... Last week, the Governor also reached out to the Acting Secretary of Commerce, Rebecca Blank, pointing out how this devastating storm impacted the state of New Jersey, "destroying entire communities across New Jersey and leaving much of the state - particularly our coastal areas - badly damaged and inaccessible." He went on to call Sandy an "unprecedented storm" which had a "significant adverse impact on New Jersey's fishing industry."
Governor Christie's letter to the Commerce Department (www.nj.gov/dep/docs/fishery_letter.pdf) specifically cited a legal clause inside the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which can help trigger much-needed financial support from the Economic Development Administration. Governor Christie's request was also followed up by a letter from Rep. Frank Pallone, as well as a group letter by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Rep. Jon Runyan and Rep. Chris Smith.
This past Friday, the Acting Secretary announced the determination of a fishery resource disaster to help our coastal fishermen in New Jersey and New York. An official federal fishery disaster declaration would aid in securing disaster relief for impacted aspects of the industry, including both commercial fishing operations and charter fishing operators, along with owners of related fishery infrastructure affected by the disaster. The Acting Secretary noted that if money is appropriated, NOAA and NOAA Fisheries will work closely with members of Congress and the governors of impacted states to develop financial assistance plans to help our coastal communities and fishing industry.
RFA will remain active at the federal level to ensure that Congress responds accordingly to this pledge. Such fisheries disaster declarations have been made in the past, but it's incumbent upon Congress responding to actually allocate the necessary funds to support the recreational and commercial fishing industry. RFA of course will be dedicated towards working with Congress to ensure the recreational fishing industry especially is recognized.
NOAA's new regional administrator in the Northeast, John Bullard, has already been in contact with RFA staff and volunteers, and we remain confident that the recreational fishing industry - which I would add suffered terrible devastation during this storm will - be well represented in the national funding discussions. When you look at the marinas, the tackle shops, the recreational boats piled up along the coast, it's no stretch to say our recreational fishing community suffered the greatest loss in this tragedy.
To help get a better assessment of the damage and issues that our recreational fishing industry is dealing with in New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) last week sent a survey blast to 900 members of the New Jersey for-hire industry through the New Jersey Saltwater Registry Program. The NJDEP is hoping to get some useful business information from this quick assessment - RFA is encouraging the for-hire fleet in New Jersey to respond quickly and candidly to this survey.
If you're a charter or party boat captain who has not received this information, download the PDF version of the NJDEP survey at www.joinrfa.org/Press/NJIndustryDamageAssessment.pdf. If you're a marina, tackle shop owner or for-hire captain engaged professionally in this industry in New Jersey, RFA encourages you to fill out the survey and fax it back to the NJDEP at 609-748-2032. Again, this is purely for recreational fishing industry related professionals.
If you or your business has suffered due to this storm, whether your loss is temporary or permanent, you may also qualify for unemployment insurance or disaster unemployment assistance. For charter boat captains or crew members especially who have been affected by the storm, you may also be able to find temporary work opportunities through disaster recovery efforts. For more information, download the PDF information package atwww.joinrfa.org/Press/ApplyingDUA.pdf to download the information package.
Your loss as a private angler/boater is not being ignored either! In a staggering figure released by BoatUS, it has been estimated that over 65,000 recreational boats were damaged or lost as a result of Hurricane Sandy, a total financial amount of more than $650 million on recreational boat damage, about $242 million in New Jersey alone. Capt. Adam Nowalsky, chairman of the RFA-NJ chapter, has been working directly with Chris Zeman who is New Jersey's obligatory representative to the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), to help get some additional relief for saltwater anglers.
As reported recently in the Asbury Park Press, if you can't fish because maybe your favorite access point, marina, or dock is gone because of Hurricane Sandy, Zeman would like to know about it - he is personally looking for anglers to provide details as to where specific infrastructure damage has occurred, and asks reporting anglers to write up one or two paragraphs worth of detail, including the specific location and a photo, which you can email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to put "Sandy's fishing-related damage" in the subject line and include your name and town. Chris intends to pass your information along to NOAA Fisheries, and will be potentially making information public via a web database in the future.
RFA this week sent a letter to the MAFMC on behalf of members up and down the Atlantic Coast, asking that council members keep federal waters open to the black sea bass fishery early in 2013. This would send a strong message to NOAA Fisheries, and the Secretary of Commerce, to reopen federal waters to the recreational black sea bass fishery to allow anglers the opportunity to begin fishing again on this healthy stock of fish as soon as possible. "This would be the first federal opening of black sea bass in January and February in a number of years, and New Jersey's recreational fishermen and industry folks are really looking forward to that opportunity," Capt. Nowalsky said.
Black sea bass was once a vital winter fishery in New York and New Jersey, especially for federally permitted vessels who could ferry anglers back and forth to the offshore fishing grounds from December through March at a time when many private boats were already out of the water for winter. For the local tackle shops and other businesses able to stay open at this time of year, this extra business boost from an active angling community could really help put some members of the recreational fishing industry back on the road to economic recovery.
For those struggling to respond to the personal devastation, RFA offers our thoughts and prayers. To those anglers who suffered a little less and are now frustrated by stripers along the oceanfront and closed beach access points, we ask that you continue to have patience. We spoke to representatives of the NJDEP this week who said they personally are working hard to get some areas like Island Beach State Park back up and accessible for anglers - your contribution to the good of the state is appreciated and respected.
I do hope this New Jersey update finds you well, and if there's anything the RFA can do to help at this time, do not hesitate to call us at 888-564-6732 or email me at email@example.com.