the The Ocean Wind COP is expected to be released (possibly) this spring. But the council was not 100% sure of the dates.

What is a COP? Construction & Operations Plan – It is the document which outlines the purpose and scope of the activities as well as the intended construction onshore and offshore. It will comprehensively describe the project and include maintenance and decommissioning procedures among many other topics. The COP will provide a basis for the analysis of the environmental and socioeconomic effects and operational integrity of the developments proposed activities. More Info On A COP by BOEM.

Right now there is not an upcoming meeting with opportunity scheduled for public comment. However it was said that BOEM (Bureau Of Ocean Energy Management – US Dept Of The Interior) accepts public comments at any time. Take the time to commit NOW!

It was noted that in recent town hall meetings that numerous shore towns opposed the developments. More recently, towns are waking up to the issue.

There is a lot of things coming down the pike with regards to wind turbine developments in New Jersey. Staying in the loop right now is very difficult but there is hope that will change. There’s rumor the state will have a site where the public can go to source all of the information/documents from all of the different developers. This way everyone gets to see everything at one place.

The million dollar question…Will it be bias and share all of the concerns or just what the state want to share?

The Next NJ Marine Fisheries State Council Meeting is May 13th 5pm. 

Author: FishHead.Greg

A Long Beach Island native with life long experience fishing and navigating the local waters, Greg is a distinguished Master Captain (the highest qualified operator license), holding a US Coast Guard Masters 50T Near Coastal License with Towing Endorsement. Raised in and now managing his family's bait and tackle business, Fishermans Headquarters (Since 1962, The Saltwater Fishing Bait & Tackle Experts) Greg is daily immersed in fishing. He is the Chief Contributor of FishingLBI.com (Long Beach Island's best fishing report blog) as well as the Admin for the shop's social media pages (on Instagram and Facebook). Be sure to follow!

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