OMS RIVER – Noting the importance of the fishing industry on Ocean County’s economy, County officials are supporting federal and state representatives and recreational and commercial anglers who are in opposition to changes that will have a drastic effect on the summer flounder recreational harvest.
“I stand with federal and state lawmakers, along with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and representatives of the state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries in stating that the new regulations would devastate our fishing industry and have a devastating economic impact on Ocean County’s shore tourism,” stated Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to the county’s Tourism and Business Development. “Summer flounder is one of the most popular game fish in the region among recreational anglers and is very important to commercial fishing operations.”
Vicari authored a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker noting his concerns about the proposed rule recently announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries that would significantly reduce the commercial quotas and recreational harvest limits for summer flounder in 2017 and 2018.
“This rule will have a dramatic and disastrous effect on the residents of Ocean County, especially those that rely upon the summer flounder fishery for their livelihood,” Vicari said. “Some of our area fisherman said this rule would put them out of business.
“In an area of New Jersey that was heavily hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and is finally regaining some of its economic losses, this rule will hurt tourism which is a key factor of our economic engine,” Vicari said. “Our fishing communities have faced many adverse challenges and are already struggling. We do not need to add to this.”
In New Jersey, the recreational and commercial fishing industries generate about $2.5 billion annually and represent more than 20,000 jobs, according to State DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. Recreational fishermen landed more than 650,000 summer flounder and commercial fishermen caught more than 1.2 million pounds last year.
Last month, votes taken by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) would likely result in an increase in the size of individual summer flounder anglers can keep, as well as a decrease in number of fish that may be kept each day, and a reduction in season length.
One of the options under consideration could reduce New Jersey’s recreational harvest limit for summer flounder by as much as nearly 50 percent.
Vicari, echoing the recommendations of DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, said the quotas that have been proposed are arbitrary and require a more thorough scientific analysis.
“Without fair examination taking into consideration the impact of the proposed quota, the County’s marinas, charter boat operators, bait and tackle shops, hotels, restaurants and other tourism related businesses will be adversely affected,” Vicari said.
Vicari applauded DEP Commissioner Martin, U.S. Representatives Frank LoBiondo, Tom MacArthur and Frank Pallone Jr. and U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory A. Booker for coming together to support the fishing industry and oppose the proposed quotas.
“I also commend the many organizations representing our commercial and recreational fishing industries for their actions in opposing these new regulations,” Vicari said.
Fishing advocacy groups that have been actively opposing the measure include the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the Recreational Fishing Alliance, the New Jersey Coast Anglers Association, the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, United Boatmen and the Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund.
According to the DEP, the summer flounder season in New Jersey typically runs from May through September, concurrent with the peak tourism season. Current New Jersey regulations allow recreational anglers fishing in most parts of the state to keep summer flounder that are at least 18 inches long, at a maximum of five fish per day. In Delaware Bay, anglers may take up to four summer flounder per day that meet a minimum 17-inch length requirement.
The DEP is particularly concerned about any regulatory changes that would increase the minimum length of fish caught in New Jersey because few fish would meet the larger size limit. Summer flounder in New Jersey tend to be smaller than in states to the north due to the species’ biological needs and migration patterns.