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Highlights of Proposed 2016-2017 Fish Code Regulation Changes


October 5, 2015

New Jersey's Fish and Game Council and the DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife are proposing amendments to the 2016 - 2017 Fish Code. The proposed amendments will be published in the October 5, 2015, New Jersey Register, initiating the sixty-day public comment period which will end on December 4, 2015. (See the Notice of Rule Proposal at for a link to the full proposal.)

The Fish Code governs when, by what means, at which locations, in what numbers, and at what sizes, fish, and certain turtles and frogs may be pursued, caught, killed, or possessed in fresh waters of the state. Since the turn of the century, the Fish Code has provided a system for the protection, propagation, introduction and conservation of freshwater fish in this State and for their use and development for public recreation and food supply. Biennial revisions of season dates, creel limits and other regulations based on scientific investigation and research ensures the greatest likelihood of success in reaching these goals.

A public hearing concerning the proposed amendments will be held on November 10, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. at:

NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Center
East Branch - Eldridge Road
Assunpink Wildlife Management Area
Robbinsville, NJ 08691 (Actual location is Upper Freehold Twp., Monmouth Co.)

Submit written comments by December 4, 2015 electronically at

The Fish and Game Council (Council) encourages electronic submittal of comments. In the alternative, comments may be submitted on paper to:

David Chanda, Director
NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife
2016-2017 Fish Code Comments
Mail Code 501-03
P.O. Box 420
Trenton, NJ 08625-0420

Highlights of the proposed regulation changes appear below. For a more complete summary of the proposed rule changes please refer to the DEP Notice of Rule Proposal or the October 5, 2015, New Jersey Register N.J.A.C. 7:25-6.


In 2013 and 2014 the Division's Pequest Trout Hatchery experienced an extensive outbreak of furunculosis a fish disease caused by the bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida. The outbreak ultimately resulted in over 230,000 Brook and Brown Trout, one third of the hatchery's stock, being destroyed. The bacterium is believed to have been introduced from birds preying on infected fish outside the confines of the hatchery and then feeding on trout within the hatchery's raceways as the hatchery does not transfer fish or equipment into the facility. In addition, a Brook Trout within the Pequest River tested positive for Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis virus (IPN) a serious salmonid pathogen.

Fish pathogens are easily transported through water as well as birds feeding on infected fish. The Pequest Trout Hatchery is located within the Pequest River Drainage and the Trout Brook (Hackettstown) supplies the Division's Hackettstown State Fish Hatchery. Since the outflows of these facilities are connected to waters within these areas, the transfer of fish from outside sources poses a significant risk of disease introduction into the facilities. Disease outbreaks within these facilities could jeopardize millions of dollars of cultured fish.

In order to minimize the potential for the introduction of disease into the State's fish culture facilities, and to protect the state's fishery resources, the Council proposes that the Pequest Trout Hatchery will be the only source of trout for the Pequest River drainage. Based upon required Fish Stocking Permit records, only two organizations have been purchasing trout for stocking within the Pequest River drainage.

In order to further protect the valuable fish stock at the Pequest Trout Hatchery, from potential introduction of disease, it is proposed to no longer allow anglers to use trout, purchased or otherwise obtained, as bait within the Pequest River drainage. A common practice for local anglers is to keep unused bait trout obtained from outside the Pequest River drainage area in submerged cages between fishing trips or release them directly into the lakes. This practice can result in a transfer of disease from private fish culture facility into waters within the Pequest drainage where the state trout hatchery is located. Birds of prey feeding between these waters and the hatchery's nearby raceways can transfer these pathogens into the facility. This chang, coupled with other proposed fish health regulation changes, will reduce the risk of potential disease transfer into the Division's Pequest Trout Hatchery. These proposed rule changes are in response to an extensive outbreak of furunculosis, a fish disease caused by the bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida, that occurred at the Pequest Trout Hatchery in 2013 and 2014.

The Council proposes to extend the upstream boundary of the trout-stocked section of Lockatong Creek from Opdyke Road Bridge to the Route 12 bridge. Although trout are currently stocked approximately two miles upstream of Opdyke Road, this area is not delineated as trout stocked and, therefore, fishing during the pre-season closure is not prohibited. This proposed change will properly identify the creek's upstream boundary and extend the pre-season fishing closure an additional three miles.

The Council also proposes to change the upstream limit of the trout-stocked section of the Passaic River from the White Bridge Road to the confluence with Black Brook. Currently trout are stocked at various locations in the Passaic River, beginning at White Bridge Road and extending downstream to the Route 24 bridge in Chatham Borough. Due to the current delineation, fishing is prohibited during the pre-season period downstream of the White Bridge Road bridge but not prohibited on the immediate upstream side of the bridge. This change would properly extend the pre-season fishing closure an additional one-quarter mile upstream to the river's confluence with Black Brook.

Discontinuing trout stocking in Trout Brook has been under consideration for several years due to low angling interest. No anglers were documented fishing the stream on Opening Day in 2012 and the stream was not stocked in 2014 as a result of the furunculosis outbreak at the Pequest Trout Hatchery. Discontinuing trout stocking in Trout Brook will allow the trout to be stocked in other waters utilized by more anglers.

For compliance with Addendum IV of the Interstate Fishery Management Plan the current minimum size limit of 28 inches and 2 fish per day is proposed to be modified to one fish, at least 28 inches and less than 43 inches in length, and one fish at least 43 inches in length. This change is already in place for marine waters. Due to difficulty in identification between pure strain Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass, regulations on Hybrid Striped Bass, on waters where the two species are found, such as the Delaware and Raritan Rivers, are adjusted to match the pure strain Striped Bass regulations. The existing seasons for Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass remain unchanged.

In 2009, crossbows, which were previously restricted for use by only handicapped hunters, were permitted for use by all bowhunters in New Jersey. As more states have allowed the use of crossbows, manufacturers have increased the availability of accessories to modify crossbows for bowfishing. Availability of these accessories has resulted in increased interest in the use of crossbows for bowfishing. Currently, anglers are permitted to take Carp, including Bighead, Common, Grass and Silver, eels, Flathead Catfish, American Shad (Delaware River only), Gizzard Shad, snakeheads, and suckers, or hybrids of these species, with longbows, recurved bows and compound bows.

The Council proposes to allow the use of crossbows while bowfishing. For consistency with crossbows permitted for use while hunting the Council proposes to allow crossbows with a stock length of at least 25 inches, a minimum draw pull weight of 75 pounds, and a working safety. For safety reasons, crossbows shall be uncocked during transport or when not actively fishing. They may not be permanently mounted.

Since New York State does not permit the use of crossbows for hunting or fishing, these changes are not proposed for Greenwood Lake, which lies partly in Passaic County, New Jersey and partly in Orange County, New York.

Currently, New Jersey has no minimum size or creel limit for Channel Catfish on the Delaware River and Pennsylvania allows up to 50 to be harvested each day. The Council proposes a minimum size limit of 12 inches and a daily limit of 5 per day. These limits are consistent with current size and creel limits for Channel Catfish in all other fresh waters in New Jersey. The harsh winter of 2014-2015 resulted in extensive ice forming on the river from Trenton through the Delaware Water Gap. The extended ice cover and liberal regulations resulted in unprecedented numbers of Channel Catfish being harvested by anglers. The event emphasized the need for more stringent regulations.

The Council also proposes that species of fish in the Delaware River that do not have specific daily creel and possession limits shall have a daily creel and possession limit of 25 in total. This proposed change provides protection to species such as Pumpkinseed, Bluegill, Brown Bullhead, Rock Bass, and White Catfish that are routinely caught in the Delaware River. This proposed amendment protects these and other non-typical game species in New Jersey and is consistent with provisions already afforded these species in other waters of the state.

As native turtle populations began to severely decline in Southeast Asia due to exploitation, the market turned global and the United States was quickly identified as another source for snapping turtle meat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service reports that snapping turtles are among the top four most exported turtle species. Unlike many commonly harvested wildlife species, turtle life-history characteristics, such as low hatching success, very high mortality in juveniles, and delayed sexual maturity, limit the harvest potential of adult turtles and make them vulnerable to over-harvest. Snapping turtles do not reach sexual maturity until 8 to 10 years of age. Although snapping turtles lay 20 to 40 eggs, as much as 75 percent of the eggs are lost to predation and 50% more are lost to predation before their first year.

In order to protect populations of snapping turtles the Council proposes the following changes to rules governing their harvest:

a) In order to prevent further expansion of commercial harvest in New Jersey, the Council proposes to limit commercial harvest permits to those already actively engaged in permitted commercial harvest under a special permit. Only harvesters who have been issued a permit from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2014, and have submitted harvest reports, prior to January 1, 2015, indicating the harvest of at least one turtle, will be issued permits in the future. This approach allows current harvesters, who have successfully trapped turtles, to continue to trap while precluding expansion through additional permittees.

b) All turtles harvested, either recreationally or commercially, have a minimum carapace length of 12 inches. The minimum carapace length will protect turtles until they reach sexual maturity.

c) To expand the existing nesting season closure of May 1 to June 15, to May 15 to July 15 to more closely correspond with peak nesting period for snapping turtles. The Council also proposes to protect turtles during their hibernating season by closing the season from October 31 to April 1 for both recreational and commercial harvest. Commercial harvest permits currently expire on October 31 of each year, with new permits for the subsequent year allowing harvest to begin once turtles become active. However, there is no winter closure for turtles taken under a fishing license. Snapping turtles are vulnerable to harvest during hibernation and in early spring when they first become active. The proposed closures will help protect the turtles during these particularly susceptible periods.

d) Commercial harvesters are required to tend traps at least once every 24 hours. In order to help ensure the survival of turtles captured within traps, the Council proposes to establish a maximum number of 30 traps may be set to ensure harvesters do not set more traps than can be properly tended. The 30-trap limit also protects existing turtle populations from over harvest as trapping efforts typically increase with increases in market values. Trapping efforts may also increase in response to reduced population levels.

e) The Council proposes to require recreational and commercial harvesters to report sightings of any State endangered or threatened species of turtles by completing a Division Sighting Report Form.

f) Reduce the daily limit for turtles taken under a Fishing License (not Commercial Harvest Permit) from 3 to 1. The existing three per day limit for those harvesting these species under a recreational fishing license allows an angler to take as many as 90 turtles per month, an amount which can rival that of commercial harvesters. Reducing the limit better aligns recreational harvest with personal use. Turtles taken recreationally may not be sold.

g) In order to protect unhatched young, the Council proposes that turtle eggs may not be taken at any time. The Council also proposes that turtles may not be taken from land at any time as they are much more vulnerable out of the water.

h) The Council proposes that traps may only be used by harvesters with a Commercial Permit and not for those harvesting under a fishing license. Traps are inconsistent with common angling methods.

To remain in compliance with Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) mandates, approved management plans must be implemented within established deadlines otherwise states are deemed out of plan compliance and risk closure of the fishery. The Council proposes that the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, may modify fishing seasons, minimum size limits and possession limits, of migratory species of Alewife, American Eel, American Shad, Blueback Herring, Hickory Shad, and Striped Bass, by notice in order to maintain and/or to come into compliance with any fishery management plan approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 5104(b) or to maintain consistency with any Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) plan adopted by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The New Jersey Fish and Game Council has the authority under N.J.A.C. 7:25-6.17, Emergency Closure Notice, to quickly close fisheries when required by ASMFC/MAFMC Fishery Management Plans through public notice. However, when plans require changes to existing fishing seasons, minimum size limits and possession limits, a lengthy rule making procedure is required, potentially risking closure of a fishery if changes cannot be achieved as expeditiously as necessary.

For commercial hatcheries wishing to sell fish for stocking purposes in New Jersey the Council proposes increased fish health testing requirements to further protect the state's aquatic resources from the introduction of major fish pathogens. Fish stocking permit requirements require that fish must be purchased from culture facilities that meet the state's fish health standards. Proposed changes to current fish health standards are further explained within the formal rulemaking proposal. These proposed changes affect commercial fish hatcheries, located within and outside of New Jersey, seeking to sell fish for stocking purposes.

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Last Updated: October 5, 2015