The summer flounder fishery has been rebuilt, a report out Monday from the federal government said.
The fish species, commonly known as fluke, is arguably New Jersey's most important sport fish, and is also one of the state's most important commercial finfish species. Summer flounder joins six other species – none of which are common to New Jersey waters – that were declared rebuilt this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report.
A species is considered rebuilt when its stock level meets a federal target that is considered by scientists and policymakers to be considered healthy and self-sustaining.
The summer flounder rebuilding effort is important to New Jersey anglers since the deadline for the species to meet its target was set for next year. If the target was not met by then, anglers would have been subject to more restrictive fishing regulations, up to and including a closure of the fishery.
Operators of fishing-related businesses feared that a closure of the fishery would have led to millions of dollars in lost sales on bait and tackle items, boats and accesories, as well as fishing charter trips.
"With annual catch limits in place this year for all domestic fish populations and the continued commitment of fishermen to rebuild the stocks they rely on, we're making even greater progress in ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks around the nation," said Samuel Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries, in a statement.
Regulations on summer flounder were relaxed this year in New Jersey, with the minimum recreational size limit falling to 17.5 inches from 18 inches. The open season on the species began May 2 and will run through Sept. 28.
Regulations for the 2013 season, the first under which the species will be considered rebuilt, will be set next winter after stock levels and catch data from the current season are analyzed.
The other five species considered rebuilt this year are Bering Sea snow crab, Gulf of Maine haddock, northern California coast Chinook salmon, Washington coast coho salmon and Pacific coast widow rockfish.
The report showed that the vast majority of regulated fish species in the United States – 86 percent – were not subject to overfishing in 2011.
NOAA studies predict that fully rebuilt fisheries are expected to add an estimated $31 billion to the economy and an additional 500,000 jobs. Commercial and recreational fishing currently generates $183 billion per year to the U.S. economy and supports more than 1.5 million full and part-time jobs.