I haven’t really editorialized on the ’22 fluke regulations; fact is, as I reported from the April 8 meeting of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council (Council), the slot option may not have been the preferred option (three at 17-1/2 inches, May 21-September 23) of the Council’s fluke advisors, but members of the public weighed in by a nearly 2-1 ratio in favor of a longer season, earlier start date, and Atlantic Coast’s first-ever slot summer flounder regulation, prompting the 6-2 vote by the Council.
When friends asked then about my opinion, I’d remind them of what we all know about opinions. Besides, I too have pushed to see some semblance of a “slot” option for fluke in previous editorials as a way of reducing discard mortality, limiting the amount of jumbo breeders harvested, while providing a more enjoyable experience for all in terms of angler success rates. That said, I’d always hoped to see a larger slot (2 or 3 inches) rather than a “slit” (.99 inches), but you take what you can get.
The earlier start to the Jersey Shore summer flounder season was a hit, as most tackle shops in our May and June fishing reports talked up the incredible successes by anglers working the bulkheads, sedges and the skinnier bay waters. There was very little criticism at the onset of the season, which as I said to friends at the time would probably be the case. But if you and I had this conversation already, you can probably attest to this – I also believed that once back bay waters began to heat up and fluke moved to deeper waters and outside the inlets, the condemnations would soon commence. And just about in time for the July Fourth weekend, as bigger specimens began to show on local reef sites and along the deeper waters of the Raritan, a new level of frustration became apparent as anglers were forced to release 3- and 4-pound or better fluke in an effort to find that “slot” fish.
Debate has been waged for years in New Jersey about a two-state solution; no, not necessarily a secession, though that too has been frequently bandied about. But the difference between north-south, inshore vs. back bay fluke fishing in the Garden State is pretty evident; while having a couple of 17-inch fluke for the box in 2022 has been a godsend for many bay boats, the late summer ocean doormat hunters now cringe at the thought of releasing a 10-pounder because there’s already a 6-pounder in the box. No doubt, that one jumbo per-person limit has certainly had an impact on participation in state fluke tournaments this season.
Looking over old meeting notes, I found the split-state concept discussed at the Council’s May 14, 2020 meeting when angler Bill Shillingford encouraged councilors to consider separate regional regulations. “There’s been a tremendous number of flounder already caught and released down here in Cape May County on the days that you can fish,” Shillingford said 2 years ago, adding “the guys I know were catching some really nice flounder, and that’s been since the middle of April.”
Council chair Dick Herb responded by saying that the concept was one the Council had planned to address in 2020, before the COVID pandemic hit. He did say however that more research would be done on the idea for the future; I’m just not sure whose future, perhaps my great-grandchildren. But as they say, Council put a pin in it.
The new slot option was a start to out of the box thinking in the state. But until an inshore-offshore, or north-south regulatory framework can be reviewed, a one size fits all approach to fluke regs will never make everyone happy. And even then, the grass will always be greener at some point in the summer.