On Wednesday, The Division of Fish and Wildlife issued a release informing recreational saltwater anglers and commercial fishermen of recent changes in regulations for river herring and tautog fisheries. The New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council approved these measures at their January 5 meeting and DEP Commissioner Martin recently signed these changes into effect.

These actions were taken to comply with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) management plans for river herring and blackfish.

The river herring regulations were put in place due to concerns about the significant coastwide decline of river herring stocks.

Effective immediately, no person shall take, possess, land, purchase, sell or offer for sale any river herring (alewife and blueback) in the marine waters of the state. Only commercial vessels fishing exclusively in federal waters while operating a valid federal permit for Atlantic mackerel and/or Atlantic herring may possess river herring, up to a maximum of five percent by weight of all species possessed.

The exact cause for these coastwide declines remains uncertain, but numerous factors such as loss of spawning habitat, impediments to fish passage (i.e. dams), water quality degradation and fishing all likely played a role. Amendment 2 of the ASMFC fishery management plan for river herring prohibits both the recreational and commercial harvest of river herring in the waters of states that do not have an ASMFC- approved river herring sustainable management plan.

New Jersey does not have an approved plan since the available information on river herring stocks is not sufficient to definitively prove the States river herring stocks are sustainable. Other states along the East Coast —Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island —have closed their river herring fisheries as well.

As far as blackfish are concerned, the new rules increase the size of legal blackfish to 15 inches and set the following seasons and bag limits: four fish from Jan. 1 to Feb 28; four fish from April 1 to April 30; one fish from July 27 to Aug. 31; one fish from Oct. 18 to Nov. 15; and four fish from Nov. 16 to Dec. 31. These regulations are also effective immediately.

Addendum VI from the ASMFC established a lower mortality rate for blackfish and called for a 56 percent coastwide reduction in blackfish harvest.

Individual states were directed to develop and implement regulations that will enable them to meet the new mortality rate. The new rules are New Jersesy’s response to Amenment VI.