By Michael Hill
Charter boat captain Jeff Gutman makes a living fishing and taking others on the water.
“The summer flounder fishery is how I pay my mortgage on my house. It’s how I pay for food and clothing for my family and school for children. It’s also how I pay the mortgage on my boats — and without my boats, I’m unemployed,” the Voyager captain said.
Gutman called summer flounder — or fluke — the backbone of recreational fishing. He was among the fishermen who turned out scratching their heads and speaking out against the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council proposing to limit the size and amount of flounder that fishermen could catch and keep on the Atlantic seaboard because not enough fish are reproducing.
“That decline is getting close to what managers refer to as a threshold,” said Michael Luisi, Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission chairman.
The reduction is 30 percent for the Atlantic states, but even stiffer for New Jersey at 40 percent for the season beginning in April. New Jersey opposes any cut and members of the state legislature, Congress and the Christie administration are vowing to fight it.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve worked with other coastal states even when we didn’t want to take those cuts because we felt it was the right thing to do to manage the stock for both the commercial and recreational industry. New Jersey has tried to work with the federal government, but these options that are on the table today have put us to the breaking point. Enough is enough,” NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said.
Martin said the recreational fishing of flounder is a $1.5 billion industry in New Jersey and employs more than 20,000 people. He says he and the fishermen want the limits tabled, the status quo kept and the regulators to do a better job of assessing the stock in the waters.
The regulators proposed cuts has the fishing industry reeling with both commercial and recreational fisherman vowing to fight this to the end.
How does fisherman Rocky McGuigan see it ending?
“We’ll be crossing our fingers. We’ll be status quo this year and then we get some better science going finally, and then we’ll go with the better science and facts” he said.
If the Atlantic States Commission rejects the cuts…
“If we were to do nothing now, there could be even a greater concern for the future for the sustainability of the stock,” Luisi said.
But, if the commission approves and imposed the cuts…
“And while they’re failing to protect the stock, there’s one thing this is successful at: killing jobs and weakening New Jersey’s economy,” Martin said.
New Jersey will oppose the cuts at next week’s board meeting and appeal to the federal commerce secretary in the Trump administration. Another option, Martin says, is legal action. And based on how it would devastate New Jersey’s flounder industry, this suit would be no fishing expedition.