By KIRK MOORE
TOMS RIVER BUREAU
After a brief, dismal 2009 season for weakfish, recreational anglers may be limited to catching one or two weakfish on their 2010 trips ? or not fishing for the species at all.
Working to expedite the rulemaking for 2010, interstate regulators held a telephone conference Monday to finalize proposed weakfish regulations. A public hearing to discuss those options will be held at 8 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Toms River municipal building at 33 Washington St.
The proposed recreational rules include limiting fishermen to keeping one or two fish per day ? compared to a daily limit up to six fish now allowed in New Jersey. Another option is a weakfish moratorium ? a virtual shutdown of the fishery that's a traditional spring opener and late-summer mainstay for anglers.
Those options are a possibility now because of the "unfortunately grim picture of the (weakfish) stock right now," said Robert E. Beal, director of the Interstate Fisheries Management Program with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate group that coordinates weakfish conservation measures. The commission will choose among those options at its November meeting.
In 2008, total reported weakfish landings "at 1.1 million pounds were the lowest on record," Beal said. But in this case, it's not from overfishing, Beal and commissioners said.
The weakfish population should be good, with healthy numbers of young fish reported in recent years, Beal said. But they do not make it to adulthood, meaning it's most likely that juvenile weakfish are being eaten by more abundant species such as dogfish or striped bass, say ASMFC officials.
"I don't want to give people false hope, if we put a moratorium on and nothing happens ? and nothing could happen," cautioned Thomas P. Fote of Toms River, who represents New Jersey on the commission.
Members of the ASMFC's weakfish management board agreed to drop one proposal for shorter weakfish seasons as an option. That would not necessarily save more weakfish, Fote pointed out: "There were no weakfish in New Jersey this spring at all. Then in late summer we had a big slug of fish."
The forthcoming rule, known as addendum 4, gained urgency this summer when ASMFC officials got an updated stock assessment showing the bad news, and New Jersey anglers saw weakfish in Barnegat Bay for only a short time in late August.
Next year's cutbacks will fall on commercial fishermen, too, with rules that would limit them to 100 or 150 pounds a day as an incidental catch to other species.