NJ Marine Fisheries Council April 2022 Meeting Outcome, 4/7/22
2022 NJ Summer Flounder Fishing Regulations
- Season: May 2nd to September 27, 2022
- Bag Limit & Sizes: 2 Fish at 17-17.99″ and 1 Fish 18″
- Special regulations for Delaware Bay (3 fish at 17″) and Island Beach State Park (2 fish at 16″) were left status quo.
How did we get here? Like with all fishing regulations it boils down to the cards we are dealt and how the state can shuffle those cards to give the recreational anglers the best hand via combination of season dates, size restrictions and bag limits.
In the case of fluke those cards come from the ASMFC and they gave NJ the opportunity to liberalize fluke by 16.5%. Sounds pretty good right?
Before I dive into specifics so anglers know how the regulations came to fruition, I must first preface this by stating whenever there is a fisheries meeting and it ends with all parties not totally happy, it’s a sign of success because one interest group didn’t take over another. Usually that means the fish won. I believe that is the case with New Jersey’s 2022 Fluke Fishing Regulations. If anyone got the short end of the stick it is the doormat hunters. But read on and I will explain why this cut while not mandatory very well could help the fluke fishery in the years to come.
Preferred Option 1 was determined before the meeting by the Fluke Advisory Board and presented with their top five options (see below) which were cut and created out of originally 19 options. These 19 options are listed at the bottom of this post.
But Preferred Option 1 did not fit what the majority of the public preferred. Through public comment there was strong support for Option 2. The extended 149 days season gave both early season and late season fishing to fill the demands of both North Jersey and South Jersey interests. In years past this was always a point of contention.
Just like in striped bass and maybe even more so with summer flounder, sound biological analysis has raised awareness for a slot limit. Let’s take a look.
The Biology Of Fluke
Summer flounder are fast growing and most are mature by the age of two. A two year old summer flounder is approximately 15-16″. As they age male fluke top out at about 20″ (~6 years old) and can get as large as 24″ in their relatively short 12-14 year life span. Female fluke grow much larger, 36″. A four year old female is about 20″ and by six years old is pushing 23-24″. A ten year old female is a 27-30″ doormat. Depending on their size females have between 450,000 and 4 million eggs.
Management’s reliance on increased minimum size limits as a strategy has resulted in approximately 90% of the recent recreational landings being large female fish. And a large portion of the stock (both male and female) is hammered through catch and release mortality all season long. See the chart above for details.
Anglers can fish big hooks, big baits and use best handling practices but still it can be tough to reduce mortality on smaller fluke, < 16″. Between 2011-2020 approximately 89% of summer flounder caught recreationally were estimated to be released, with a 10% assumed discard mortality rate applied. But, there is a way to take advantage of those fluke that fall in the dead discard column (and go against us). Why not use it if we are going to loose it anyway? Rather than putting those 17″ fish in the dead discard, give the general anglers the ability to retain for the table.
And that is exactly what the overwhelming majority of public comment spoke in favor of… A Slot Limit.
Tonight’s (4/7/22) NJ Marine Fisheries Council April 2022 Meeting was a very cooperative state fisheries meeting. Starting at 5pm and ending at 9pm, it was a long one but packed with public comment and most importantly board members with open ears. Due to tech issues Chairmen Herb was lost but the meeting went on strong. I can’t recall another meeting where the public comment re-shaped the preferred options and final regulations. It was a special time and a true testament to the current board members of the NJ Marine Fisheries Council. They dedicated time and listened to each and every public comment. And more over took action. I commend the board, the advisors and the public who attended on a job well done!