Feds accept N.J. summer flounder rules

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A New Jersey fisheries controversy that has been simmering for months is over.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has affirmed the state’s summer flounder fishing size, catch limits, and season, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

For anglers, that means all rules adopted by New Jersey in May, just days before the beginning of summer flounder season, will remain in effect until early September.

“We are very pleased that NOAA worked with us to understand our position that sound science and good long-term planning must drive decisions about the management of summer flounder, one of the state’s most important recreational and commercial fish species,” Martin said.

Summer flounder, also known as fluke, is one of the state’s most popular sport fish.

The season began on May 25 and ends on September 5. The minimum size remains 18 inches for summer flounder for most coastal waters, including the ocean, estuaries and creeks. Anglers in these areas may keep three legally sized fish per day.

The size limit for Delaware Bay is 17 inches, with a three-fish per day limit. At Island Beach State Park the size limit for shore fishing is 16 inches, with a daily two-fish limit.

“New Jersey is fully committed to employing science and public education to conserve a species that is critical to the fishing culture and economy of the state,” Martin said.

Earlier this year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, under the auspices of NOAA, had said summer flounder populations were not meeting projections, arguing that setting new quota limits could help protect the species from overfishing.

But state officials, calling the rule methodology into question, have previously said the quota proposed earlier this year would “effectively cripple” New Jersey’s fishing industry.

Recreational fishing in New Jersey alone directly creates some 20,000 jobs and contributes $1.5 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the DEP.

The DEP has launched an educational campaign about the proper handling of fluke.

The “If You Can’t Keep It, Save It!” initative focuses on techniques to reduce unintentional mortalities that can occur when flounder that do not meet minimum length requirements are returned to the water.