News is not all bad for recreational fishermen

September 4, 2021

I was recently appointed to the advisory councils for sea bass, summer flounder and scup, as well as the advisory council for bluefish. The meetings were held online. Just before the start of the sea bass, summer flounder and scup meeting, a bolt of lightning struck in what sounded like my backyard and I lost all internet, TV and phone service. I was, however, able to participate in the bluefish meeting. My comment on the bluefish plan was to change the current five-fish limit for the charter and head boat fleet, and three-fish limit for private boats and shore fishermen to an equal number for all recreational fishermen.

On Aug. 9-12, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council met online along with its Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to set the various commercial quotas and recreational harvest limits for summer flounder, black sea bass and bluefish. Believe it or not, but the news is not all bad for recreational fishermen.

Beginning with summer flounder, we will see an increase from a harvest limit of 8.32 million pounds in 2021 to 10.36 million pounds in 2022. That number will remain the same in 2023.

Black sea bass pose a quandary. I don’t understand why they gave us an increase from 6.34 million pounds in 2021 to 6.74 million pounds in 2022 then will drop us down to 5.95 million pounds in 2023. Black sea bass are not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. The spawning stock biomass is 2.1 times the target level, and yet they want a cutback in the recreational catch and the commercial quota in 2023.

Bluefish are on a rebuilding plan. The spawning stock biomass is currently overfished, but overfishing is not occurring. This along with accountability for dead discards will allow for a 3.54-million-pound quota in 2022 and a 4.29-million-pound quota in 2023. On the recreational side, we will have a 13.89-million-pound harvest limit in 2022 and a 22.14-million-pound harvest limit in 2023.

So, what do all those numbers mean to those of us who just want to go fishing and know how many fish we can keep and what size they have to be? That will depend on what action each state takes after holding public hearings on the above information. In the past, Delaware has gone with the same regulations as Maryland and Virginia. This has made sense since quite a few of us fish in all three states. New Jersey will never go along with anyone, so expect them to come up with a hodgepodge of regulations to make sure they can kill the maximum number of fish.

When Delaware puts out the information on when and where the public hearings will be held, I will be sure to pass the details on to my readers. Recreational fishermen are notorious for not attending these hearings and then complaining about the regulations. Don’t do that. Show up, be informed and make a difference.

Fishing report

The fishing community suffered some very bad news last week. First, we lost a very popular captain, father and friend when Capt. Chris Ragni died as a result of a boat collision in the ocean. I did not know Capt. Ragni personally, but from the outpouring of comments just on Facebook, he must have been a wonderful human being.

Then very early Saturday morning, the Last Call with Capt. Frank Pettolina was heading out of Ocean City Inlet when the boat caught fire and burned to the waterline. The Last Call was a fixture on the Ocean City charter boat circuit, and was run by Capt. Frank and his son Frankie. Frankie passed unexpectedly earlier this year. He was president of the Ocean City Marlin Club and a respected boat surveyor. Our deepest condolences go out to both families as it seems tragedy has no bounds.

Not much change in the fishing. Sea bass and flounder continue to fill fish boxes for knowledgeable anglers. Dolphin are in the same locations as the sea bass, and some boats have brought in limits of these great fish.

The Back Bays and the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal hold spot, croaker and a few flounder. The spot and croaker are decent size and will take bloodworms, lug worms and Fishbites. The flounder go for Gulp! as well as squid and minnows.

In Delaware Bay, it’s all about the reef sites. They hold spot, croaker, kings, flounder, sheepshead, tog and triggerfish. The Inner and Outer walls and the Ice Breakers have more and larger tog, triggerfish and sheepshead. Sand fleas are the bait of choice for these fish.

The fishing pier in Cape Henlopen State Park is good for spot and croaker.


  • Eric Burnley is a Delaware native who has fished and hunted the state from an early age. Since 1978 he has written countless articles about hunting and fishing in Delaware and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. He has been the regional editor for several publications and was the founding editor of the Mid-Atlantic Fisherman magazine. Eric is the author of three books: Surf Fishing the Atlantic Coast, The Ultimate Guide to Striped Bass Fishing and Fishing Saltwater Baits. He and his wife Barbara live near Milton, Delaware. Eric can be reached at

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter