Trenton, NJ (3/4/2010) - A meeting was held in the New Jersey Senate President's office today in an effort to discuss a compromise between legislators, recreational anglers and commercial fishing lobbyists. However, despite the best efforts by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3), the two parties were unable to reach an agreement, although there was common ground between both recreational and commercial representatives on the proliferation of fish pots and traps on New Jersey's reefs.
Legislation in the New Jersey senate which would limit fishing gear used on reefs to hook and line and spears, is meant to address the exponential increase of pots and traps that has occurred in the last decade on New Jersey's artificial reefs. However, Senate Bill 221 (S 221) has been stalled in the Senate because of the continued disparity between members of each sector.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) continues to support the legislation to ban fish pots and traps from New Jersey's reefs, and remains unwilling to compromise with the commercial fishing industry on any plans which would permit continued use of fish pots on New Jersey's artificial reef sites. The RFA is also highly concerned about the conservation problem associated with the current lack of regulations regarding the pot and trap fishery. According to John DePersenaire, Fisheries Policy and Science Researcher for the RFA, there's more to the pots off reef bill than just getting those pots off the reef. "As it stands now, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) has no limit on the amount of pots a license holder can set nor are there any regulations on tending pots in any of the state's coastal waters," said DePersenaire.
"It just defies common sense," said Capt. Adam Nowalsky, chairman of the RFA-NJ chapter. "New Jersey does not even require license holders to remove their gear during seasonal closures which results in many pot fishermen storing their pots and traps on and around the reefs where they continue to catch and kill fish 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Nowalsky said. The RFA also points out that there are no regulations prohibiting out-of-state commercial fishermen from dumping their gear on New Jersey's reefs. RFA believes this is a conservation problem that can no longer be ignored and one that cannot wait for a long, drawn out legislative battle in the Senate.
"RFA is supporting the legislation because we cannot deny the fact New Jersey is in violation of federal Sportfishing Restoration Act funding requirements by allowing pots and traps on the reefs even in some limited fashion," explained Jim Donofrio, RFA's Executive Director. "The construction of New Jersey's artificial reefs was for the benefit of recreational and diving opportunities as explicitly described in the New Jersey Artificial Reef Plan," Donofrio said. "However, the legislation does not address the significant conservation problem associated with the unregulated trap fishery once they are removed from the artificial reefs in state and federal waters," Donofrio added.
"Pots do not belong on artificial reefs," said Herb Moore, Jr., RFA counsel who was in on the meeting in Sen. Sweeney's office along with Nowalksy. "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.
The RFA has also expressed fear that if this legislation is passed, the commercial pots and traps will simply be moved outside of the reef demarcation and laid out strategically to intercept fish moving to and from the reefs. "Certainly this legislation would reduce commercial and recreational interaction on the reefs and bring New Jersey into compliance with the federal funding program but I don't think we will have addressed the real conservation problem of the unregulated pot fishery," said Donofrio.
RFA first opened a dialog with the Division in March of 2006 concerned about the impact this unregulated fishery has on important recreational fisheries such as tog and black sea bass. RFA specifically requested the Division immediately determine the number of pots being fished, implement a limited pot tag system and require that all gear be removed during seasonal closures. The Division shared a similar concern but indicated that they have very little or no information about the number of pots being fished as expressed in a letter from Director Dave Chanda to the RFA in February of 2007. To date, the Division has failed to take meaningful efforts to fulfill these requests.
"We commend Senate President Sweeney in his efforts to find some common ground on this issue. However, the Reef Plan, Wallop Breaux requirements, and the pending regulatory package prohibiting pots and traps on the reefs does not allow any compromise," said Nowalsky. "While this legislation has wallowed in the past three sessions, nothing has been done to address the real conservation problem and RFA-NJ is looking forward to working with legislators, the Division and stakeholders on finding a real solution," the RFA-NJ chair added.