Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – Ocean County officials have given their support to the state Department of Environmental Protection's effort to appeal summer flounder quota reductions which will have a drastic effect on the summer flounder recreational harvest.

"I applaud the efforts of state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin in his efforts to have the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission reconsider its vote on the significant reduction of New Jersey's recreational fishing quota for summer flounder this year," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who also serves as liaison to the county's tourism industry. "I am asking my colleagues on the Board of Freeholders to support these efforts by Commissioner Martin. This new quota will have a detrimental effect on our fishing industry in Ocean County and across the state."

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders is scheduled to take formal action on a resolution supporting Commissioner Martin and the state's ASMFC representatives' efforts to appeal the reduction at the Board's public meeting April 5.

According to Commissioner Martin, the 34-percent quota reduction ASMFC approved in February will have a devastating impact on the state's fishing industry and tourism economy while paradoxically harming the long-term health of the state's summer flounder stocks.

"We are appealing the ASFMC decision because of the numerous process, data, policy and regulatory issues that will significantly impact New Jersey's fishing industry," Commissioner Martin said in a prepared release. "The ASFMC decision will actually result in anglers in New Jersey having to throw more dead fish back into the water than they can keep to eat, and the fish they can keep overwhelmingly will be reproductive females. This is not sound fishery management."

In February, Freeholder Vicari authored a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker noting his concerns about the proposed rule 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 have to do all we can to get the Fisheries Commission to reconsider its decision."

In New Jersey, the recreational and commercial fishing industries generate about $2.5 billion annually and represent more than 20,000 jobs. Recreational and commercial fishing employs 65,000 people and generates some $2.5 billion in annual economic benefits to the state. Summer flounder, also known as fluke, is one of the state's most sought-after recreational fish species, prized for its delicate flavor and easily found close to beaches and in bays and creeks.

To achieve the newly required 34-percent reduction, New Jersey faces increasing the minimum size limit for summer flounder from 18 inches in most state waters to 19 inches, making legally sized fish more difficult to keep. Additionally, the number of fish that could be kept under the new restrictions would be reduced from five to three.

The petition from New Jersey's three representatives to ASMFC Chairman Douglas E. Grout cites technical, scientific and procedural flaws as reasons for reconsideration of the vote. The commission was formed by compact to manage nearshore fisheries from Maine to Florida.

A DEP analysis of the quota reduction determined that the number of undersized, or discarded, fish that die after being returned to the water will be greater than the number of fish that will be harvested. This would be the first-ever such imbalance for the state. Flounder, like all fish, are susceptible to mortality from hook wounds and stress.

In their letter, the representatives argue that ASMFC did not properly consider comments made by the public opposing the reduction during a Jan. 5 hearing in Galloway Township, Atlantic County. They further state that ASMFC staff found numerous mathematical calculation errors after the hearing that resulted in substantive revisions to the draft quota-reduction plan and did not provide the public an opportunity to review the changes and provide additional comments.

In addition, ASMFC did not properly apply technical information gathered through the federal Marine Recreational Informational Program, which surveys anglers and members of the fishing industry to provide more complete assessments of the health of fisheries, the representatives wrote.

New Jersey representatives to ASMFC are New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Director Larry Herrighty, Governor's appointee Thomas P. Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, and Legislative Commissioner Assemblyman Bob Andrejczak (District 1).

"I appreciate the work of all of the state's representatives to ASMFC," Vicari said. "And I am especially grateful to all of the help Tom Fote gives to Ocean County. He is a staunch advocate for our fishing industry and has provided great guidance over the years.

"It is so important we work together in partnership to stop this new reduction which comes on a 27 percent quota reduction in 2016," Vicari said. "This needs a much closer and fair examination taking into consideration the impact of the proposed quota, and how the County's marinas, charter boat operators, bait and tackle shops, hotels, restaurants and other tourism related businesses will be adversely affected."

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