New Gretna, NJ - A bill introduced recently by Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-District 1) concerning multiple uses of New Jersey's two state-managed artificial reef sites is being met with opposition by the New Jersey Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA-NJ). Senate Bill 1957 would require the Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) to equally divide each of the two artificial reef sites within State waters between recreational and commercial use.
RFA-NJ has gone on record numerous times that the recreational sector in New Jersey is opposed to any compromises which would keep any fixed gear in place on the state's artificial reefs. "RFA does not support splitting the reefs and we've made it crystal clear that we want those pots off the reefs," said Capt. Adam Nowalsky, RFA-NJ Chairman.
In a release issued in March, the RFA-NJ thanked legislators for trying to help reach an agreement between both recreational and commercial representatives on the proliferation of fish pots and traps on New Jersey's reefs, however, RFA-NJ continues to support earlier legislation to ban all pots and traps entirely from New Jersey's reefs. "Pots do not belong on artificial reefs," said RFA counsel and RFA-NJ Board Member Herb Moore, Jr. in March. "However, the legislation which would simply ban pots from the two artificial reefs in State waters and start a process with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is not a real solution. We need to get the pots off the reefs and we need a comprehensive policy that limits the number of pots that can be deployed in State waters and reduces the gear conflicts we're dealing with now," Moore said.
RFA says the reef issue is purely administrative while citing the Division with originally creating the problem from the start of the reef program with failure to implement a management plan that was clear in the intent from its inception. "We can understand what Sen. Van Drew is trying to do in legislating an equitable compromise to this ongoing issue of access to the reefs, but once again in terms of access, we ask that the State simply use their discretion under the reef plan to enforce the rules as they presently stand, as they've already been written," said Jim Donofrio, RFA's Executive Director. Donofrio said he spoke to the senator personally this week specifically with regard to Senate Bill 1957 and said RFA was not in support of a bill to divide the reef.
"RFA supports Sen. Van Drew and his efforts to protect fishing access, but we are not in favor of this bill," Donofrio said, adding "We respect Sen. Van Drew and enjoy working with him on issues involving the coast, but splitting the baby in half does not address the problems created by the Division with regard to reef management, so no we cannot support S1957."
According to Donofrio, the current issue pertaining to lost recreational access at New Jersey's artificial reef sites is a problem started 20 years ago with the original reef management plan. He said it's unfair that the Division has now forced it to become a political football for legislators. "It's time for the Division to come up with a real pot plan that addresses the numbers of traps out there on our waters, out of state permits and the amount time traps are in the water killing fish during closed seasons when they're not supposed to be there," he said.
"Regrettably, I imagine we're only going to see more legislative efforts to fix this problem since the Division has made no movement on creating any real plans themselves. Division leadership has logged a lot of billable hours on the road lobbying for a saltwater user fee, but apparently very little real office hours in devising a sensible reef management plan that addresses the pot issue," Donofrio added.