POINT PLEASANT BEACH — In a unified show of support, New Jersey officials and leaders of the state’s fishing industry said Friday they are demanding the federal government abandon plans to cut the amount of fluke to be harvested this year.
Insisting the proposed new limits will devastate an industry important to New Jersey’s economy, the government and industry representatives said they’re prepared to mount a legal fight, if necessary, to fight “ridiculous” limits that were based on “flawed” data.
The rally drew hundreds of recreational and commercial fishermen from across the state to the Fishermen’s Supply Co. in Point Pleasant Beach where state and federal lawmakers pledged to mount their attack both administratively and legislatively.
“We’ll take this fight as far as we need to go. It’s an attack on our economy. It’s an attack on our way of life and we need to continue to fight back,” said Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“We want to work with the other states to defeat this ridiculous proposal and maintain the status quo,” Martin said. “Make no mistake. New Jersey will push the interest on whatever we need to do. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do it with the other states or we’ll do it alone.”
Saying it needs to prevent the decimation of the species, the U.S. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has proposed a 30-percent cut to the summer flounder haul of commercial fishermen and a 40-percent cut for recreational fishermen.
Recreational fishermen would now be required to keep flounder that are at least 19 inches long, compared to the 17-inch length they could take last year. The proposed cuts could also result in reducing the summer season to 59 days.
Martin said he wants the commission to keep the catch-limit and size-limit quotas this year at last year’s levels until the method for calculating those figures is improved.
In New Jersey, the recreational and commercial fishing industries generate about $2.5 billion annually and represent more than 20,000 jobs, he said. Recreational fishermen landed more than 650,000 summer flounder and commercial fishermen caught more than 1.2 million pounds last year, he said.
Martin said he will push for the commission to abandon its proposals, keep the current limits, develop an up-to-date assessment of the number of flounder and reevaluate the way it develops those quotas. He wants any future quotas to remain in effect for at least three years instead of having it change annually.
Peter Grimbilas, chairman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, said anglers need a permanent fix to the quota system so they won’t keep butting heads with the commission and can have some security for their future.
“What’s been put on the table right now is a temporary fix – the status quo,” he said. “We need to take it to the higher level. We need to get the process fixed.”
Jeff Gutman, captain of the fishing boats Voyager in Point Pleasant Beach and the Angler in Atlantic Highlands, said the proposed cuts would put him out of business. He predicted the cuts would reduce the number of people who patronize party boats for fishing by at least half.
“These draconian measures propagated by regulators will doom an already hurting recreational fishing industry and deny the public access to what we know is a healthy fishery,” he said. “It will also significantly reduce Shore area tourism from Sandy Hook to Cape May.”
Jim Lovgren, a fishing boat captain and director of the Fishermen’s Dock Cooperative, said fishermen already experienced a 30-percent reduction in limits last year and face yet another 17- or 18-percent cut next year.
The Point Pleasant Beach cooperative he heads pulls in about 2 million pounds of flounder annually.
“Taking 30 percent of that last year hurt. It hurt me economically. It hurt everybody over there. It hurt everybody here,” he said to the crowd.
He said there are plenty of flounder in the coastal waters and the new size limits will severely curtail the number of flounder recreational fishermen can keep.
U.S. Rep Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) said he will push the Trump administration to reverse these recommendations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
“We’ve been saying for years now… that the science that NOAA and NMFS is using is simply inadequate,” he said.
Also pleading their support were U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R- 4th Dist.), who sent a representative, and state assemblymen Bob Andrzejczak (D-Cape May), Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth) , Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) and Dave Rible (R-Monmouth).