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Congressman fights effort to cut back on fluke quota

Saxton Asks National Marine Fisheries Service to Justify Flounder Proposal

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congressman Jim Saxton called on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to explain why it plans to cut fluke quotas below reduced levels it itself helped set only last year.

"These are not good numbers to see, and they threaten our fishing industry," Saxton said. "The people who rely on summer flounder for a living have already seen severe cuts from 2005 and 2006 levels. Only seven months ago NMFS helped revise lower flounder quotas for 2008 though 2012, and now it plans to backtrack and recommend even lower catch quotas. How is it possible for the scientific recommendation to change so significantly in seven months? In December NMFS estimated the 2008 quota would be 19.6 million pounds. Now they're saying it could be 8 million pounds less than that. That's more than 40 percent off the mark. It's not fair to the fishermen."

Saxton, who led successful efforts to raise quotas for 2007, fired off a letter Wednesday to NMFS Director, Dr. William Hogarth, challenging NMFS's new proposed 2008 quota of 11.6-15.77 million pounds.

A member of the Natural Resources Committee that in 2006 reauthorized the nation's prime fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Saxton added key provisions to help the New Jersey flounder industry. The 2007 flounder quota was raised from 12.9 million pounds to 17.1 million pounds. NMFS also indicated the provisions would allow a 19.6 million pound catch in 2008, 22.7 million pounds in 2009, and 29 million pounds in 2012 when the stock would be fully rebuilt. The provisions also added three years to the 10-year time frame by which the flounder fishery is required to be restored.

"NMFS helped set those reductions," Saxton said. "Now NMFS is suggesting even lower cuts. The fishing industry has already seen steeply slashed quotas. If implemented, this proposal is harsh and would certainly make life worse for our fishermen."

Saxton's district includes Barnegat Bay, Little Egg Harbor and Great Bay, and related fishing industries in Ocean County, N.J. According to 2005 data, there were nearly 6 million recreational fishing trips for summer flounder along the Atlantic coast, with anglers spending an estimated $324 million, and another $648 million in indirect economic impact. New York and New Jersey have the largest recreational summer flounder fisheries.

In early 2006 NMFS proposed that the 2007 quota would be 5.2 million pounds - a 78 percent cut as compared to the 23.6 million pound 2006 quota. Later, it revised the proposed quota to 12.9 million pounds. Saxton opposed both proposals as unacceptable, and worked for months to increas the proposed quotas, while still aiming to rebuild the flounder population to healthy levels for the long-term good of the fishery.

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