Friday, March 02, 2007

N.J. anglers now have seven weeks less to catch bigger fluke

By RICHARD DEGENER Staff Writer, (609) 463-6711 (Published: March 2, 2007) GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Summer flounder anglers will have to land larger fish this year, and they will have much less time to do it.That decision was made Thursday night as the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council unanimously approved new regulations for the popular flatfish, also known as fluke.The council, facing a mandate from the federal government to reduce state landings by almost 40 percent in 2007, voted to increase the minimum size from 16.5 inches to 17 inches. It also voted for a season that runs from May 26 to Sept. 10. Anglers will lose almost three weeks in the spring and almost one month in the late summer and early fall. Last year the season ran from May 6 through Oct. 9.The council did decide to leave the daily bag limit of eight fish per angler, per day, alone. It would be a fishing day for the ages to land eight fluke that are all at least 17 inches long.“Ladies and gentlemen, have the best season you can have,” Council Chairman Gil Ewing said as more than 100 unhappy anglers shuffled out of the room at the Galloway Township Library.For many anglers, the only way to feel good about the cutbacks was to look at measures the neighboring states are facing. They are more drastic. Recreational fishermen in New Jersey get the largest share of the East Coast fluke quota, 39.2 percent, but neighboring states want some of New Jersey's quota. It won't happen this year, but could be on the table for 2008.

The council had four options, and while its vote was 9-0 for the 17-inch keeper fish and a season from May 26 to Sept. 10, the crowd was not unanimous. Many pushed for a 17.5-inch minimum and a season that runs from April 7 to Oct. 21.These two options were the main picks of the four on a Web site poll conducted by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife that had 3,600 responses in 48 hours.

Surf fishermen pushed for the option with a 17.5-inch fish and longer season.“We don't see fish showing up in the surf until the middle to the end of September, and the fish are larger fish,” said Michael Tutela, a member of a fishing club in Seaside Park.

Backbay anglers and those who rent boats to them or sell them bait and tackle were also concerned. Fluke tend to be smaller in the backbays. Mars Anagnou, of Dad's Place Marina in North Wildwood, does all of these things.“I'm open six months a year, and I'm open because of flounder,” Anagnou said. “You're cutting my business by one third.”Fred Uhlman, who rents boats out of Wildwood, said older fishermen, children, kayakers and others who fish the backbays because they don't want to go out in the ocean are being penalized.

“The new size limits leave no chance of catching smaller backbay fish. People who rent a boat want to go in the backbay and catch a fish and eat it. With the size limit, they can't,” Uhlman said.One concern about allowing a larger fish is it could lead to exceeding the weight limits and lead to further cuts in 2008. This has happened in New York. Several anglers supported the 17-inch fish because of this.Some didn't mind losing April fluke fishing, while others were angry about it.“I catch the biggest fish I've ever caught in April,” said John J. Hern, of North Wildwood.Lou Schott, an angler out of Absecon, pushed for the option that allowed fishing in April. Down the coast, in Ocean City, charter boat captain Norman Hafsrud, had a different viewpoint.“That early in April, I never have any fish. Maybe somebody does, but not me,” he said.Many who make a living catering to fluke anglers wanted the season to include as many of the big holiday weekends as possible. The season chosen has Memorial Day and July 4 but not Labor Day. Every option had a price.“These are four awful options by any stretch of the imagination,” said Patrick Donnelly, a member of the council. “That being said, they are the four best of the worst on the East Coast. It looks pretty darn good in relation to what's happening around us.”

Some states are looking at a 19-inch minimum fish size to meet the federal cutbacks.Many had issues with what the regulations are intended to do, which is to rebuild the fluke stock and came about when environmental groups sued for the cutbacks. A brewing controversy is that a recent trawl survey showed most fluke over 16 inches are females.“We're catching the females and throwing back the males. I don't see how these fish spawn,” Ewing said.Ed Coleman, a mate on a 20-foot Raritan Bay boat, said the larger fish size will result in his taking chances by leaving the bay.

“Now we have to go offshore and fish deeper channels. We have to look for bigger fish now, and sometimes that means going where we shouldn't go,” Coleman said.Ray Bogan, an advisor to the council, said statistically most fish caught are 15 to 15.5 inches. He said all the options are bad, but he pushed for the one council finally adopted.Some anglers wanted management measures that were not on the table. One would split the fishing season. Fluke fishing would be allowed early, then closed, and then open back up. Others wanted a larger fish but the option of closing the season early if totals were getting too high.

John Toth, president of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, or JCAA, pushed for the option that was adopted but wanted surf anglers to be allowed one fish per day through September.David Showell, of Absecon Bay Sportsman's Center, added about the only optimism to the arguments of the 40 or so fishermen who spoke. Showell said fluke seem to be getting bigger. He said maybe the cutbacks will turn into a success story some day.

“I hope at the end of the rainbow there is a payoff,” Showell said.To e-mail Richard Degener at The


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