Winter flounder, Pseudopleuronectes americanus, support an important commercial and recreational fishery along the northeast coast of North America. Highest abundance occurs in the most northern part of their range. However, populations have declined significantly since the 1980s as a result of climate change, poor water quality and estuarine habitat loss. Due to warming ocean temperatures, many believe that the southern range of winter flounder has migrated north with New Jersey now being at the southern extent. Winter flounder are unlike most other fish species in that they reproduce during the winter months and spawn in estuaries in late winter to early spring.
Winter flounder fisheries in New England and the Mid-Atlantic are managed by the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) in federal waters. The NEFMC classified estuaries as well as inland and coastal bays as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for winter flounder eggs and larvae as far south as the Delaware Bay. No dredging could take place in these waterways during the winter and spring months because of the EFH designation.
The local community, fishing docks and marina owners in Cape May County contacted Eleanor Bochenek, director of the Fisheries Cooperative Center at Rutgers, to examine the EFH designation for winter flounder eggs and larvae in southern New Jersey with emphasis on waterways in Cape May County, NJ. The NEFMC was in the process of updating the EFH designation for winter flounder, restricting marina and channel dredging as well as beach replenishment activities from January 1 through May.
According to Bochenek, this designation created significant problems since “these activities must now be backed up into the spring and summer months when recreational vessels are being launched in these same areas and when visitors use local beaches.” [Read more…]