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Fish Fight With Feds Getting Underway In New Jersey

MARGATE, N.J. (CBS) -- Newly imposed limits on New Jersey fishermen have a South Jersey congressman leading a fight to have them lifted.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission established limits for the harvest of flounder in the ocean and waterways like Delaware Bay. Last year, you could take home five fish at least a foot-and-a-half long. The new limit will be three with a minimum length of 19 inches.

Fishermen from states further south will see limits far more favorable, according to South Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo.

"New Jersey fishermen are going to be arbitrarily subjected to draconian cuts when boats from Delaware or Maryland can fish in our waters and not have the same restrictions our fishermen have," LoBiondo told KYW Newsradio. "I mean it is absurd."

LoBiondo sees the change as a serious blow not just to the fishing industry but tourism as well.

"We have a very strong recreational fishing industry," he added. "They're very reasonable people. They follow the law and for them to be putting a rule like this that's going to limit us is absolutely insane."

Ray Scott's Dock, a small bait-and-tackle shop in Margate, has offered boat rentals for flounder fishing for 69 years, but owner Robin Scott says that could all be washed away.

"We're here in the wintertime. There isn't a boat in the slip. But if they don't get this legislation changed, it's very possible it will look like that all next summer," Scott told CBS 3's Anita Oh.

The State Department of Environmental protection says fluke is New Jersey's No. 1 fish, contributing $1.5 billion annually to the state economy and creating 20,000 jobs.

The decision is hotly contested by many fishermen and businesses, including many in New Jersey and Delaware.

Commissioner Bob Martin of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection also disagrees with the decision.

"We don't believe they have both current data and accurate data they're collecting," Martin told Eyewitness News.

Martin says New Jersey keeps its own annual records, which contradict federal figures and show a steady flounder stock over the last 30 years.

"We think this is just not fair and just not right," Martin said. "[These fishermen] are angry. They're upset. They realize these are their livelihoods. These are families paying mortgages, trying to put food on the table. These are good people. And that's who we are fighting for."

According to the ASFMC, all of the coastal states included, except North Carolina, are required to increase their fish size limits by one inch and set a bag limit of four fish or less. Some states are considering a three-fish bag limit or shortening the fishing season.

"By our action, we struck a balance between the need to reduce harvest, while taking into account the socioeconomic impacts to our stakeholders," the ASFMC said in a statement.

But those who rely on this way of life are concerned.

"What I do know it'll do is cripple the fishery and that will make a huge difference in my business," Scott said. "I was raised by a Marine in the bomb squad unit, so I don't shy away from a fight. I certainly won't let my home or business go."

The regulations still need final approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the incoming secretary of commerce.

LoBiondo is meeting with state officials to decide on their next course of action.

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